The following has been excerpted from Bloomsbury: A House of Lions by renowned biographer, Leon Edel. Published in 1979, the book is a recounting of intellectual life from the early 1900’s through World War I in Bloomsbury, a section of London.
Back in Gordon Square (London) Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Stephen (her sister) discovered Thoby. (their brother) in bed with a high fever…Nurses were brought in; distinguished doctors were called…From the first, the doctors made a ghastly mistake. Thoby’s temperature continued to be high, and he was miserably ill. They treated him for malaria. It was one of the nurses who ventured the opinion that Thoby had typhoid fever; and the doctors had grimly to acquiesce. By the end of the third week they spoke of “some perforation” and thought of surgery. But it was too late. The massive, monolithic, handsome and beloved brother of Vanessa and Virginia sank into death on 20 November, 1906, with the same simplicity as he had lived.
On the other side of the world, Leonard Woolf (Virginia’s husband) woke up one day with a bad headache. At breakfast in his bungalow, facing a thick rice pancake called a “hopper,” on which sat a greasy fried egg, he “felt as if my last moment had come.” His fellow officer, who lived with him, took his temperature. It was extremely high. There was no hospital in Jaffna, nor was there a doctor. The officer rode to a mission six miles away and brought back the American doctor who was in charge. In that climate Leonard might have had malaria, but the doctor was very definite that it was typhoid. He took him to the mission and caste systems had to be Observed; the Tamil nurses had never touched white patients. The doctor told Leonard that if he would be quiet and eat practically nothing, his temperature would gradually go down, and on the twenty-first day would be normal again. Leonard took his own temperature readings daily. The nurse came, but always kept her distance. Three weeks passed in a state of haze and dream. Then Leonard’s temperature was normal again.
In primitive Ceylon, Leonard survived his typhoid. In civilized London, his friend died of it.