Dis-ease in The Dear Maude Trilogy
From Typhoid Fever to the Spanish Influenza, early twentieth-century diseases were widespread, often pandemics, which affected young and old, rich and poor alike. In The Dear Maude Trilogy, disease, just like clothing and social norms, played a major role in society life for Emily Stanton.
In this excerpt from Dear Maude, Emily describes her plan to use Typhoid Fever, or at least the symptoms she learned from her grandfather, a retired physician, to her advantage:
My plan was simple: I would fake an illness that required a specialist and eventually a so-called cure that could only be found in the future. Since my grandfather was a doctor, I spent many rainy days as a child thumbing through Papa Bob’s voluminous library of medical books. Many of the infectious illnesses burned an indelible image in my memory that I now drew upon to aid me in my escape. I hate these people, and I’m not going to help them anymore with their stupid agenda.
The heavy footsteps and labored breathing of Dr. Morris, as he approached my room, finally brought me from my thoughts. ‘Miss Emily,’ he said, after he squeezed through the door and waddled closer to my bedside. ‘What seems to be the trouble?’
“I don’t know, Doctor. It’s like nothing I’ve ever felt before. Do I feel hot to you? Also, my nose just won’t stop bleeding!’
He stopped at the foot of my bed, and his blubbery mouth fell open while I proceeded to describe, in great, gory detail, the other symptoms of typhoid fever as I remembered them. At that time, many feared the disease that was a result of the presumed unsanitary cooking habits of Mary Mallon, a cook accused of spreading it to wealthy families in the New York area. Disturbingly enough, Typhoid Mary was a hot topic of conversation around most dinner tables.
‘Gad!’ The doctor stepped back from the bed in an uncharacteristically quick movement that his body probably hadn’t produced since childhood. He hurried to my bedroom door and fumbled for the knob. ‘This could be serious, very serious indeed. I shall recommend you to a specialist straightaway.’
Victory! I fell into a coughing fit for effect.
‘Thanks, Papa,’ I muttered under my breath.
I rested my head back on my pillow and smiled, recalling the tales he told me about Typhoid Mary and the disease associated with her nickname: ‘They say that typhoid can be spread by people who touch your food without first washing their hands, especially after using the bathroom.’ Papa’s chilling words always sent me running back to the restroom for another scrub, his deep laughter following me all the way to the sink. I sure missed him.
My plan worked like a dream—a bad one—because within hours, I was being rushed to the hospital in New York City where an alleged specialist found me negative for every disease for which there was a test, including typhoid fever. Finding nothing wrong, he proceeded to turn my formerly healthy self into a limping vessel of disease and infection with his own brand of chemically toxic creations, formulas he had concocted for such situations. Lord Winston didn’t even visit me, nor did he send anyone to escort me to the future. Apparently, I was more expendable than I thought.
Disease is another topic of discussion in For the Love of Maude in the form of The Spanish Influenza, or the 1918 flu pandemic, which spread across the globe at the end of WWI. The Spanish Flu infected more than one fifth of the world’s population at that time and killed more people than WWI and even the Black Plague. Surprisingly, young, usually healthy people, were most affected by the disease. In fact, my dad and grandmother contracted it when my dad was just a baby. His experience was what inspired me to include the Spanish Flu in The Dear Maude Trilogy. Fortunately, my grandmother and dad survived the flu, but Maude’s family wasn’t so fortunate—as Maude discusses in this excerpt from For the Love of Maude:
Mama died of the influenza, and Papa hasn’t been the same since. He loves my brother and me, but he just doesn’t know how to show it anymore. He always told her that she was the light of his world. When she died, all the light went out of his life.’
"I remembered reading about the Spanish Influenza of 1918 in my grandfather’s vast library of medical books. Although Papa Bob retired from the medical profession when I was young, he continued to prove his knowledge by embellishing upon the diseases his books had to offer—but he always left that one alone. ‘It hit too close to home,’ he would say. Now I understood why.
But twentieth century diseases aren’t all Emily experiences in The Dear Maude Trilogy. The future has its own illnesses, and, as Emily discovers from Dell in ForeverMaude, these diseases don’t simply “occur” as they did in the past:
‘Diseases of our time are rare,’ he said, speaking so quickly that I struggled to keep up. ‘Periodically, however, mutated strains of past illnesses surface, thanks to the efforts of underground factions bent on depopulation.’”
And Emily thought corsets were bad! Learning to ride sidesaddle, to write in Spencerian script, and to dance a waltz were all things Emily was trained to expect. Infectious diseases and their widespread affects may have played a major role in Emily’s world, but they weren’t on the syllabus—neither was time travel.
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Next time, I’ll explore the modes of transportation mentioned in The Dear Maude Trilogy.