Review: ‘Insanity and the Lunatic Asylum in the Nineteenth Century’

insanity and the lunatic asylum_front cover

The first review of Insanity and the Lunatic Asylum in the Nineteenth Century (Pickering & Chatto, 2014) came out today, written by David J. Vaughan for his blog, ‘Mad, bad and desperate – crime and insanity in Victorian England.’

This collection of essays was inspired by a conference on nineteenth-century asylums held at the former Birmingham Lunatic Asylum in May 2011. The subjects explored are divided into three categories: literary, quantitative and cultural studies. Edited by Thomas Knowles and Serena Trowbridge, the volume includes my chapter on ‘Madness and Masculinity: male patients in London Asylums and Victorian Culture.’

Vaughan’s review includes the following comments, and can be read in full at the criminal insanity blog here.

“Its reach, in both focus and geography, produces a rare collection of otherwise standalone discussions; making for an excellent source of ideas and further reading for those investigating lunacy and its social response in the 19thcentury.”

“[…] a fascinating treasure chest of anecdotal and statistical material, with academic rigour.”

“General Paralysis of the Insane, first defined at the beginning of the century. In Victorian minds, it was primarily the disease of the urban male, with all its attendant abuses in particular alcohol and sex.” 

“Towards the end of this monograph, in what many will consider is its strongest chapter, Helen Goodman readdresses previous, popularly received perspectives on the masculine experience of institutionalized madness. In removing gender barriers, for example within the hysteria condition, she agreeably blurs the lines of both gender weakness and the corresponding definitions of insanity the condition. In this, she invites us to re-visit our own perceptions of madness in the human condition, and not only as it might have been in the last century but one.” 

” […] a collection of thought on the heavily nuanced subject of insanity and its place in – or, more accurately, beyond – nineteenth century society, it delivers with alacrity and aplomb. It was a pleasure to read.”


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