‘Cabin Fever’ Was Coined By A Woman in 1918

No matter what Punxsutawney Phil may say, there are still six weeks of this seemingly eternal winter, and many of us are starting to feel the claustrophobic anxiety colloquially called “cabin fever,” a term that happens to have just turned 100.

Originally association with typhoid fever, the more familiar definition arose with the January 1918 publication of a western-set novel Cabin Fever, about a man named Bud who, feeling suffocated by being a husband and father, leaves his wife and becomes friends with a prospector named Cash. The author? BM Bower, pen name for a woman named Bertha Muzzy Sinclair, who wrote 57 western-themed novels, many of which were best-sellers and 18 of which were made into short and/or feature-length films. But none had the lingual or cultural  impact of “cabin fever.”

The Cincinnati Enquirer defined “cabin fever” as “that irritation and temper, that quarrel-breeding state of mind that comes to those whose lives are too confined and monotonous without action of variety;” and The New York Times noted, “It is the common disease of overwhelming domesticity.” And though Virginia’s Times Dispatch pegged the condition to western life — “There is a certain malady of mind induced by too much monotony: fashionable folk call it ennui, but Westerners call it ‘cabin fever.’” — the term was equally applicable to eastern elite who, shell-shocked by WWI, ensconced themselves in log cabins in places like the Adirondacks and the Poconos. [I write about this briefly in my book: The Log Cabin: An Illustrated History.]

In any event, try to keep your head about you as winter thaws. It’s a ways off, but it will happen… I hope….

[For more Fun with Words, click HERE.]

 

Crisis, at Midlife

From Joshua Rothman’s New Yorker writeup on Kieran Setiya’s new book, Midlife: A Philosophical Guide:

“Setiya finds that the history of the midlife crisis is both very long and very short. On the one hand, he identifies a text from Twelfth Dynasty Egypt, circa 2000 B.C., as the earliest description of a midlife crisis and suggests that Dante might have had one at the age of thirty-five. (“Midway on life’s journey, I found myself / In dark woods, the right road lost.”) On the other, he learns that the term itself wasn’t coined until 1965, when a psychologist named Elliott Jaques wrote an essay called “Death and the Mid-life Crisis.” (Jaques quotes a patient’s eloquent lament: “Up till now, life has seemed an endless upward slope, with nothing but the distant horizon in view. Now suddenly I seem to have reached the crest of the hill, and there stretching ahead is the downward slope with the end of the road in sight.”)”

I’m feeling this.

Happy 70th Birthday, ‘Bananafish’

Today marks the 70th anniversary of The New Yorker publishing JD Salinger’s short story “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” the first of the author’s many stories to a) appear in The New Yorker and b) to feature a member of the Glass Family, the intelligent, quirky and wealthy New York brood from which Salinger drew so much inspiration. They were the original Tenenbaums.

Iconic today, the story wasn’t originally called “A Perfect Day for Bananafish.” It was, simply, “The Bananafish.” Unhappy with the initial narrative arc they received in January of 1947, as well as the title, William Maxwell and Gus Lobrano sent it back to Salinger for revisions, which took a year of back-and-forth consultations — until finally, in January of 1948, receiving a final draft entitled “A Fine Day for Bananafish,” Lobrano decided “Perfect” was better than “Fine,” and published the story under the title we all know today. It was a sensation.

If you’re unfamiliar with “Bananafish,” it’s about Seymour Glass, the second oldest child of the family, but while Seymour’s alive and well – for now – he’s suffering. Much like Salinger himself after the war, Seymour’s having trouble returning to civilian life, what with the horrors of global conflict seared into his memory. On a Florida vacation with his wife, Seymour’s stuck in a quagmire of depression, acting as the nexus for broader social alienation, bellicose brutality, mental deterioration and society’s willful ignorance of all. A crushing story, it’s publication cemented Salinger’s reputation as a beguiling and beautiful writer. And it only took him a year of edits! That’s refreshing for anyone struggling with their own words these days.

Anyway, if you’d like to take a look at the story and don’t have a New Yorker subscription, it’s included in Nine Stories, a PDF of which can be found here.