Friday, January 23, 2015

The Death of Mrs. Wilde

From The Guardian:
The sudden death of the wife of Oscar Wilde at the tender age of 40 has long been a mystery. In the 116 years since she met her tragic end, speculative theories have ranged from spinal damage following a fall down stairs to syphilis caught from her husband. Now the mystery may have been solved.

Merlin Holland, grandson of the Irish wit and author of The Importance of Being Earnest and Lady Windermere’s Fan, has unearthed medical evidence within private family letters, which has enabled a doctor to determine the likely cause of Constance’s demise.

The letters reveal symptoms nowadays associated with multiple sclerosis but apparently wrongly diagnosed by her two doctors. One resorted to dubious remedies and the other conducted a botched operation that days later claimed her life.

The letters detail symptoms that progressively robbed her of the ability to walk, riddling her body with pain and leaving her with excruciating headaches and extreme fatigue.

Although multiple sclerosis was by then certainly known within the medical profession, the seriousness of her condition went unrecognised. She turned to an unnamed German “nerve doctor”, whose eccentric treatments involved baths and electricity, and to an Italian, Luigi Maria Bossi, who believed that neurological and mental illness could be cured with gynaecological operations.

Days after Bossi undertook a gynaecological procedure – having previously conducted an operation which failed to improve her health – she lapsed into unconsciousness and died. Some 20 years after her death, he faced unrelated accusations of unethical behaviour and professional misconduct, only to be shot dead by a patient’s jealous husband.

Constance’s brother, Otho, contemplated legal action, but realised its futility. She had agreed to go under Bossi’s knife – against the advice of other doctors.

“It cost her her life,” Holland observed. “Ultimately, both Bossi and the hapless Constance met their ends tragically – he by the bullet of an assassin and she by the knife of an irresponsible surgeon.” (Read more.)
Here is an article about Oscar Wilde's conversion. To quote:
 Wilde was baptised into the Catholic Church shortly before he died. L'Osservatore Romano said that the "existential path" which the author trod "can also be seen as a long and difficult path toward that Promised Land which gives us the reason for existence, a path which led him to his conversion to Catholicism, a religion which, as he remarked in one of his more acute and paradoxical aphorisms, was 'for saints and sinners alone – for respectable people, the Anglican Church will do'." (Read more.)


boinky said...

Syphilis used to be called the great imitator, and the treatment for syphillis back then was heavy metals, which also cause neuropathy (for example, some people think Isaak Dinesen's leg paralysis was from her treatment, not from syphilis)...It also could be a type of neuropathy from viruses or from an unless an autopsy showed nothing, let me doubt MS caused her problems, since that disease has other symptoms outside spinal cord lesions.

The rule in medicine is that "when you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras", and syphilis was quite common in Victorian times when industrialization was destroying family life. Few modern doctors see tertiary syphilis.

One of the doctors is South African, which is interesting since MS is essentially non existent in black Africans, but you do see sphillis, again thanks to the mines and factories which discourage bringing wives along.

elena maria vidal said...

Very interesting! Thanks, Boink!