Nora Kynd (born in 1825) was a central character in Barrett’s Ship Fever (in this database). She survived illness and quarantine at Grosse Ile, but lost contact with both her younger brothers, Ned and Denis. She reaches Detroit by 1848 where she learns about herbal remedies from a kindly landlady. She marries late and has a son, Michael, but never stops searching for her brothers. Her husband dies. One day in 1868, Nora sees Ned’s name as the proprietor of a hunting and fishing lodge in the Adirondacks. She packs up everything and moves there with her young son.

Ned takes Nora and Michael into his home. He carries on with the hunting business and taxidermy, but they increasingly cater to people with tuberculosis who come for “The Cure” of good food, fresh air, and lots of rest—as a reflection of the famous nearby sanatorium (unnamed but likely the Trudeau Sanatorium at Saranac Lake). In this capacity, they meet lodgers Clara and her two daughters Gillian and Elizabeth—the almost abandoned family of the naturalist Max from Barrett’s story “Servants of the Map” (also this database).

Young Elizabeth has a cough and an eye for Michael, but he has eyes only for Gillian whom he eventually marries. Together they take over Ned’s Inn. For her cough, Elizabeth becomes a resident of the sanatorium and finds her own husband in fellow invalid, Andrew. Together they open a nearby boarding house for other invalids and Nora joins them in the endeavor as the nurse, serving until her death. But Nora was difficult to replace and Elizabeth is now searching for a new nurse to help with the care of her ailing clients.


This complex tale operates on two different time planes with three different perspectives– Nora’s life in coming to the mountains, a single day in Elizabeth’s life in 1905 more than a decade after Nora’s death, and Andrew’s view of them both.

The theme of impending death hovers over the story—what people say about it, how they avoid it or confront it straight on. It emerges that Elizabeth had faked her cough to be able to escape the city and stay in the mountains.

The 1882 discovery of germ theory is introduced to the little community by a physician who is also a patient. The housewives who run boarding houses take stock of the implications of germ theory for the management of their homes. Fear of infection and the idea of latent resistance are new to them and are mapped onto the background of previous notions. They are intrigued that their established habits of cleanliness correspond to the new dictates of germs. Nora becomes adept in microscopy and an interlocutor between medical advances and the landladies of her community.

Among other things, this story also shows how a cottage industry can grow around the concepts of disease and how scientific changes provoke social changes far beyond the hospital and the laboratory. And with no specific cure yet available, the care that they provide continues to be the cure.  

Primary Source

Servants of the Map; Stories


W. W. Norton

Place Published

New York and London



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