Epilogue: Loss, Contagion, and Community

  • Jane Elizabeth Fisher


When the 1918 influenza pandemic concluded almost one century ago, it generated a brief flurry of medical reports and then relative silence in Western history. Yet remnants of the 1918 influenza pandemic stubbornly persist, having an afterlife of literary and intellectual contagion, continuing to make visible cultural connections illuminating questions of contradiction and power. Now the silence surrounding the pandemic has been lifted and interest in the 1918 pandemic is high, with popular and academic works concentrating on it appearing annually.1 Epidemics inevitably not only depend upon shared microbes but also on shared fears, challenges, and experiences; the word contagion literally means “to touch together.”2 Based on readings of Boccaccio, Defoe, Mary Shelley, and others, Priscilla Wald suggests “that the experience of a communicable-disease epidemic could evoke a profound sense of social interaction: communicability configuring community.”3


Influenza Pandemic Word Contagion Profound Sense Irish Immigrant Western History 
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  1. 1.
    For good examples, see Mark Honigsbaum, Living with Enza: The Forgotten Story of Britain and the Great Flu Pandemic of 1918 (New York and London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009); and the 2011 film Contagion, directed by Steven Soderbergh.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Priscilla Wald, Introduction to Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2008), 12.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
  4. 4.
    Christopher Lane, “When Plagues Don’t End,” Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide 8.1 (2001): 32.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Ibid., 30–1.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Michael Cunningham, The Hours (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1998), 10–11.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Ibid., 211.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Ibid., 225.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    David L. Eng and David Kazanjian, Introduction to Loss: The Politics of Mourning (Berkeley and London: University of California Press, 2003), 4–5.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
  11. 12.
    Patricia J. Fanning, Influenza and Inequality: One Towns Tragic Response to the Great Epidemic of 1918 (Springfield, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2010).Google Scholar

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© Jane Elizabeth Fisher 2012

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  • Jane Elizabeth Fisher

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