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|Mrs. Smith and illness
Written by Cheryl
(10/22/2011 12:40 p.m.)
Anne has a romantic view of what Nurse Rooke sees of illness:
What instances must pass before them of ardent, disinterested, self-denying attachment, of heroism, fortitude, patience, resignation; of all the conflicts and all the sacrifices that ennoble us most. A sick chamber may often furnish the worth of volumes." (ch. 17)
I love how Mrs. Smith debunks that:
"Yes," said Mrs. Smith more doubtingly, "sometimes it may, though I fear its lessons are not often in the elevated style you describe. Here and there, human nature may be great in times of trial; but, generally speaking, it is its weakness and not its strength that appears in a sick-chamber: it is selfishness and impatience, rather than generosity and fortitude
I can't help but think of Jane Austen, who was suffering from the illness which would take all too soon after she wrote this. She knows what it is like to be ill, she knows the truth of the sick room.
I also wondered if she thought of her mother when she wrote about "selfishness and impatience," for her mother's hypochondia was a kind of tyranny in the family. We have this bit from James Austen-Leigh's Memoir of Jane Austen:
`...the progress of the disease became more and more manifest as the year [1816 - when she was writing Persuasion] advanced. The usual walk was at first shortened, and then discontinued; and air was sought in a donkey-carriage. Gradually, too, her habits of activity within the house ceased, and she was obliged to lie down much. The sitting-room contained only one sofa, which was frequently occupied by her mother, who was more than seventy years old. Jane would never use it, even in her mother's absence; but she contrived a sort of couch for herself with two or three chairs, and was pleased to say that this arrangement was more comfortable to her than a real sofa. Her reasons for this might have been left to be guessed, but for the importunities of a little niece, which obliged her to explain that if she herself had shown any inclination to use the sofa, her mother might have scrupled being on it so much as was good for her.'
This just breaks my heart, to think of her reclining on a series of chairs when she was so ill.
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