Sanatorium bluesBMJ 2009; 339 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.b4096 (Published 21 October 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b4096
- Theodore Dalrymple, writer and retired doctor
Tuberculosis is the literary disease par excellence but also the anti-literary disease. In the 20th century alone it killed Anton Chekhov at 44, Katherine Mansfield at 36, D H Lawrence at 44, and George Orwell at 46.
Other authors suffered from it without dying of it. Among them were Somerset Maugham and Eugene O’Neill (1888-1953), the US playwright who won the Nobel prize for literature in 1936. O’Neill instantiated in his life the connection between alcoholism and TB; he also exemplified the tragic bent of American theatre writing. Almost all his plays are tragedies; it is as if optimism, the semi-official ideology or doctrine of America, were the royal …