Thursday, January 18, 2007

Not Arsenic?

My favorite time period---the one I especially studied at university (and before and since)---is the Regency, aka Regency England. During that time, the forces of good (namely the British army, under the great Wellington, for the most part, and the British navy, under command of the brilliant Nelson) were fighting Napoleon and his armies as they conquered Europe (but never England!).

Most people know of this time as the Napoleonic Era, though I think it should be named after Wellington. After all, he did defeat Napoleon twice, most notably at Waterloo.

I could certainly go on and on about this time period, but I'll get to the point. Even though I am quite obsessed with the Regency, as opposed to Napoleon (and the French!), I still find articles, books, etc., about Napoleon interesting. So, of course I must blog about this:

AP: Stomach cancer likely killed Napoleon ---

NEW YORK - Napoleon Bonaparte died a more prosaic death than some people would like to think, succumbing to stomach cancer rather than arsenic poisoning, according to new research into what killed the French emperor.

Theories that Napoleon was poisoned with arsenic have abounded since 1961, when an analysis of his hair showed elevated levels of the toxic element.

But the latest review of the 1821 autopsy report just after he died concludes the official cause of death — stomach cancer — is correct.

The autopsy describes a tumor in his stomach that was 4 inches long. Comparing that description to modern cases, main author Dr. Robert M. Genta of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas and an international team of researchers surmised that a growth so extensive could not have been a benign stomach ulcer.

"I have never seen an ulcer of that size that is not cancer," said Genta, a professor of pathology and internal medicine.

Further analysis suggested that his stomach cancer had reached a stage that is virtually incurable even with modern medical technology. People with similar cancers today usually die within a year.
And what evidence indicates this:

The autopsy and other historical sources indicate that the rotund French leader had lost about 20 pounds in the last few months of his life, another sign of stomach cancer. His stomach also contained a dark material similar to coffee grounds, a telltale sign of extensive bleeding in the digestive tract. The massive bleeding was likely the immediate cause of death, Genta and his colleagues concluded.

Historical sources also don't mention many typical signs of arsenic poisoning, such as discoloration of the fingernails, pre-cancerous blemishes on the feet and hands, cancers of the skin, lung and bladder and bleeding from the wall that separates the heart's lower chambers.
But could it still have been arsenic?

"Can we rule out the arsenic theory? I think we have some evidence against it," Genta said. "We cannot exclude it 100 percent, but I think we are pretty confident it's unlikely."

Dr. Steven B. Karch, who has also studied the case, believes Napoleon still could have been killed by arsenic or one of several medicines he received in his final days. Arsenic alone or in combination with other substances can cause fatal heartbeat irregularities, he said.

Napoleon died at age 52 while in exile on the South Atlantic island of St. Helena where he was banished after his defeat at Waterloo.
I think it is fascinating. Two of my oldest friends, sisters, have both been to Elba, where Napoleon was first exiled. I would love to visit some day.

Crossposted at A Lady's Ruminations

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gabriella hewitt said...

I stumbled across your blog as I was looking for the Thursday Thirteen participants. The article on Napolean is fascinating. I love the Regency period and am a fan of the genre. My first regencies to read were by Georgette Heyer who had a remarkable flair for bringing the era to life. There are many good authors now who write about the period, but I've never found any who capture the language quite like Georgette Heyer did.

Excitement. Suspense. Passion.

Dark Water, Samhain Publishing Fall 2007

Lady Jane said...

Thank you for visiting and commenting! I'm glad you stumbled across A Lady's Diversions. I was quite fascinated by the Napoleon article.

I didn't start reading Georgette Heyer novels until a few years ago, but I adore them. She was an exquisite writer and I'm so glad to have found them.

gabriella hewitt said...

I posted a response to the focaccia baking question on my blog, but thought I'd pop back over here to follow up on Georgette Heyer.

I would have to say she's the first romance author I fell in love with. The few romance books that feel into my hands as a teenager were very dated with the older, all-knowing hero and the virginal "I need a strong man to take care of me" heroine. Couldn't stand them. I picked up The Grand Sophy and couldn't put it down. I loved it and then stalked the bookstores for more of her stuff. I've even read several of the mysteries she penned. My copies of her books are pretty dog-eared and multi-read. They're comfort reads. And after talking about Georgette with you, I dug out my copy of Frederica last night.

Which of her books have you read? Any favorites?


dapoppins said...

very interesting articale, I am betting the cure for his cancer pain is what killed him. You know how medicine was back then....were they still bleeding them too?

dapoppins said...

ps...also enjoy Georgette Heyer, but have not read all of her books, just two, I think.

Lady Jane said...

Thanks, Patrizia, I will have to go read your response!

I only started reading GH's novels a few years ago. I had picked a few up at the library before and just couldn't get into them. Then, one time, I checked out An Inconvenient Marriage and was hooked. I adore them. I have read quite a lot of them, but I don't know the exact number. My favorites are The Corinthian, Regency Buck, Frederica, These Old Shades, and Devil's Cub. I always seem to add more to the list!

Dapoppins, which two have you read? You should definitely read more!

And very interesting questions about Napoleon. I would imagine they were still bleeding him. Will we ever know?

Thanks for the lovely comments!

gabriella hewitt said...

Interesting. The titles you've listed are some of the few I haven't read (aside from Frederica and Devil's Cub). I can totally recommend The Grand Sophy. Funny. Charming. There are others in the same vein but I'd have to dig them out to remember the titles. Then there was A Civil Contract which I wasn't so keen on, as well as Cousin Kate which is good, but darker more gothic-like.

Heyer also did some mysteries ala Agatha Christie and Patricia Wentworth. I enjoyed them all except for Penhallow. I don't know how hard or easy it is to find copies of them now.