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Ill ComposedSickness, Gender, and Belief in Early Modern England$
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Olivia Weisser

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780300200706

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300200706.001.0001

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Illness Narratives by the Poor

Illness Narratives by the Poor

(p.159) 6. Illness Narratives by the Poor
Ill Composed

Olivia Weisser

Yale University Press

While the bulk of the book relies on personal writing by middling and upper-status patients, this chapter explores narratives of illness by the poor using petitions to poor-law authorities in which paupers recounted episodes of ill health. Scholars tend to analyze pauper petitions quantitatively, as these sources are extremely brief and formulaic legal documents. This chapter takes a qualitative approach by closely investigating the words of individual petitioners. In particular, the chapter explores how the poor law and the genre of the petition shaped resulting descriptions of illness. The discussion illuminates what we both gain and lose by studying firsthand accounts by wealthier patients. The detailed narratives recorded in personal writing and the terse formulations in petitions present starkly different accounts of illness and its ramifications—distinctions that highlight the conventions and mediated nature of the sources themselves, as well as the wide range of experiences of illness in early modern England.

Keywords:   paupers, petitions, poor, sickness, charity

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