Cholera morbus

UPD: As I am writing this, the first malaria vaccine was approved by WHO. Sincere congratulations!

I want to add the context in which the play was written – it was the First Cholera Pandemic, and cholera at that time was almost unknown to Europeans. The disease is said to originate in the Bengal region, and although cholera was circulating there previously, in 1817 it came to prominence and spread to many countries in Asia and Europe. Here are the similarities I want to draw between the cholera epidemic and COVID-19:

  • It is suggested that it first spread through contaminated rice. Just like a “bat soup” theory for COVID. Why do we come to these conclusions? We know that the bat soup theory at this point is not evidence-based, yet it somehow became common knowledge for many people around the world.
  • The disease was not of great interest to Europeans until the British soldiers got infected.  We are still just reactionaries, and anyone who is warning people about the coming problems is regarded as an alarmist. I wonder what should change in us, in order to prevent a terrible future. 
  • Pushkin wrote the play in Boldino, and he actually finished other critically-acclaimed works there. In fact, he was so prolific during his stay at Boldino, his time there was named “Boldino autumn.” It is similar (and this links us back to Defoe) to Newton’s “Year of Wonders” in 1665-1666. It reminds me that many people during COVID encouraged each other to follow these examples, and try to stay productive during the quarantine. Unfortunately, not everyone has the privilege to stay productive. Bring in here the example of Ramanujan, who died from cholera-ish disease because of his health history when he was 32. I imagine that we, as humans, cannot comprehend the idea of a deadly disease, just as we cannot comprehend some scientific paradoxes. Diseases are much more brutal than we can imagine. 
Pushkin’s letter to Praskovya Osipova from 5(?) November 1830 with traces of disinfection punctures
Institute of Russian Literature (Pushkin House)

P.S. I will leave you with a link to a great website on culture and history. This one is an article about Pushkin’s letters during the Boldino period. Unfortunately, the website is mainly in Russian. But I think that Google Translation does a fair job.

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  1. Super cool stuff here. If anyone does not have their fill of cholera, remember that the readings I shifted to “optional” status this week are all about cholera in London. The Johnson talk would be an easy way to get a feel for it. I’m also super taken by the image of the letter with disinfection punctures: what a perfect way to illustrate the close connection between verbal and viral communication.

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