Blood and Beauty – A Gruesome Georgian question

I was recently reading The Castle of Wolfenbach, a gothic tale of 1793, which is only known today as one of the seven ‘Horrid’ novels listed by Isabella Thorpe in Northanger Abbey, when I came across the following passage. The heroine Matilda is recovering from the shock of being pursued by her ‘uncle’.

Mme de Bouville payed her a visit in the evening: she was sitting up, and, from the quantity of blood taken from her in the morning, she looked uncommonly delicate and beautiful.

L0005745 A surgeon bleeding the arm of a young woman: she is being co

Bleeding a Young Woman picture from the Wellcome Collection

Bleeding was one of the commonest treatments in pre-modern medicine, it was the standard treatment for so many conditions, it seems to have often been carried out ‘just in case’. Some people seem to have been bled even when they weren’t ill, just as people today take vitamin supplements, and for more or less the same reasons.


Lancet (above) for bleeding people, and Fleam (below) for bleeding animals

Since Eliza Parsons describes Matilda looking ‘uncommonly delicate and beautiful’ shortly after a ‘quantity of blood’ had been taken from her, other people must have noticed this effect of bleeding, and considering how crazy people have been are, when it comes to looking good, I wonder if bleeding was ever done for cosmetic reasons?

I have found no accounts of cosmetic bleeding, I rather hope they don’t exist, but would love to know if they did.


Filed under Georgian, Jane Austen

6 responses to “Blood and Beauty – A Gruesome Georgian question

  1. I am quite sure some un -informed women would very likely have had this done to appear more ‘Delicate’ …some of the things done in pursuit of the perfect look through out history and still done today and most likely into the future!! fill me with fear!
    The risk of infection from being bled let alone an accidental bleed out, corsets so tight they make you swoon, bound feet, rings to elongate the neck…. need I go on!! There you have me ranting again… thanks for another enjoyable post!!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Well some are called Kardashian, so I wouldn’t like to comment.


  3. I’ve also read that some women did so to look paler, but I can’t remember where.

    Liked by 1 person

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