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on 16 October 2012
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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on 15 October 2012
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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on 30 October 2012
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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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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on 18 June 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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on 28 December 2013
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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on 13 October 2013
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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on 19 June 2013
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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on 9 March 2013
A very thorough examination of case studies of people who 'did not fit' the notion of 19th century 'normality.' How easy it was to have them put away. i shall be donating my copy for reference to the undergraduate medical students' library in the Medical History Dept. of Dundee University as early psychiatry and its development is a popular choice for dissertations. Well worth a serious read by any sociologist.
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on 22 May 2013
Sarah Wise really brings to life the stories of the lunatics locked up and mistreated by the mad-doctors of her title. Each account is very well researched and, as various personages and institutions begin to reappear through later chapters, you get a more and more well-rounded picture of the whole world and system she describes.
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