Connecting the Fragments

the-sick-childOne of the things I love most about life is the way in which suddenly two or more of the fragments that make up our day to day experiences will fit together, like pieces on a jigsaw and begin to reveal a picture larger than had previously been apparent.  Yesterday I went to see the programme about the current Edvard Munch exhibition that has been showing this week in some of our cinemas.  I was in two minds about whether or not to go because the only Munch work that I could identify was the ubiquitous Scream and I wasn’t sure I could live for an hour and a half in the mind of a man who felt that way about life.  Well, I went and it was the right decision because although he certainly didn’t have the happiest or the easiest of lives his work is varied and often, for me at least, far more interesting than the picture that has made him famous around the world.

Munch’s early life was blighted by the ill health and subsequent death of members of his family, including his mother and elder sister Johanne Sophie, both from tuberculosis.  The picture here, The Sick Child, was completed in 1885 but inevitably draws on the experience of those two deaths in 1868 and 1877.  Coincidently, early in the day I had been re-reading some of my favourite passages from Little Women, first published in 1868, and the two experiences came together to make me realise something that I knew at one level but that had never properly sunk in, namely how common tuberculosis was in the mid to late nineteenth century and how often its diagnosis became a death sentence.  This could just as easily be a representation of Jo March sitting at the deathbed of her sister Beth, or in reality Louisa May mourning over Elizabeth Alcott.  For me this is a superb picture that completely captures the heartbreak of the one to be left behind, whereas the child who is sick and soon to die is almost radiant in her acceptance of the inevitable, just as Alcott portrays the reactions of the March family to Beth’s death in Good Wives.

Like many people I was inoculated against this dreadful disease when in my teens and so have been spared the distress that it caused in so many families, including my own in previous generations, even during the earlier years of the twentieth century.  It is horrifying to recognise that here in the UK at least, it is again beginning to gain a foothold.  We do not need scenes like this to become commonplace once more.


18 thoughts on “Connecting the Fragments

    1. When I first started teaching in a very poor area of the city I had three children go down with TB. It was heartbreaking to watch them. Fortunately we were able to refer them for the medical help they needed but with the change in the disease and its growing ability to defeat antibiotics I’m not sure this would be the case today.

  1. This film was supposed to come to my city and then it didn’t, so I’m still waiting eagerly. I saw the previous one of this series, Manet: Portraying Life. I was a bit disappointed with that one, found it unimaginative. So I’m very glad to read from your review that Munch 150 could well be a much more interesting production. I’m certainly looking forward to the Vermeer and Music coming later this year.

    1. I agree entirely about the Manet, Arti. I think this was better but I’m still not sure why they feel the need to put them into cinemas; they would reach a far larger audience if they televised them. Having said that, I have my ticker for the Vermeer already booked.

      1. Finally had the chance to see it as the film was re-screened just for one day last week. You’re right, this is a much more enjoyable film than the Manet. Just posted my thoughts.

        1. I’m glad you thought the same as I did, Arti. It suggests that the producers may be learning by experience. Are you going to get the chance to see the one about Vermeer and Music that is coming up?

    1. Do try and see something of the rest of his work, Ali. I was amazed at how wide a variety of art he produced. Some of his self-portraits are remarkable.

  2. What a marvelous connection of fragments. TB is sadly making a comeback here too with several strains resistant to treatment. Rather worrisome.

    1. Yes, it is that resistance to the antibiotics that is worrying here as well. It seems to be growing in particular pockets of the country and that gives it chance to take that resistance further. I think here, at least, we all run to the doctor demanding antibiotics far to quickly so we only have ourselves to blame.

      1. People run to the doctor to demand antibiotics here too. Plus most of the meat people buy in the US is filled with antibiotics too because of the way animals are raised on huge agribusiness farms. We do indeed have only ourselves to blame.

  3. Where do you find such interesting events? I must be totally oblivious to what’s happening on the arts scene or maybe they don’t reach this part of the uk.

    1. Karen, try checking out the National Theatre Live website. They often have links to other events as well. Also, if you can identify a nearby cinema that screens the NT productions they will normally be the ones that show everything else. I could be there two or three times a week locally if I was looking to go to opera and ballet as well as theatre and exhibitions.

  4. I never had the jab. My brother had problems with his – blew up into a blister that was painful for about a year, so my mother wouldn’t let me have it. I never quite know whether to get it done or take my chances. The thing about chronic fatigue is that it responds very badly to innoculation (I avoid the winter flu jab having had it once and vowing never again, but I wobble over that decision too). The painting is amazing though. The dejection in the set of the shoulders and neck is masterful and devastating.

    1. To inoculate or not to inoculate, it’s a real problem isn’t it? What would I have done if I’d had children when there was the MMR scare? I’m so glad I didn’t have that decision to make.

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