WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Green Sickness

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Green Sickness

This week’s word is one of those that make you laugh and roll your eyes at the same time. Oh, the taint of virginity on one’s health – the concept implied physical affliction but reality revealed true financial miseries to be the main component. Back in the day, a woman married to survive. Literally.

Perhaps that thought would make one ill.

A girl fainting and collapsing into the arms of a woman, engraving by W. Sedgwick after E. Penny, Wellcome Images (alternative title, Apparent Dissolution).

Green Sickness

The disease of maids occasioned by celibacy.

William Savage, who writes historical mystery novels and blogs at Pen and Pension, has a thorough post on this topic that I encourage you to visit ~ The Cure for Green Sickness. He hooks interest with the first few sentences:

‘Green sickness’ was described as a condition ‘peculiar to virgins’, which was said to turn the skin a greenish colour and leave the sufferer weak and melancholic. It was also believed to be common throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, especially in girls approaching puberty and in thin and languid young women.

Perhaps she’s dressed in a smart green pelisse to ward off the vile Green Sickness. Walking Dress, fashion plate from La Belle Assemblée, April 1817, public domain.

Are your eyes rolling yet?

Barbara W. Swords wrote an essay comparing the actual status of women during Jane Austen’s time versus the Lady’s representation of women in her works. It’s a historically-rich read for any connoisseur of the era and Austen, but for this week’s purposes of adding sardonic laughter and a groan or two, I adore this quote from a 1770 parliamentary statute (purloined from Ms. Swords’ treatise A Woman’s Economic Opportunities During the Regency Era).

Here we go:

All women of whatever age, rank, profession, or degree, whether virgin maid or widow, that shall from and after such Act impose upon, seduce, and betray into matrimony any of His Majesty’s subjects by means of scent, paints, cosmetics, washes, artificial teeth, false hair, Spanish wool, ironstays, hoops, high-heeled shoes, or bolstered hips, shall incur the penalty of the law now in force against witchcraft and like misdemeanors, and that the marriage upon conviction shall stand null and void.

It is amazing that parliament omitted those ladies of a greenish hue that were desperate to obtain the marriage cure for their sickness. The beautiful lady above scoffs at the notion of Green Sickness, although perhaps she’ll regret such an in-your-face skewering when she reads about the deadly Regency pigments of Emerald Green and Paris Green at Jane Austen’s Regency World.

But that’s a post for another week.

Slang term taken from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. The rest of the links are highlighted in the post. Read and enjoy!

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