Revolution and Alienation
by Clive Bloom
Kathryn Hughes, The Guardian:
“Victoria’s Madmen” is a misleading title, since virtually no one in Clive Bloom’s book appears to be suffering from a serious mental health disorder. There is hardly an asylum in sight, and you’ll search in vain for a straitjacket. But take “mad” in its American sense and you begin to have a thesis. For it turns out that most of the people who pop up in Bloom’s book are Very Cross Indeed. Not specifically with Queen Victoria, although some of them aren’t above taking pot shots at the little lady. No, what really annoys these grumblers and growlers is the sheer wrongness of everything that is going on around them…
June Purvis, Times Higher Education:
This richly diverse book contains a number of gems, but at times the canvas is too broad. The inclusion of Mabel Barltrop, who came to believe that she was a female messiah and who founded the Panacea Society in Bedford after the First World War, sits oddly among the long list of cranks and radicals. And while Sylvia Pankhurst is praised for her embracement not only of feminism but also atheism, anti-imperialism, socialism, internationalism and anti-fascism, Bloom fails to mention that in 1927 she became, by choice, a single mother – something considered scandalous at the time. Consideration of such gender issues might have made the author more sensitive to the title of his book – are the lives of women (mad or otherwise) to be assumed under those of men? Nonetheless, Victoria’s Madmen conveys well the bubbling energy of those in the Victorian era who swam against the tide, and many of whose ideas would become the language of counter-cultural modernity.
Hannah Rosefield, The New Statesman:
In Victoria’s Madmen, he marshals a crowd of men and women to help him dismantle the myth of Victorian conformity and uniformity. Certainly, it would be hard to imagine a less uniform group of individuals. Bloom’s “madmen” include spiritualists and anarchists, atheists and visionaries, socialists, nudists and assassins. What links them, he argues, is the “revolution and alienation” of his subtitle: the feeling either that they were not the right shape for mainstream society and so had to seek fulfilment elsewhere, or that society was the wrong shape and had to be remodelled.