Was childhood disease common or uncommon in the 40s and 50s?[maw,jp] Young adults today cannot really comprehend how much
more common disease and illness were, then, compared to today,
and how much harder it was to get over sickness. Antibiotics were
not as available or as effective. Respiratory ailments were common
and exacerbated by smoggy conditions--Christchurch was smokey
and smoggy in the winter from too many coal fires. [London was
the same. jp] I suffered from asthma on and on in the winter,
just wheezing away until I got sick, because there was nothing
readily available that would help. My hearing is under par because
of all the earaches I had as a kid; again, very common childhood
experiences for the times. [maw]
Childhood disease was very much more a fact of life up into the
50s and even on into the 60s than it is today, and it had an impact
on public consciousness of health and well-being. Polio was the
big scare when I was small, and it affected the way people lived.
Over the years, my immediate family dealt with serious health
problems and even death from birth defects, mumps, meningitis,
whooping cough, scarlet fever and measles and our experience was
not unrepresentative. The list would grow to include polio and
respiratory diseases if I were to include cousins. Children's
health and fitness were very much on the public's mind throughout
the period between WW II and Vietnam. [jp]
What caused the long scar on Pauline's leg? [jp] Pauline said she suffered from osteomyelitis as a young child,
and was confined to bed for an extended period. She said "it turns
your bones to chalk." The Concise Oxford Dictionary says it is
an inflammation of the bone marrow. Explaining the scar, she said
"it took them two years to drain all the muck out." Possibly she
also suffered from secondary infections. In "Heavenly Creatures"
Pauline limped when she ran, and she was excused from PhysEd (gym).
Juliet commented about Pauline's scar: "That's so impressive!"
Was Pauline's illness really that serious? [jp] Yes. In real life, Pauline came close to death. It was also
extremely painful for her over many years, and Pauline still had
pain associated with her leg throughout the period covered in
the film. Medlicott determined that her illness and the pain associated
with it and her lengthy treatment were Pauline's earliest clear
memories (see 7.8.1). There is no doubt that this experience was traumatic for her
family, and for her parents especially, so "Heavenly Creatures"
presented the information correctly, though in a slightly flippant
manner. Pauline wasn't exaggerating, although we may have been
tempted to dismiss her tale as being a little self-indulgent.
Where were Juliet's scars? [jp] Juliet said she has scars on her lungs from unspecified respiratory
illnesses she contracted as a young child. Juliet was excused
from PhysEd (gym) because of bad respiration.
Were Juliet's illnesses really that serious? [jp] Yes. Although we may be tempted to dismiss Juliet's childhood
illnesses as ploys for attention, and Jackson puts a few clues
and indications to that effect in "Heavenly Creatures," in real
life Juliet was a very sickly young child and she almost died
at the age of six.
In fact, the real Juliet's medical history was more involved than
was shown in "Heavenly Creatures."
What did Juliet tell Pauline her mother had promised? [jp] After discussing their diseases in the schoolyard, she said:
"Mummy promises they'll never leave me again."
What did Juliet have to say about their diseases? [jp,sb] "All the best people have bad chests and bone diseases.
It's all frightfully romantic!"
How would Juliet's illness have been viewed in the arts? [jp] Juliet was right on the money: her illnesses were, quite
literally, very Romantic. Literary figures from the classical
romantic period often suffered vague, consumptive illnesses that
made them waste away and become closer to death, more aethereal,
more spiritual and more alluring.
For examples, see Shelley's "Frankenstein," Bronte's "Wuthering
Heights," Poe's stories and poetry, especially his sublime, alliterative
"Annabel Lee," Collins' "The Woman in White," or Stoker's "Dracula."
Or, for that matter, some of Anne Perry's Victorian crime novels
There are connections between Juliet's diseases and the music
used in the film, too (see 3.1.19). Romantic, tragic illness figures prominently in the operas
"La Boheme" and "La Traviata."
How would Pauline's illness have been viewed in the arts? [jp] Traditionally, Pauline's illness would have been a darker
reference, because physical handicap or deformity was often reserved
as a symbol of evil, or it was viewed as a 'punishment' meted
out on those who had sinned, or it could be a manifestation of
a hidden spiritual defect. More rarely, deformity could be an
unjust burden, the selfless bearing of which resulting in spiritual
Examples are rife throughout classical literature: Shakespeare
was particularly fond of this device and "Richard III" springs
to mind as a prominent example of deformity linked to evil, with
Wilde's "The Picture of Dorian Gray" and Stevenson's "Dr Jekyl
and Mr Hyde." Melville's Ahab in "Moby Dick," Hugo's Quasimodo
in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and Shelley's monster in "Frankenstein"
are examples of more spiritually complex deformities.
What disease did Juliet contract? [jp] Juliet was diagnosed with the most 'romantic' disease of
all, 'Consumption.' Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious bacterial
disease characterized by the formation of tubercles, especially
in the lungs. Tubercles are small, rounded swellings on the body
or in organs. TB is highly contagious, capable of being spread
by coughing or even breathing, especially in the confined quarters
of schools or prisons, two 'public' institutions traditionally
sensitive to the disease. Both institutions are relevant to this
story, of course.
Sufferers are quarantined while they undergo treatment, often
in specialized TB sanatoria. Patients are normally released when
they are no longer infectious (no live bacteria in sputum cultures)
or, more conservatively, once they have returned to good health,
i.e. once they have been 'cured.' In real life, Juliet was released
before being declared medically 'cured.'
