The Day of St Anthony’s Fire

My reading speed is slow at the moment. It’s something to do with my concentration not being tip top but little by little, a few pages a day, I’ve finished a book. I have to say that it was a jolly interesting one. ‘The Day of St Anthony’s Fire’ by John Fuller came out in 1968, just three years after my birth. Often these days we all seem to be reading the same recently published stuff. Maybe it’s good occasionally to go off piste and find what older books can offer. I think that I heard about this one from a Facebook friend who was interested in history. It piqued my curiosity. However I had to wait to find a shabby version at an acceptable price. It’s one of those secondhand books that often costs a pretty penny secondhand.

This is a true story of an incident in 1951. In the French town of Pont-Saint-Esprit a poor unfortunate baker unwittingly poisoned about 250 members of his community. His flour, sourced from a national agency, was contaminated. Many who ate his bread, including pets and farmyard animals, suffered terrible physical and psychological symptoms. Fifty people were committed to psychiatric hospital because of distressing hallucinations and dangerous changes in behaviour. Some humans and animals died from cardio-vascular problems and gangrene. The book tells of this initial ordeal and the after mass The townspeople struggled for years and years to seek compensation. There’s a story here of vast bureaucratic incompetence and legal jiggery pokery.

The source of the contamination is widely thought to be ergot, a fungus that sometimes contaminates grain. It can break down into an LSD variant. Of course this might explain some of those weird psychological symptoms. There have been other outbreaks of ‘ergotism’ throughout history. I found when researching this post that it could have been responsible for the odd behaviour that lead to accusations of witchcraft in Salem and yet more tragic deaths.

I’m going to pass my copy onto Aril at Gnat Bottomed Towers when I next see her. Its obscurity may be right up her street. She may well read it but I can absolutely guarantee few of you are going to rush out and buy this book on my recommendation. It’s way too obscure. So perhaps I should instead set a challenge. Why not dig around for an old dusty old book of your own? You too might dredge up an interesting long forgotten story.

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  1. I’ve just ploughed through The Wild Palms by William Faulkner written 1939 ! He received the Nobel prize for literature in 1949
    I found it confusing to say the least. Descriptive prose excellent . Would I recommend it ? NO ,! I’ll save it for you if you like .

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