Madhouses, Mad-Doctors, and Madmen: The Social History of Psychiatry in the Victorian Era

Madhouses, Mad-Doctors, and Madmen: The Social History of Psychiatry in the Victorian Era

Madhouses, Mad-Doctors, and Madmen: The Social History of Psychiatry in the Victorian Era

Madhouses, Mad-Doctors, and Madmen: The Social History of Psychiatry in the Victorian Era

Excerpt

Victorians—at least those privileged Victorians to whom that term is usually applied—seem, for the most part, to have viewed their society’s response to mental illness with a mixture of pride and complacency. For most of them, one of the clearest indications of the progressive, humane character of the age was to be found in its response to the misfortunes of the insane. On both sides of the Atlantic, the educated classes basked in the reflected glory that emanated from the mid-century achievement of lunacy reform. In the not so distant past, as many were only too ready to recall,

coercion for the outward man, and rabid physicking the inward man
were … the specifics for lunacy. Chains, straw, filthy solitude, dark-
ness, and starvation; jalap, syrup of buckthorn, tartarised antimony
and ipecacuanna administered every spring and fall in fabulous doses
to every patient, whether well or ill; spinning in whirligigs, corporal
punishment, gagging, “continued intoxication”; nothing was too
wildly extravagant, nothing too monstrously cruel to be prescribed by
mad-doctors.

Now, thanks to the philanthropic efforts of the few and the aroused sympathies of the many, madmen and madwomen had at last been rescued from such viciousness and neglect . . .

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