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Inconvenient People: Lunacy, Liberty and the Mad-Doctors in Victorian England Paperback – 3 Oct 2013

24 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (3 Oct. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099541866
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099541868
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 3.6 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 55,062 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Extra stories, pictures and further exploration of the subjects of each of my three books are available to read at www.sarahwise.co.uk

You can hear me speak about each of my books by going to the following site, and clicking the links
http://ow.ly/PDN4p

My blog on 19th-century mental health is here http://www.psychologytoday.com/experts/sarah-wise

Product Description

Review

"Excellent" (Kathryn Hughes Guardian)

"A fine social history of the people who contested their confinement to madhouses in the 19th century, Wise offers striking arguments, suggesting that the public and juries were more intent on liberty than doctors and families" (Sunday Telegraph)

"Action-packed and entertaining… [A] marvellous book" (Christopher Hirst i)

"Fascinating… It has enough tragedy, comedy, farce and horror to fill a dozen fat novels, and enough bizarre characters to people them" (Suzi Feay Financial Times)

"Wise is a terrific researcher and storyteller. Here she has woven a series of case studies into a fascinating history of insanity in the 19th century" (Kate Summerscale Guardian Books of the Year)

Book Description

This highly original book brilliantly exposes the phenomenon of false allegations of lunacy (and the dark motives behind them...) in the Victorian period.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Allan Ronald on 16 Oct. 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is a most accomplished piece of research and writing which presents much fascinating and frequently disturbing information about the conditions in England under the various nineteenth century lunacy laws. The use of a series of important case studies advances the story of how the laws came to be changed, albeit slowly. The author manages her material expertly and the narrative never flags--I read the book in a sitting. Another major positive factor is the clarity and vigour and wit which characterise the writer's style. Running through the stories of false imprisonment and harsh treatment is a memorialisation of men and, more frequently, women of great courage and tenacity who set out to challenge a cruel and arrogant system. While I knew much about the treatment of the book's subject in contemporary literature I was almost totally unaware of the reality behind the fictions. I learned a tremendous amount from this book and strongly recommend it as a stimulating and rewarding read.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Peter Kilburn on 15 Oct. 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a well researched and thoroughly entertaining piece of social history. A number of case studies in which the victims have either been wrongly detained or continued in detention are used to explore the workings of the Lunacy Laws through the Victorian era. A light is shone on the, generally middle and upper class, families who used the laws to hide the inconvenient people of the title and on the medical practitioners who connived in, and profited from, the incarceration of these unfortunates. The book will appeal both to students of Victorian social and medical history as well as the general reader. My one minor (personal) criticism is the use of end notes without links from the main text.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A. Willis on 30 Oct. 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I came to Sarah Wise's work by first reading "The Blackest Streets", as my paternal origins are in the formerly designated "Old Nichol" area of Bethnal Green.I then read "The Italian Boy",another gripping read.
So, "Inconvenient People" is Sarah Wise's third work of social history and this time she is looking at the attitude,treatment and abuses directed at middle and upper class people in the 19th century who were deemed to be mentally ill and the way in which such people (usually with money) were inveigled,or forced into "lunatic asylums",often because somebody,usually a family member was eager to profit financially.Other family "difficulties" were also a motive for such incarceration.
The 12 case studies are very revealing and,as well as describing the personal misery suffered,a clear insight is given into Society's mores and why there were so many examples of hypocritical ,self-serving behaviour--which often
bordered on the criminal.The whole book is beautifully written and scrupulously researched.
Numerous senior statesmen and notable professional people do not come out of this at all well,or with their reputations intact.Moreover,we cannot put this all down to "the bad old days" of Victorian times,as the 20th century receives its own indictment at the end of the book.
Sarah Wise is clearly establishing herself as a social historian of the highest calibre and it will be fascinating to see what area of enquiry she turns to next.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By C. Ball TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 13 Aug. 2013
Format: Hardcover
They have become two of the most recognisable stereotypes of women in the Victorian age, thanks to novels such as Jane Eyre and The Woman in White: the madwoman in the attic and the innocent heroine wrongfully imprisoned in a lunatic asylum. In this book, Wise sets out not necessarily to expose those stereotypes, but to explore the society that created them and uncover the reality of the lunacy system in Victorian England.

For a start, the majority of 'lunatics' incarcerated were male, whether they were held in public asylums, private care homes or within their own homes;the myth of the damsel in distress proving to be just that. Some undoubtedly were insane and were held for their own safety and the safety of others. But a great number were not insane, were guilty of little more than the kind of eccentricities and personality quirks that we today would scarcely blink at. It is these cases Wise uncovers in this book - individuals were dared to go against society's norms, who wished to 'marry beneath them' or not marry at all, who held unconventional religious beliefs, who stood in the way of economic progress of their husbands, wives or families.

The burgeoning field of psychologists and psychiatrists, known then as 'alienists', do not come across well in this book - that said, they were at the forefront of a new and uncharted field of human medicine, and it cannot be entirely held against them when there was indeed so many disagreements about what even constituted lunacy and how one could recognise it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By KAW on 18 Jun. 2013
Format: Hardcover
Another well researched and readable book from Sarah Wise. It may have become tedious reading the cases that came before the commissioners who decided on wrongful committal but all of the individuals, doctors, patients and family members were such colourful and interesting characters that I wanted to hear their stories.
What especially stuck me was how often the press and public opinion was firmly on the side of the alleged lunatic and defended his or her liberty. In many ways the view of the Victorians seemed more enlightened than that of fifty years ago when people could be forgotten in institutions for most of their life. It made me think about how we view mental illness and individual liberty today.
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