In 1918 the influenza pandemic (also known as the Spanish Influenza) affected every part of the globe. Reports vary as to its mortality rate, ranging between 17 million and 50 million. It affected 500 million people around the world.
As an author of Historical Fiction, it’s necessary to make mention of this world event when writing of that era. I have written two books covering that time (After Paris, set during and after WW1) and my new novel Torn Asunder which opens in 1916 and runs to 1943. Every community and family were affected in some way by the tragedy of the pandemic, which struck young people suddenly and without care as to race, religion, gender or social standing.
This excerpt from Torn Asunder, set in Ireland, captures that reality:
He watched as she poured out the tea for each of them. “Your parents don’t mind you coming out with me?”
She tossed her curls back out of her eyes. “I’m twenty years old. They don’t say anything. They probably think I’m overdue for settling down. It’s my sisters that are all giggles and gossip when they see me getting ready to go out.”
He saw a small ‘v’ form on her forehead and she turned to look out the window, quiet for a moment. “What is it, Bridie? Is your family teasing you over the likes of me?”
She turned back, her eyes shiny with tears. “No, nothing like that.”
“What then? Something’s wrong.”
“I was just thinking of my other sister.”
Emmet frowned. “I thought you only had the two.”
“I do. I had another who was two years older than me. Maureen was her name.”
“You never mentioned her before now.”
A tear spilled down her cheek. “I can’t bear to talk of her. We were the best of friends. She was taken by the Spanish influenza three years ago.”
He leaned across and touched her arm. “I’m that sorry, Bridie.”
Bridie pulled a hankie from her small embroidered handbag and touched it to the corner of her eye. She looked back out the window and Emmet had to strain to hear her. “She was fine. We were all fine. She went to play cards with three other women on a Wednesday afternoon and by the following Wednesday three of those women were dead.”
Emmet crossed himself. “Dear God.”
Bridie took a deep breath and exhaled, seeming to steady herself. “I’m sorry for bringing you down. We were having such a nice time, but she’s always with me, you know? I imagine what she’d think of you or of what she’d say when I tell her this or that. It just isn’t right that she isn’t here. She was my best friend.”
He didn’t say anything, just squeezed her arm one last time before leaning back again to pick up his tea.
We are living in historic times. The shutdown of entire countries as they try to prevent the same devastation experienced in the 1918 influenza pandemic is unprecedented. Society will be changed forever, even as life returns to ‘normal’ in the future once this period is past.
Will authors a hundred years from now be
writing about us as we work through this current global crisis? How will
we show up in the annals of history? Will stories of heroism and tales of
neighbour helping neighbour be the headline? We can only hope. Now is the time
to create the records of the future.