On the eve of the twentieth century, Mary Mallon emigrated from Ireland at age fifteen to make her way in New York City. Brave, headstrong, and dreaming of being a cook, she fought to climb up from the lowest rung of the domestic-service ladder. Canny and enterprising, she worked her way to the kitchen, and discovered in herself the true talent of a chef. Sought after by New York aristocracy, and with an independence rare for a woman of the time, she seemed to have achieved the life she’d aimed for when she arrived in Castle Garden. Then one determined “medical engineer” noticed that she left a trail of disease wherever she cooked, and identified her as an “asymptomatic carrier” of Typhoid Fever. With this seemingly preposterous theory, he made Mallon a hunted woman.
The Department of Health sent Mallon to North Brother Island, where she was kept in isolation from 1907 to 1910, then released under the condition that she never work as a cook again. Yet for Mary—proud of her former status and passionate about cooking—the alternatives were abhorrent. She defied the edict.
Fever is the fictionalized account of the life of “Typhoid Mary”, and what a fantastic account it is. I knew of Mary Mallon. I’d heard of “Typhoid Mary”. As it turns out, all I knew of her story was her awful nickname. I had no understanding of her life or what happened to her.
Mary was arrested, treated like garbage, and made to live in isolation on a quarantine island. She really didn’t understand what they were saying about her. She’d never been sick a day in her life. How could she be spreading a disease?
|Oh SWEET JESUS, keep your fingers OUT of the food!|
There was little understanding about the spread of disease in the early 1900’s compared with what we know today. The things the doctors and health officials were saying sounded like some sort of magic to Mary Mallon. I can understood why she went back to cooking after being forbidden to do so.
“Typhoid Mary” has been painted by history as an evil woman. This book made me realize that there was much more to her story.
Fever is a sensational book about an intriguing woman. I couldn’t stop reading it and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
To learn more about Mary Mallon see this article on Nova, “Typhoid Mary: Villain or Victim?”