Brain Fever

Brain fever describes a medical condition where a part of the brain becomes inflamed and causes symptoms that present as fever. The terminology is dated, and is encountered most often in Victorian literature, where it typically describes a potentially life-threatening illness brought about by a severe emotional upset. Conditions that may be described as brain fever include:

  • Encephalitis, an acute inflammation of the brain, commonly caused by a viral infection.
  • Meningitis, the inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord.

In Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes story The Crooked Man, the term is used to refer to a woman suffering from a state of shock when her husband has been murdered.

The term is also used in Arthur Conan Doyle's story The Naval Treaty, in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. The term is used to refer to Percy Phelps, an old schoolmate of Dr Watson’s, who was distraught after losing important diplomatic papers. He was so upset that he had a fit and went almost mad, before he “lay for over nine weeks, unconscious, and raving mad with brain fever.” Similarly, brain fever is also mentioned in Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories The Adventure of the Copper Beeches, The Adventure of the Cardboard Box and The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual.

Brain fever is mentioned in Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov which manifests itself into Ivan's nightmare of the devil in Part IV, Book XI, Chapter 9, "Anticipating events I can say at least one thing: he was at that moment on the very eve of an attack of brain fever. Though his health had long been affected, it had offered a stubborn resistance to the fever which in the end gained complete mastery over it." The terminology is also used in Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo.

More recently, a technician accuses a robot of having "brain-fever" in Isaac Asimov's 1945 short story "Escape," included in the 1950 collection "I, Robot".

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