Have You Suffered from #BrainFever? #Excerpt from “The Life and Times of #Sherlock #Holmes” @lsfabre
“I’ve Got the Feevah!”
People suffering from brain fever appeared in numerous novels and stories during the Victorian period. While the twenty-first century reader might consider this illness a quaint trope, the medical establishment recognized it as a serious physical ailment and treated accordingly.
The contemporary concept of “fever” as an elevated body temperature does not correspond to the nineteenth century definition. Prior to the discovery of micro-organisms and their role in diseases, “fevers” could be contracted from the environment (“miasma” or bad air) or by the body creating its own poison. The term “fever” was used to describe the disease itself, rather than a symptom, and was used as the diagnosis for cholera, influenza, typhus, and smallpox, the result of injury, bad air, violent emotion, irregular bowels, and extremes of heat and cold.
The specific diagnosis of brain fever grew out of the classical concept of “phrensy,” used to describe a delirium brought on by fever and an inflammation of the brain. Even after the delirium subsided, mental confusion could remain and permanently affect the individual. A description of brain fever appeared in medical texts up to the late 1800s and was marked by “acute pain in the head with intolerance of light and sound; watchfulness, delirium; flushed countenance, and redness of the conjunctiva, or a heavy suffused state of the eyes; quick pulse, frequently spasmodic twitching or convulsions, passing into somnolency, coma, and complete relaxation of the limbs.”
The Life and Times of Sherlock Holmes: Essays on Victorian England, Volume Two
Fans of Sherlock Holmes, Victorian England, and history in general will all find interesting tidbits to carry away.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle references many everyday Victorian activities and aspects that are lost on the twenty-first century reader. These short essays provide modern readers a better understanding of Victorian England and greater insight into the world of Sherlock Holmes. His cases take on richer meaning when the reader grasps the subtleties of such details as the blue ribbon mentioned in “The Adventure of the Cardboard Box,” the doss houses Shinwell Johnson knew about, or how one contracted brain fever.