Carrell, Jennifer Lee 1962–
Carrell, Jennifer Lee 1962–
PERSONAL: Born 1962. Education: Harvard University, Ph.D.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Penguin Putnam, 375 Hudson St., New York, NY 10014.
CAREER: Educator. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, instructor.
The Speckled Monster: A Historical Tale of Battling Smallpox, Dutton (New York, NY), 2003.
Contributor to periodicals, including Smithsonian.
ADAPTATIONS: The Speckled Monster was adapted for audio (unabridged), read by Michael Prichard, Books on Tape, 2003.
SIDELIGHTS: Jennifer Lee Carrell's first book is a work of historical fiction set in 1721 in both England and Boston that explores the bravery of two people who dared to take unconventional measures to save the lives of their children and others from smallpox 140 years before Louis Pasteur developed an understanding of germs. Tina Neville wrote in Library Journal that in The Speckled Monster: A Historical Tale of Battling Smallpox Carrell "makes these historical figures come alive."
The scourge of smallpox was finally declared defeated in 1980 by the World Health Organization. It had taken more lives than the Black Death and the combined wars of the twentieth century. A benign virus vaccination using cowpox was developed in the 1790s, but prior to that time, the only known treatments were used by those practicing folk medicine.
Smallpox was rampant in London and Boston in 1721, when The Speckled Monster takes place. Carrell's London subject is real-life writer Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who learned from the Turks while her husband was ambassador to the Ottoman court of the practice of variolation, a procedure that consisted of injecting small amounts of live smallpox under the skin. This caused a mild form of the disease and immunized the person from ever suffering a full-blown case. Lady Montagu, a well-known socialite and beauty who was herself disfigured by smallpox, had inoculated her son while they were in Turkey. She now convinced her London doctor to do the same for her daughter. The procedure was denounced by the public, but when it was shown to work, London physicians persuaded King George to let them experiment with the procedure on prisoners, who were then granted pardons.
In Boston, meanwhile, smallpox survivor Zabdiel Boylston, a doctor with no formal education, learned the technique from African slaves and inoculated his children and others. Opposition was so strong that Boylston's life was threatened, and he was ordered to cease the practice. He was, however, encouraged by believers, including influential clergyman Cotton Mather. In blending fact with fiction, in The Speckled Monster Carrell creates an eventual meeting between Montagu and Boylston.
Booklist critic Jay Freeman called The Speckled Monster "an outstanding medical thriller that both informs and inspires." A Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that the book includes "a somber warning that, though apparently eradicated, any number of possibilities exist for smallpox to make a comeback, as well as for some equally deadly disease to sweep across the world in its stead." BookPage reviewer Anne Bartlett wrote that Carrell "presents an intriguing story of a timely topic. The Speckled Monster is a narrative that reminds us of how far we've come thanks to the diligence and courage of pioneering doctors and ordinary citizens."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, June 1, 2003, Jay Freeman, review of The Speckled Monster: A Historical Tale of Battling Smallpox, p. 1720.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2003, review of The Speckled Monster, p. 581.
Library Journal, June 1, 2003, Tina Neville, review of The Speckled Monster, p. 155.
Publishers Weekly, May 5, 2003, review of The Speckled Monster, p. 211.
Science News, July 12, 2003, review of The Speckled Monster, p. 31.
Barnes&Noble.com, http://www.barnesandnoble.com/ (May 20, 2006), interview with Carrell.
BookPage, http://www.bookpage.com/ (May 20, 2006), Anne Bartlett, review of The Speckled Monster.
Jennifer Lee Carrell Home Page, http://www.speckledmonster.com (May 20, 2006).