Nora Bartlett

Published On


Page Range

pp. 93-112

Print Length

19 pages

6. In Sickness and in Health: Courting and Nursing in Some Jane Austen Novels

  • Nora Bartlett (author)
Chapter of: Jane Austen: Reflections of a Reader(pp. 93–112)
This chapter examines the narrative role of illness (both real and imagined) in Jane Austen's novels, including a quick run-through of the events in the novels that might be thought to call for medical intervention. Austen’s family history is discussed (including her writing history), as well as her own fatal illness and the relationship she had with her mother. Bartlett explores late eighteenth-century medical care in England, and the larger role that family played in this care. There is a detailed discussion of four of the six novels (Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Emma). The interactions of characters (including romantic interests) with the sick are explored, as well as the nursing of the ill, and the symbolic imports of “nursing” itself. Bartlett further explores Austen’s underlying interests in presenting illness in her novels: Austen is not interested in a set of symptoms, but in a situation, in the emotional and physical tenderness between people who share an experience. In turn, Bartlett illuminates Austen’s interest in illness as a device to reveal one’s real nature: in illness one cannot hide it, and perhaps the care of the sick is as revealing as illness itself? An "illness" unique to the eighteenth century is discussed—“nerves”—particularly as it applied to Pride and Prejudice. Finally, Bartlett comments on Jane Austen as a novelist; her portrayal of some illnesses being more equal than others; and similarities between these two groups: the sick and the well, on the one hand; and men and women in love, on the other.


Nora Bartlett