Friday, April 6, 2007


Hanne Blank's work has appeared to great acclaim in many print and online publications, anthologies and collections, as well as in book form.

Her new book is Virgin: The Untouched History, to which she applied the "page 69 test" and reported the following:
Page 69 of Virgin: The Untouched History is, I think, pretty indicative of what the book is like. It combines analysis, scholarly discussion, and juicy bits of the kind of historical stuff you just don't see in many histories, all in the same discussion.

This page brings us in at the tail end of a discussion of one of medical history's fascinating unsolved mysteries, a syndrome known for five hundred years as "the disease of virgins." This disease had a number of other names, including "greensickness" and "chlorosis," but the most important things to know about it in order to understand what is on page 69 are that it
1) was considered a serious, possibly life-threatening illness;
2) affected only virgin women, and thus usually young ones;
3) was quite common and well-known as an illness from the 16th century to the early 20th, in the same sort of way that depression or eating disorders are today; and
4) literally vanished from the medical landscape in the early 20th century, to the point that few doctors nowadays would know what you were talking about if you mentioned it.

Page 69 deals specifically with what cures were considered good for the disease of virgins: improving diet (especially with red meat, wine, and later, mineral supplements), and, as referenced in this tidbit of Elizabethan doggerel, which I quote in the book, sexual intercourse:

"A mayden, faire of ye greene sicknesse late
Pity to see, perplexed was full sore
resolvinge how t'amend her bad estate,
In this distresse Apollo doth implore
Cure for her ill; ye oracle assignes,
Keep ye the first letter of these severall lines."

(Read the first letter of every line if you want the "best cure" punchline without having to make your way through the antiquated English.)

As for what you can expect from the rest of the book? Everything from virginity tests to the Church Fathers, Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Spanish gypsy deflowering rituals ... and well beyond. But I think page 69, its historical long view studded with very specific (and sometimes pretty risque) examples and a sense of humor, is very much what I tried to bring to every other page as well.
Visit Hanne Blank's website and her blog, and read an excerpt from Virgin.

See the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue