‘Out of Bed, But Not Yet Abroad’: Spatial Experiences of Recovery from Illness in Early Modern England

Hannah Newton


In early modern England, patients tracked their transition from sickness to health according to where they were in domestic space. During severe illness, the sick were usually confined to bed, unable to stir; but as health returned, they gradually expanded their spatial horizons, until eventually they could leave the house – known as ‘going abroad’. Recovery was thus a state of spatial liminality – between the sickbed and the outdoors, or more specifically, the threshold of the front door. The present study asks what it was like to make this transition, exploring the patient’s physical, emotional, sensory and spiritual experience of the return to normal spatial life. Through these discussions, the chapter seeks to rebalance and brighten our overall picture of early modern health, which has hitherto focused mainly on disease and death. In so doing, it challenges the fairly widespread assumption that recovery was rare in this period.


spatiality, early modern, sickness, recovery, domesticity

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