The treatment of health issues in silver fork novels (and in upper-class circles in general) could be very faddish: fashionable doctors, miracle cures, holidays to rest and ‘take the air’–one’s health became a major topic of conversation and sometimes a full-time job.

Robust health was often portrayed as a sign of lower-class vulgarity, while a ‘delicate constitution’ was portrayed in these novels as a sign of refinement. It wasn’t enough, however, to feign frailty; one’s specific symptoms, combined with one’s appearance and habits, became a way for others to judge everything from the date of impending death, to morality, to intelligence, to the constitution of future children.

"Essay on Modern Medical Education, No. 4 The Lecture Room" From Vol. 1, no. 7: Northern Looking Glass 3rd September 1825. With permission of the University of Glasgow Library Special Collections. Shelfmark Sp Coll Bh14-x.8

“Essay on Modern Medical Education, No. 4
The Lecture Room”
From Vol. 1, no. 7: Northern Looking Glass
3rd September 1825.
With permission of the University of Glasgow Library Special Collections.
Shelfmark Sp Coll Bh14-x.8

  • “Old Burton assigns the engendering of melancholy chiefly to flatulence” (Cecil 3: 233).
  • “When people have really nothing to do, they generally fall ill upon it; and at length, the rich colour grew faint upon Lady Erpingham’s cheek; her form wasted; the physicians hinted at consumption, and recommended a warmer clime” (Godolphin 2:134).
  • “’he has got a red face at times, to be sure, but that’s not health, Mr. Rodney, – it is too purple to be wholesome. Take my word for it, some of these fine mornings he’ll pop off suddenly’” (Sayings and Doings, Second Series, Vol. II 247-248).
  • “Mrs. Brashleigh, after a short illness, contracted by eating ice while overheated with dancing, shuffled off this mortal coil” (Sayings and Doings, Second Series, Vol. II 304).
  • “it is a well-known fact in physiology, that annuitants and old women never die” (Romance and Reality 1:16).
  • “All a young lady should pray for, is a severe lingering fit of illness, to impress upon her debating lover a just feminine valuation; – fevers and agues are the best stepping stones to the hymeneal altar” (Romance and Reality 1:269).
  • She “admonish[ed] me never to read above half an hour at a time for fear of losing my health” (Pelham 1:8).
  • “who, without taste, ever has the gout? and how few with, have ever escaped it!” (The Confessions of an Elderly Gentleman 3).
  • “The poor young lady, after a few months of misery, died of what is vulgarly called a broken heart” (Sayings and Doings, or, Danvers 106).
  • “’When I was ill last winter, Dr. F–’s prescriptions were so delightful . . . I was to take chocolate three times a-day, and eat a macaroon, with half-a-glass of water, on going to bed!’” (Finesse 1:208).
  • “ten hours rest is not more than sufficient for a delicate female. A mechanic may do with seven; – a robust man with eight; – a person in the decline of life with nine; – and a woman of nervous temperament with ten” (Pin Money 2:268).
  • “’I got into a sad, moping, nervous way; and my family physician . . . ordered me to Bath, and prescribed a pint of mulled claret every evening before going to bed. My recovery was miraculous’” (Mothers and Daughters 1:87-88).
  • “Lady Weldon followed her physician’s prescription, to eat little and often” (At Home 1:106).
  • “’Mr. Molesworth was firm about his sons; declared hunting was necessary to health’” (Dacre: A Novel 1:22).
  • “’I am one of those unfortunate persons . . . who are dyspeptic . . . indeed, I take charcoal before I dare touch any thing . . . it is the most fashionable medicine now, pure carbon, and I have reason to like it better than ever . . . The fine ladies take it constantly, and carry it in their reticules in the form of bon bons” (Country Houses 3:29).
  • “’my father used to call gout a gentleman’s disease, but nothing could be more vulgar’” (Country Houses 3:31).
  • “’I detest early rising and early walks, – the worst things in the world for delicate people’” (The Three Eras of Woman’s Life 2:177).
  • “’One don’t look well when one faints – that is to say, really faints,’ observed Lady Ellersby; ‘it is surely best to avoid doing so’” (The Exclusives 2:2).


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