Bedbugs in literature

by bugzinthehood on March 23, 2007 · 8 comments

in bed bugs, history

In the 1930 novel “Jews Without Money,” there is a chapter entitled “Did God Make Bedbugs?” Here is an excerpt.

“One steaming hot night I couldn’t sleep for the bedbugs. They have a peculiar nauseating smell of their own…They crawl slowly and pompously, bloated with blood, and the touch and smell of these parasites wakens every nerve to disgust.

“It wasn’t a lack of cleanliness in our home. My mother was as clean as any German housewife; she slaved, she worked herself to the bone keeping us fresh and neat. the bedbugs were a torment to her. She doused the beds with kerosene, changed the sheets, sprayed the mattresses in an endless frantic war with the bedbugs.

It had been a frightful week of summer heat. I was sick and feverish with heat, and pitched and tossed, while the cats sobbed in the yard. The bugs finally woke me. They were everywhere. I cannot tell the despair, loathing and rage of the chld in the dark tenement room as they crawled on me, and stank.

“I cried softly. My mother woke and lit the gas. she renewed her futile battle with the bedbugs. The kerosene smell choked me. My mother tried to soothe me back to sleep. but my brain raced like a sewing machine.

“Momma,” I asked, “why did god make bedbugs?”

1 hopelessnomo March 23, 2007 at 1:51 pm

Thanks, bugzinthehood, great topic! I posted something in the forums about Orwell’s book, which appears to be more interesting than I initially thought. There’s also this 1995 play (warning: link is a review) about bedbugs (definitely about bedbugs) by Tracy Letts (coming to a big screen near you!). I’ve also come across an excerpt, which I now can’t find, of an account of Jewish life in Amsterdam called We Lived With Dignity that has some very affecting first-person accounts of living with bedbugs–that echo the cleanliness and punishment ideas of the book you cite.

It’d be cool if we could keep adding to the list. The play interests me because the treatment of the subject is so charged.

2 nightshirt March 23, 2007 at 2:27 pm

not in response to this but why is the home page layed out as it is? the font is huge and like 3-4 words to a line. cn i fix this?

3 buggedinbrooklyn March 23, 2007 at 2:42 pm


it’s for people who just woke up in the late hours of the night due to bedbugs, and can’t find thier reading glasses yet.


4 buggedinbrooklyn March 23, 2007 at 2:44 pm

you know, I can’t find a way to log in here, but the forums are no problem.

anything I’m missing?


5 buggedinbrooklyn March 23, 2007 at 2:56 pm

test…sorry, I need to test this outside of the forums.


6 nobugsonme March 23, 2007 at 2:57 pm

I just got an email alerting me to the size problem, which does not appear to be true in every browser, but is true in some (I got it in IE, but not Firefox). I am trying to fix it, bear with me. Did this start today or has it been true since the site migration? Thanks!

You should be able to login using the same username and password as for the forums… go to Login under META in the sidebar.
(for people not registered in the forums, click Register instead.)
If you have trouble email me!

7 killallbugs March 24, 2007 at 4:51 am

I dont know why God created bedbugs. It could be a punishment to us for some things, or maybe it is to make us stronger when some problems worse than bedbugs hit us. Although I really do believe bedbugs are a cruel way to do this.

Other mention of bedbugs in literature I remember in Alexander Solzhenitsin’s memoirs of Gulags and Soviet oppression.
The secret police would lock the prisoner in a closet full of bedbugs in the dark. That is very very scary.

8 hymenoptera March 26, 2007 at 2:58 pm

In the 1915 book “The Minor Horrors of War” the author, Dr. A.F. Shipley, quoted a poem which aptly emphasizes the remarkable power of the bed bug to seek out its victim: The Lightning-bug has wings of gold, The June-bug wings of flame, The Bed-bug has no wings at all, but it gets there all the same!

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