“By the end of the eighteenth century, consumption is not only the symbolic disease of the lover or a desired condition for the dying Christian, but also the glamorous sign of female beauty” (Byrne, 92).
As seen in the pictures above, the Hourglass Figure and accentuating one’s thin waist continued to be fashionable and desired following Koch’s discovery and further findings on the negative effects tight, constricting clothing had on the lungs. However, dressmakers began to emphasize the comfort and health benefits of their clothing, especially corsets, in their advertisements, such as the one below (published in The Times in April of 1913).
Similarly, when one looks closely at the political cartoon below, consumption can be seen written on one of the clouds of dust that carry potential disease and health risks, signified by the Grim Reaper watching over the maid. Published in 1900, this cartoon reveals the increased knowledge of the contagiousness of tuberculosis and the possibility of infectious germs hiding within women’s long skirts.
“In the month of December, 1786, I was desired to see a young woman, who was said to be in an advanced stage of pulmonary consumption. She was about eighteen years old, had not menstruated, and possessed that narrow conformation of chest, with high shoulders, a long neck, fine skin, and white teeth, together with the circumscribed redness of the cheeks, and other general appearances indicating a predisposition to phthisical affection” -William May, M.D.
The above excerpt from a 1788 volume of The London Medical Journal displays the fascination associated with the appearance of women afflicted with tuberculosis. While May wrote of this tubercular aesthetic in the 18th century, the rise of the Romantic movement introduced a variety of consumptive heroines in both literature and art, enforcing tuberculosis’ identity as a ‘romantic’ disease throughout the 19th century. Descriptions of the beautiful appearances of tuberculosis patients were also prevalent within the medical profession, as seen in the below excerpt from Dr. Sealy’s Medical Essays.
“Those indications are a peculiar delicacy of texture and colour of skin, a precocity of intellect, a clear brilliancy of eye and a graceful tenuity of figure, forming in all the most attractive appearance of the human youth of both sexes” -J. Hungerford Sealy (1837)