Friday, May 11, 2012
Jenny Morris and Epilepsy
When May and Jenny were sent to school at Notting Hill it was Jenny that was the academic one 'who kept her books and dictionaries in a book box'. A schoo friend said she was very like William, who spoke in a rapid way like she wanted to say something and get it over with. She became a prize pupil especially good at Latin and English. She was expected to go to the women's college - Girton.
But her 'epilepsy' came on in Summer 1876. The first fit seems to have been triggered by a boating accident in the Thames when she over-balanced and fell in. Jane asked Georgie for help in finding a doctor (they were new to the neighbourhood) and she was diagnosed as epileptic- incurable then and now (though it can be controlled now). It had only recently been seen as something not supernatural - and 1:4 mental patients were probably epileptic.
Untreated it was unpredictable and could come on at anytime. She was treatred at first with potassium bromides (still used as a veterinary drug, as an antiepileptic medication for dogs and cats). She may also have had surgery but no mention is made of this in the letters.
Although looked after at home or sent to stay in convalescent homes (probably more for Jane's sake) her condition inevitably deteriorated and she was considered not to be able to work or marry. There are some letters she wrote but I can't find them yet.
She was close to Georgie and her daughter Margaret but was mainly looked after by Jane, May and various Nurses. When her Father was home she seems to have been very close to him. Blunt remembers how she defended William if she thought others were making fun of him. Jane wrote to Blunt that every fit was a 'dagger in my heart'.
Her treatments made her fat and Jane describes Jenny and William rambling on the hills like 'two happy giant children'. In many ways it could be said that William transferred his affections from Jane to Jenny and spoke to them of his dreams. He wrote Jenny hundreds of letters and she appears in his books as a seer and visionary.
In Feb 1891, Jenny had an attack of 'brain fever' (possibly cerebral meningitus) and almost died. With no medicines to treat her, her intelligence and motor skills were fading and William and Jane were distraught. At the end of 1892, Jane's doctor said she must get abroad to escape melancholia and she went to Bordighera (Italy). This was at the time when May had fallen wildly in love with GBS.