Aside: calenture

I was glancing through my copy of George Eliot’s Adam Bede, that early novel of hers (1859) full of earnest Methodists and wronged maidens (did Hardy get the idea of Tess’s infanticide from this?), and noticed this odd word:

Book 1, ch. 7: The Dairy

The dairy was certainly worth looking at: it was a scene to sicken for with a sort of calenture in hot and dusty streets–such coolness, such purity, such fresh fragrance of new-pressed cheese, of firm butter, of wooden vessels perpetually bathed in pure water…

 

Adam Bede

Picture of Adam Bede in his carpenter’s workshop, from an early American edition. By Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

Here’s the OED online (as ever, thank you, Cornwall Library Service for this free resource; I’ve omitted most of the citations):

Etymology: < French calenture, < Spanish calentura fever, <  calentar to be hot, < Latin calēnt-em hot, burning.

  1. A disease incident to sailors within the tropics, characterized by delirium in which the patient, it is said, fancies the sea to be green fields, and desires to leap into it.The word was also used in the Spanish general sense of ‘fever’, and sometimes in that of ‘sunstroke’.

1593    T. Nashe Christs Teares f. 45   Then (as the possessed with the Calentura,) thou shalt offer to leape.

1719    D. Defoe Life Robinson Crusoe 19   In this Voyage..I was continually sick, being thrown into a violent Calenture by the excessive Heat.

1721    Swift Bubble vii   So, by a calenture misled, The mariner with rapture sees, On the smooth ocean’s azure bed, Enamell’d fields and verdant trees.

 

  1. fig. and transf. Fever; burning passion, ardour, zeal, heat, glow.

1596    T. Nashe Haue with you to Saffron-Walden sig. F3v   Er hee bee come to the..raging Calentura of his wretchednes.

a1631    J. Donne Poems (1650) 158   Knowledge kindles Calentures in some.

1841    H. Smith Moneyed Man III. ix. 238   The mirage of a moral calenture, which conjures up unexisting objects.

So it would seem to be this second, figurative meaning that Eliot intends. Given the simmering passions among the main characters in this scene, the erotic connotations are surely intended.

That sailors would suffer the delusion that the ocean was green fields or prairies and they wanted to jump overboard to escape the confines of their ship reminds me of a similar feel to the early parts of Moby-Dick.

Calenture: useful word to have in your repertoire.

This will probably be my final post for a couple of weeks; I’m going on travels with family.