Laid Low

Ever since I first read the English author Jane Austen when I was a girl, I’ve been in love with her and everything she wrote. I’ve reread all of her novels periodically over the years. Winston Churchill read Jane (her devotees tend to call her by her first name, a practice she herself would have despised) at night in the bomb shelters during World War II for solace and equanimity. At difficult points in my own life, I’ve done the same.

And yet, despite my reverence and respect and adoration, there’s always been one single note in her work that’s rung untrue for me. It’s an episode in arguably her greatest novel, and certainly my favorite, Pride and Prejudice. 

The older sister, Jane, of the heroine Elizabeth Bennet, has gone to visit new neighbors (with a most attractive and eligible son). Their mother has insisted that Jane go on horseback, even though it looks like rain. Mrs. Bennet’s hope is that it WILL rain, and Jane will be caught in it, and therefore have to be asked to spend the night. All of which happens. Even more to Mrs. Bennet’s delight, Jane — having been soaked on the ride over — catches a violent cold.  So alarmed is everyone by Jane’s terrible cold that the doctor is sent for, and she ends up spending a week with the Bingleys. Because of everyone’s alarm and concern, Elizabeth Bennet walks over (yes, all three miles) on the second day, and she stays on as well to help attend to her sister.

For plot purposes, this all works brilliantly. Mr. Darcy, the friend of the attractive and eligible Bingley, comes more and more to be attracted (much against his conscious will) by the vivacious and clever Elizabeth. What does NOT work, from my point of view, is Jane’s cold.

I mean, really! Everyone is so concerned that Jane is kept in bed and then remains delicately convalescing for an entire week? Hey, people, it’s just a cold! Jane Austen might have figured out an episode a little more convincing.

Yet here I am, just beginning to recover — after SIX WEEKS — from a cold that has laid me so low that this is my first post since Christmas!

And yes, it’s been just a cold. Not the flu, not bronchitis, not pneumonia. A cold. With a cough sounding like whooping cough for weeks and weeks, and not 100% gone even now. An overwhelming drain of energy, and an oppression, even depression, clinically worthy of the flu. I began to despair of ever feeling better. I even went to the doctor to make sure; I couldn’t believe that it was simply a cold that had laid me so low. But that’s what it was.

Well, it comes belatedly, after many many years, but my very dear Jane Austen, I humbly apologize. Not only was your little plot episode with Jane Bennet’s cold dramatically effective — it was also accurate to a degree I never credited, but should have. I should never have broken faith with you, Jane.

(P.S. At one point, perhaps after a month or so, I managed to think of the blog, and I took a selfie to show you why I was being so neglectful. But when I looked at it, I realized that there is NO ONE in the world upon whom I could inflict such an ordeal, and I trashed it. So there’s no photo accompanying this post. Let your worst imaginings fill the gap, and that’s it!)

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39 Responses to Laid Low

  1. Lucid Gypsy says:

    Judith, Miss Austen is one of my favourite writers (Emma is my comfort book) and I know just what you mean about the cold episode in P&P. I always thought it was crazy too but right now I’m feeling pretty limp myself with a coldy virusy thing that’s settled into my throat, trouble is there is not Darcy anywhere to be seen!

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  2. franhunne4u says:

    Well, I think since you love Jane Austen so much you should give “Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England” a try. A very lovely written book about the times of Jane Austen. From Wedding bells to funeral tolls. A chapter therein is dealing with medicine.
    You have at your command powerful antibiotics (which might help if there is some bacterial infection joining in on the cold, which in itself is viral), a lot of medical and biological knowledge just a fingertip away, WARM bedrooms if you want that, hot water from the tap, you can easily change your clothes as many times as you want as we have got washing machines. You know about vitamines and can get ripe fruit and fresh vegetables throughout the year.
    All of that lacked in the times of Jane Austen. They did not take a paracetamol when fever rose to over 39 ° C (102,2 °F), they did not know about slime-solving medicine, they bled the patients or gave emetics, sometimes laxatives as they still believed that illness came from an imbalance between the tempers for which stood each a fluid of the body …
    You cannot compare a cold today to a cold then. The people then had less good food to keep them healthy, less medicine, less hygiene, less comfortable homes.

