In October 1918, the Austrian artist Egon Schiele was 28. That month, his wife, Edith, six months pregnant with the couple’s child, died of a terrible disease. Schiele died of the same cause three days later, halfway through painting his most haunting work. The Family shows a gaunt and naked Schiele hunched, one long arm pressed across his heart. He sits behind a nude Edith. Emerging from between his wife’s legs, and confronting the viewer, can be seen the sorrowful face of the Schieles’s unborn child. In October 1918, in Denver, Colorado, the young American novelist Katherine Anne Porter caught the same disease. She recovered, but when her ebony hair grew back, it had turned pure white. In 1939, she wrote Pale Horse, Pale Rider, the story of a man who dies of the flu after nursing his stricken girlfriend. It was to Porter that the American historian Alfred Crosby dedicated his landmark 1989 study of Spanish flu, an illness that is thought to have killed close to 100 million people, far outnumbering the dead of the two world wars. Crosby studied the pandemic’s effect upon the US. Laura Spinney has adapted Porter’s title for her own excruciating report on… Read full this story
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