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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an eye-opener
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...
Published on 16 Oct. 2012 by Allan Ronald

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars One for the intellectuals
It is very interesting but dwells a lot more on the laws and making of the laws than anything else. I know that's what it said it was about in the small writing but the cover and book reviews in the paper make it look like its more about the people and the humanitarian side of things. Very well researched, or should I say exceedingly well researched, but perhaps a little...
Published 13 months ago by Ms N C OFlynn


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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an eye-opener, 16 Oct. 2012
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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
5.0 out of 5 stars Well researched social history, 15 Oct. 2012
By 
Peter Kilburn (Wakefield) - See all my reviews
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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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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another masterpiece, 30 Oct. 2012
By 
A. Willis "Quinneyphile" (Banffshire Scotland) - See all my reviews
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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
4.0 out of 5 stars Exposing stereotypes and exploring Victorian society..., 13 Aug. 2013
By 
C. Ball (Derbyshire) - See all my reviews
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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. But there were enough alienists, 'mad-doctors' and asylum keepers who were prepared to sign anything for money that it is no wonder there was so much concern and public outcry over the ease with which a British citizen could be deprived of their liberty, with no appeal, no trial, no right to know who had signed the order or why.

Ironically, as Wise points out in her conclusion, despite the fact that we consider the 'sane lunatic' a stereotype of the Victorian age, with every family having not just a skeleton in the closet but a relative in the attic, it was the middle of the twentieth century that really took things to extremes, with young women held for decades simply for bearing an illegitimate child, teenagers held under middle or old age for rebellious youthful antics. And really, she asks, have things changed so much? The stigma of mental illness remains, and the public seem much less concerned about the erosion of civil liberties than they were a century or more ago.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inconvenient People?, 18 Jun. 2013
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars One for the intellectuals, 28 Dec. 2013
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It is very interesting but dwells a lot more on the laws and making of the laws than anything else. I know that's what it said it was about in the small writing but the cover and book reviews in the paper make it look like its more about the people and the humanitarian side of things. Very well researched, or should I say exceedingly well researched, but perhaps a little less detail and a little more colour would be more my cup of tea. Just my opinion, others may enjoy this more.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book, 13 Oct. 2013
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Brought this book after watching TV documentary where Sarah wise gave interview. Sarah writes in an easy to read manner, I can imagine myself connecting to the people she is writing about and feel transported back to victorian times. Social history has never been more interesting. Could not put book down. I work within a mental health team and enjoyed learning about the origins of some of the legislation. Inspired me to look at whether Sara wise gives talk local to me but she does not.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing and accomplished piece of writing - fascinating, 19 Jun. 2013
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I can only echo other reviews, but thought I'd add my piece as this is one of the best books I've read and well worth buying if you have a deeper interest in the subject.

This is an intimately researched and well thought out book detailing some of the most interesting cases of individuals confined to the Madhouses of the time. Truth is stranger than fiction and ultimately more enjoyable.

The best bits for me were learning of the madhouse-plot connections to people such as Lord Lytton and Charles Dickens who, although well known figures & popular authors both at the time and now, were potentially very unsavoury people. (Dickens possibly attempted to confine his wife, Catherine, when their marriage broke down - though letters proving this are 'missing')

A worthwhile read and worth every penny. Will be dipping into again I'm sure!
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5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent introduction to views of lunacy in the 19th century, 26 Jan. 2014
By 
The Man From Utopia (Chessington, Surrey) - See all my reviews
I had long thought that a book on the history of madness, and the way it was tolerated, accepted, ignored, dismissed, punished or otherwise treated by society would be a fascinating read, so I was delighted to come across this book.

However, on reading it I found out that it was not quite what I had imagined. Instead, it was an account of the "progress" that madness made in the nineteenth century, or more accurately, the progress of it's diagnosis and treatment. Wise's approach is a good one - she takes a dozen cases, spanning the nineteenth century, and gives detailed accounts of the individuals whose sanity was questioned, when, who by, and the implications that this case had on the legal, medical and academic status of madness. Touching upon questions of majority viewpoint, truth, perception and social standing, this gives the reader a thorough - and enjoyable - journey through "madness" in the Victorian era (and a little before.)

The cases are well selected, and each one gripping. One of the reviews claim that there's enough to fill "a dozen fat novels" - and that wouldn't be far out. I was particularly interested by the cases of Mr Perceval and Mrs Cummings, but the chapter concerning a cult named "The Abode of Love" probably beat all. What is an extra and very welcome bonus, Wise does tie up the "loose ends" towards the end of each case. Too often when reading an historical account, I finish it but still want to know - what happened to the supporting cast? What about the buildings? The organisation? And so the list goes on. Wise settles these little questions, and happily there's a great deal of interest in the answers. The buildings used by the Abode of Love, for instance, ended up being used in the 1960s for the BBC when they were filming "Watch With Mother"!

The narrative is given to the occasional diversion, such as the way madness was represented in novels of the time, which all serve to present a clear and well-rounded view of the nineteenth century's attitudes. What is refreshing too is that the "mad-doctors" - painted by press and public as various types of bogey-men - are carefully and sensitively portrayed - rather than just condemned out of hand.

On top of all this, there is a refreshing and vibrant writing style. Wise is lively and fully aware that she's writing for an audience, rather than creating a series of lecture notes. One memorable phrase, concerning a Mrs Lowe - a mistress of an individual, she lived on a houseboat on the Thames - becoming "Mrs Lowe-on-Thames"; another references to Dickens' involvement (or lack of) in a case - "she couldn't blame it all on Boz"; and a different observation comparing two different types of wandering fingers, which I shan't repeat as I don't know whether it would show me as a good critic or simply open to a little bit of smutty humour.

The whole book is a joy, from start to finish, and I would strongly recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in the era, or subject, or concepts, that are covered. I have not enjoyed such a book for a very long time, and it's with great joy that I see Sarah Wise has got at least two more published!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating read on a sensitive subject., 29 Sept. 2014
This review is from: Inconvenient People: Lunacy, Liberty and the Mad-Doctors in Victorian England (Kindle Edition)
This is a fascinating book covering the lives of lunatics and alleged lunatics in Victorian England. Mental illness was little understood and feared. Many people found it shameful to have a lunatic relative and so often such people were hidden away. The book covers several persons who, although eccentric, were misdiagnosed as insane, hauled away to either ‘private’ asylums or larger establishments, with little or no recourse to law.

The author often mentions fiction in which this occurs – namely Jane Eyre and Women in White but the truth was often not far, or sometimes even worse than fiction.

The reasons for incarceration ranged from relatives wanting control of finances; inconvenient wives; women who spoke out and behaved against the rigid, masculine status quo, and in one of the case studies a group involved with a cult. Each case is discussed in depth, sympathetically and the changes in law (if any applied) mentioned.
It is a good insight into the world of Victorian England, the rules governing the role of women, the sick, the upper-classes and how the populace reacted. Ignorance, spite, greed and misdirection fill these pages, along with love gone sour, obsession and most importantly – courage.

For anyone interested in Victorian history, the history of mental illness treatment or psychiatry might find this book a good read.
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