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“he kept on worrying her until she got brain fever” [COPP] 

We've always been fascinated with the use of brain fever as a malady in the Canon. Brain fever is a medical condition where a part of the brain becomes inflamed and causes symptoms that present as a fever.

As such, diagnoses might range from encephalitis to meningitis to scarlet fever. But if we look at the sufferers of brain fever in the Sherlock Holmes stories, this was something else entirely.

Think about the conditions under which each of these individuals came down with brain fever:

  • Sarah Cushing ("The Cardboard Box") received an unpleasant delivery related to her sister and brother-in-law.
  • Alice Rucastle ("The Copper Beeches") was harassed and mentally abused by her father.
  • Nancy Barclay ("The Crooked Man") was visited by a past love she thought long dead.
  • Rachel Howells ("The Musgrave Ritual") knew that the butler did it, but had other plans.
  • Percy Phelps ("The Naval Treaty") had the responsibility of the Empire on his shoulders when he lost his homework.
Each of them had a severe mental shock before contracting brain fever. These were all what we would today call a nervous breakdown or something more specific of a mental illness: anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, etc. 

Interestingly, four of these occurred in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (CARD, CROO, NAVA, MUSG), with the other (COPP) being the final installment in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. What was happening in Arthur Conan Doyle's life at the time he wrote these (c. mid-1892–mid-1893)? 

Was someone in his life under particular duress that caused them to exhibit such symptoms, and that in turn influenced his writing? We're not aware of anyone previously exploring this hypothesis (although we'd be glad to hear if we're wrong).

And of course there's mental stress happening at Baker Street Elementary...

Baker Street Elementary follows the original adventures of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, as they and their friends work through the issues of elementary school in Victorian London. An archive of all previous episodes can be viewed at www.bakerstreetelementary.org.