Vivien Leigh
Mental illness: childhood

Vivien Leigh in a big green dress.

As a child in India

As a child growing up in India, Vivien Leigh was happy. Her parents were very rich, especially compared to the surrounding natives living under the British colony's dictate. This allowed her to have a life most children could only dream of.

On the other hand, even though her parents loved her, they did not spend as much time with her as she'd like them to. Loneliness was not a foreign concept to her.

She was a very hyperactive child, sometimes to the point that her behavior seemed obsessive, but it was minor and her parents made nothing of it.

Convent trauma

When Viv was six, her mother Gertrude started convincing her father Ernest that the girl should go to a convent. Gertrude herself was forced to do the same as a child and she believed it had a very positive influence on her life.

More than that: she was a zealous Catholic and did not like the fact that her own daughter is growing up in a predominantly Islamic environment, disconnected from the religion of her ancestors. And what better way to cure that than to send child to a convent?

After rejecting the idea for a while, Ernest ultimately budged and Vivien was soon left on a different continent, surrounded by cold walls, gloomy weather, serious nuns and a setting where strict discipline and constraint is expected with every action.

Viv was left in a Convent of the Sacred Heart in Roehampton, visible on the historical photograph on the right.

Impact of a move to Britain

No psychiatrist is necessary to examine the potential devastating effects of such drastic change. Practically every single aspect of her life changed and all for the worse!

The worst of it all was that one element which could minimize the damage was not there - her parents were missing. She was corresponding with them, but that was of course a measly consolation prize.

She was left in a completely strange environment, and at the age of six, which made her the youngest girl in the entire convent (and in that particular convent's history, as a matter of fact). The next time she saw Gertrude and Ernest was more than a year later. Until then, she was all by herself.

Fortunately, Viv was such an appealing girl that even at the age of six was able to charm everyone around her, including the nuns. And so what must have added to her trauma - her young age, she managed to turn into an advantage, quickly becoming the convent's favorite plushy toy.

Still, with all the cushy landing she got, given the circumstances, some damage must have been done. It's during these years that Viv was seen occasionally spacing out, straying from the group for short periods of time, or saying strange things. Those were only few minor episodes, but still probably signs of things to come.