Inconvenient People: Lunacy, Liberty and the Mad-Doctors in Victorian England

Sarah Wise. Counterpoint (PGW, dist.), $28 (480p) ISBN 978-1-61902-171-6
As Wise (The Blackest Streets) notes in this extraordinary psychosocial history, the “lunacy panics” of Victorian England were not unfounded—at the time, astounding numbers of middle- and upper-class individuals were being forced or tricked into asylums. It could be considered a mark of progress that the “alienists”—the name given at the time to the eponymous mad-doctors—had made treatment part of the “agenda” at all, but Wise keenly points out that “this ‘progress’ had gone hand in hand with what, to many, seemed to be the pathologising of perfectly ordinary human weirdness.” Included in the book are the remarkable stories of the high-strung Edward Davies, kidnapped at his family’s request and duped into custodial care; John Perceval, whose angry letters and “peevish diary” led to his release from institutionalization and a subsequent tell-all; Louisa Nottidge, whose financial support of a cultish group and religious fanaticism got her committed; and Catherine Cumming, found by one doctor to be a lunatic; by another, an imbecile; and by still another, perfectly sane. “How safe was anyone when the experts had such divergent views of insanity?” Wise’s meticulously researched study adds a fresh perspective to current scholarship on insanity and offers a chilling reminder of “the stubborn unchangeability of many aspects of the lunacy issue.” Illus. (July)
Reviewed on: 04/08/2013
Release date: 05/01/2013
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 320 pages - 978-0-09-954186-8
Open Ebook - 480 pages - 978-1-61902-220-1
Open Ebook - 496 pages - 978-1-4090-2795-9
Hardcover - 496 pages - 978-1-84792-112-3
Paperback - 473 pages - 978-1-61902-322-2
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