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  3. Thérèse Craine Bertsch says:

    Well it is interesting how stories and the memories of them keep surfacing from time to time in our lives. What is more important to me, however, is the fact that you had a cold which laid you low. I’m so sorry to hear that. It’s an ordeal in so many ways when illness drags on and on. It’s enough to get up in the day and tend to the days concerns and relish in the joys. So here’s hoping the breath of Spring blows down your neck of the wood soon and your memories will be more about Judy Garland and prancing down the Avenue, 5th Avenue and you can send the snap by the photographer of you in the Easter Parade. I am always in great admiration, and always learning from you, and your “presence” in all that you write. You’re a Zen chick. Thank you. xoxo Therese

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    • Touch2Touch says:

      The Breath of Spring!
      Oh, it’s hard to believe in that when we have white mountains piled up in front and back, and more predicted today, tonight, tomorrow, tomorrow night, ad infinitum! The thing that keeps me on any kind of level keel is that I can see the light increasing each night. Even the unceasing snows can’t prevent that!
      I also feel much better thinking of myself as a Zen chick. Thank YOU, Therese!

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  4. Dick Hauser says:

    Weren’t you concerned that Bingley dropped Jane because Darcy thought he should? I’m glad your cold is better.

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    • Touch2Touch says:

      Not to get technical about it — but I just had gone over those scenes online to be sure I was remembering correctly — and lo and behold, during this visit there are Darcy and Elizabeth sparring about the judgment and wisdom involved in fulfilling (or not!) a friend’s request. Should one just do something because a friend asked? Or think about it, and make a judgment?
      Irony upon irony with Austen — Elizabeth is the one arguing that one should do it, and Darcy is arguing for the need to judge for oneself.
      And just think, I never would have remembered about Bingley doing that, or spotted the irony, if you hadn’t commented!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
      I do miss you, Richard.
      (Of course Bingley is handsome and nice, but he is rather a dummy! I did always know that much.)

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  5. A simple cold can be really hard on the body sometimes, let alone back then, with no Advil and such…

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  6. Glad you are feeling better, and I really enjoyed this post. I sometimes think about what it might have been like to live in an era before antibiotics, when every cold might turn into pneumonia, a frequent cause of death. Calvin Coolidge’s son died from an infected blister and Thoreau’s brother died after nicking himself while shaving with a rusty razor. Modern medicine is pretty much a miracle that I do not take for granted.

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    • Touch2Touch says:

      Nor do I. Anesthesia, for one thing. And novocaine! Every time I go to the dentist —
      I was born before antibiotics, actually — sulfa was just being discovered when I was a girl.
      People routinely died from things that nowadays are considered minor.
      But modern medicine is still held at bay by the (un)common cold!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I have liked your post NOT your cold. My daughter is suffering similarly but without Jane’s polite and endearing ways.

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    • Touch2Touch says:

      I suspect most of us are without Jane’s polite and endearing ways!
      My sympathies to your daughter. (And to you, if you are doing the nursing.)
      My young Italian friend said her grandfather, if he had a cold, would toss off a glass of grappa and go to sleep for a day or so, and then it would be gone. But I’ve never tried it!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Oh, my darling, so very sorry to hear of your illness! I, too have had a cold such as yours; the ribs ache with pain from coughing for weeks, the malaise, the despair. I am so happy you are better. Should this beast ever threaten to come to visit again I have found an old Romanian treatment that really does help: make a tea by chopping a large white onion and boiling it then drink the tea (make about two cups). It tastes of watered down French onion soup. It helps shorten the life of the virus. I have sipped it yesterday. So happy you are better!!!