What is the treatment for TB? [jp,lam] The classical treatment for TB involves isolation, treatment
of symptoms and general attention to improving overall health
and well-being through diet and mild exercise. And, of course,
a course of drugs to combat the bacterial infection.
The classical drug treatment involves three drugs: isoniazid (classed
as an inhibitor of cell function), streptomycin (an antibiotic)
and rifampin. All drugs are still in very common use and are prescribed
widely for TB and for many other diseases. Cautions or side effects
listed for isoniazid are mostly concerned with depression of liver
In real life, Juliet's TB was treated with the drugs isoniazid
and streptomycin, according to Medlicott (see 7.8.1) and the treatment continued after Juliet's release from the
sanatorium. Also, according to Medlicott, there was no evidence
that these drugs had adverse psychological effects on Juliet.
Neither drug has been removed from use since that time.
In her recent statements to the press, Anne Perry insists that
she was treated with an experimental drug, since removed from
use, which affected her judgement (see 4.9).
What are the lingering effects and consequences of TB? [jp] A TB infection often results in the formation of scar tissue
in the lungs, which shows up as shadowing (denser tissue) in chest
X-rays. Lung capacity is often diminished permanently and patients
can weaken and waste away.
A 'positive' TB skin test shows the presence of antibodies for
the TB bacterium, meaning the person has been exposed to the bacterium,
although they may never have contracted the disease.
Many countries restrict the entry of people who exhibit positive
TB skin tests or X-rays, and most forbid the entry of people with
active TB. Juliet's health could have affected her immediate travel
What were Juliet's fears related to her diseases? [jp] A recurring theme in Juliet's life was her parents sending
her away from them "for the good of her health." She saw this
as an excuse to get rid of her, and she feared this rejection
and abandonment by them more than she feared disease.
In real life, this rejection of Juliet by her parents, under the
guise of concerns over Juliet's ill health, was considerably more
systematic and extensive than was portrayed in the film (see 7.3).
In real life, it was probably a very real factor in defining the
course of events and every bit as important, if not moreso, than
was depicted in "Heavenly Creatures."
Who said "for the good of your health?" [jp] Juliet first said the phrase to Pauline when she described
her childhood illness in the schoolyard.
Hilda Hulme told Juliet her confinement in the sanatorium was
for the good of her health, darling, before she and Dr Hulme left
for England. Juliet made a little cough.
Honora Rieper mentioned to Juliet at the end of the first visit
that Juliet's stay in hospital was for the good of her health.
Juliet flew off the handle a little, shocking Honora with the
intensity of her anger.
Finally, Hilda had her little bedside chat with Juliet after the
subject of divorce had been broached. "You're not ... going ...
to England, darling." At that point, Dr Hulme interjected with
the final "It's for the good of your health." Juliet screamed.
Where was Juliet sent "for the good of her health?" [jp,sb,mw] According to Juliet, to the Bahamas (a British possession
off the Atlantic coast of Florida) during World War II, and to
"the Bay of bloody Islands." She said the Bahamas were "bloody
awful!" Most people would probably view them as an idyllic tropical
The Bay of Islands is a similar environment, in many ways, and
it is a site with great historical significance to New Zealanders,
one reason why Honora looked so taken aback at Juliet's comment.
It is located near the northern tip of the North Island, on the
east coast, around 35 deg N, 174 deg E. You can go on a virtual
tour of the Bay of Islands at:
This 'exile' to the Bahamas is true, though Juliet was eight at
the time, not five, and it happened after WW II. And, in real
life, as a child, Juliet was also sent several other places, away
from her family, "for the good of her health."
Did Juliet use her illnesses for attention? [jp] Yes, though not all that successfully, judging by her parents'
responses. In the sanatorium, where her parents are trying to
convince Juliet she might actually enjoy a spell in there ("It's
very tranquil...") Juliet makes a few well-timed little coughs
to act as pleas and exclamation marks. They fall on deaf ears.
What did Hilda say to Juliet before leaving for England? [jp] Hilda made two important statements. First, she said, almost
in passing, that she would speak to the Matron to make sure "she
takes extra special care of you." This line was exchoed later
by Juliet in a very poignant and telling line, when Pauline and
Honora came to visit. Juliet informed them proudly that the Matron
had shown Juliet the Matron's 'special stitch' and "I'm her favourite."
We are led to believe that the Matron's lavishing attention on
Juliet is simply the result of her following the orders of an
important patron. Juliet seems to have been completely deceived,
rather naively--she is that starved for adult affection.
Hilda's second statement is actually a reference to an extremely
poignant and tragic event that occurred in real life. She said
to Juliet (and wasn't Diana Kent's delivery wonderful?) "We can
always ... cancel ... our arrangements, if that's what you want."
A tearful Juliet simply shook her head. She had been offered the
opportunity to stop her parents from abandoning her and she passed
it up in an act of noble self-sacrifice, exactly as she had been
maneuvered into doing. How could she complain when she herself
had sent them away? In real life, there was a similar scene played
out not by Hilda but by Dr Hulme and Juliet in Paparua Prison
soon after Juliet's arrest. See 7.3.
Did Pauline use her illness for attention? [jp] No, she didn't. In fact, she seemed to resent any attention
given her because of her handicap. At Christmas, 1953, her mother
asks her if she has pain, and Pauline brushes her mother off with
a shake of her head.