Cover of Tubercular Capital by Sunny S. Yudkoff
Tubercular Capital
Illness and the Conditions of Modern Jewish Writing
Sunny S. Yudkoff


November 2018
256 pages.

Cloth ISBN: 9781503605152



Tubercular Capital considers the relationship between disease, biography, and authorship, focusing on a group of Hebrew and Yiddish writers whose lives and work were defined by a diagnosis of tuberculosis. The devastating and often fatal illness provided a means for these late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century authors and poets to grow their reputations and find financial backers. At the same time, it influenced their chosen styles and served a central role in the public fashioning of their literary personas. It also allowed Jewish writers to enter into a variety of intersecting European, American, and Russian traditions of writing about tuberculosis.

Through examining the life and literature of Sholem Aleichem, Raḥel Bluvshtein, David Vogel, and a group of writers at the Jewish Consumptives' Relief Society sanatorium in Denver, Colorado, Sunny S. Yudkoff shows how a tubercular diagnosis could direct the art and arc of modern Jewish literature. Combining historical analysis with close readings, Yudkoff uncovers how tuberculosis would come to function as an agent of modern Jewish writing and provide ties to a larger literary conversation about tuberculosis and "the cure."

About the author

Sunny S. Yudkoff is Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

"This brilliant study combines thorough historical research with a fine-grained analysis of texts produced under the shadow of the 'White Death,' all framed by a powerful account of the cultural and economic matrix within which both the career of the individual poet and the tradition of tubercular writing are most fruitfully articulated."

—Ernest B. Gilman, NYU

"Resisting the sentimental transformation of illness into metaphor described by Susan Sontag, while attending to the persistently romanticized 'consumptive artist,' Sunny Yudkoff's brilliant study provides a new model for understanding the relationship between literary creativity and tuberculosis. Tubercular Capital argues that writers strategically mobilized their tuberculosis, both for their careers and in their work, even as they were laid low by disease. From Sholem Aleichem's 'tubercular Jubilee' to the sickrooms and sanatoria of other Hebrew and Yiddish writers, tuberculosis was inextricable from the burgeoning of early twentieth-century Hebrew and Yiddish literary culture."

—Naomi Seidman, University of Toronto