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    • Touch2Touch says:

      I am very happy I am better also!
      And happy to hear that your curious Romanian onion broth is putting you on the road to recovery.
      How about an actual onion soup? Being stronger, would it work twice as well? Twice as fast?
      I found a new recipe for “Russian Onion Soup” in a Penzeys catalog. Much faster and easier than the French variety (I will send you if you like), uses red onions and pumpernickel, and tastes like it could master any cold. And delicious (of course!). I never thought to try it on the cold though!

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  9. pauline says:

    That wretched cold! Glad you are feeling better. I have been out playing in the snow. I feel odd man out as I like winter weather! I, too, am glad for modern medicine. My poor littlest granddaughter would have been a casualty of this virus if it had not been for medicines that brought down her fever and cleared up double ear, lung and eye infections.

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    • Touch2Touch says:

      Good grief, Pauline! The cold is miserable enough without any complications, let alone so many and so serious. How is Lily now? And has the Bean been okay?
      So happy you are recovered enough to be playing in the snow! At least there is SOMEONE who enjoys it.

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  10. Madhu says:

    With my sinuses flaring up at the slightest provocation, my colds take on epic proportions. So I totally relate to Jane’s condition. And yours. I cannot begin to imagine life without antihistamines 🙂 Glad you are feeling better Judith. Try a dose of brandy with hot water, lime juice, honey and pepper. My remedy of choice and far preferable to our traditional milk with turmeric 🙂

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  11. Angelia Sims says:

    I can’t imagine!!! A week? Okay, but SIX??? YOU POOR THING!! Colds are really no joke. Especially, the ones that physically drain us. The soreness and the constant pressure and discomfort. I’m glad it was ONLY a cold and not something much, much worse. Wishing you complete healing! Hang in there!

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  12. phillyjoec says:

    A friend wrote a book about grief where she references the life of Longfellow and how much he went through at a relatively young age. It didn’t take much for something to become fatal. I believe that he buried two children and a wife by the time he was 30 or so. It left its mark on him which ends up in some of his later poems. The book’s title, Voices of the Night, and the poem Psalm to Life are included. In any case, Judith, I am very glad that you are on the mend and back with us.

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  13. 2e0mca says:

    Well, I hope you’re finally on the mend Judith 🙂 Some colds persist for a very long time though they’re not always ones that require us to stop our normal activities. One thing that gets lost in the time continuum is the much more effective remedies available to us now than in Jane Austen’s day – bed rest and hot water bottles was about it back then!

    You might like to try my http://2e0mca.wordpress.com/2011/03/04/double-bean-soup/ next time – should warm you up and clear out the sinuses 😉

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    • Touch2Touch says:

      Your bean soup sounds delicious, and just the thing for our unending arctic winter. I’ll give it a try.
      Lots of material things are MUCH better now than in J. Austen’s day — but when it comes to a plain unadorned cold, turns out bed rest and a duvet and drinking a lot of water are still the most availing remedies!
      (High blood pressure puts cold remedies out of court.)

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  14. 2e0mca says:

    All I can say then Judith is Keep pouring in the water – second best healer of all after sleep 🙂

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  15. Patti Kuche says:

    So sorry to hear you have been laid so low for so long Judith. It seems your body has forced you into winter hibernation and so hope you are recovering now. Poor Jane, I always worried when reading such pieces that a simple cold was a plot point for the development of consumption, pneumonia and tragic death. The suspense leading to eventual recovery and happy ever after was almost always too much to bear!

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    • Touch2Touch says:

      She was such a subtle writer, our Jane. Dickens was stronger on the consumption, pneumonia, and tragic death action.
      I’m with you, Patti. Not much of one for suspense and tragic endings, or suspense and happy endings, for that matter! Like you, I find suspense almost always too much to bear.
      (Still true now that I’m all growed up. 🙂

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