A captivating study of the laws concerning mental health and their development throughout the 19th century; chronicling a history of their abuse by family members in line to gain and of the strengthening of a determined feminist movement. A fascinating book, looking at the wilderness years of mental health often overlooked just before the influence of Freud and Psychoanalysis.
Written in a very addictive style, walking an entertaining line between comic representation and a very serious subject, the documentary evidence and storytelling are weaved together seamlessly, creating a compelling set of case studies. There is a nice stain of uncertainty that pervades the story, are the protagonists insane or aren’t they? Even after their proven sanity their behaviour leaves you to wonder – and this is the crux of the whole book, who decides, the family, the law, the individual; people are placed in different boxes depending on an accident of history. Which side of the divide do they belong, eccentric or mentally ill?
Living in London made the book particularly interesting, details of buildings and areas of familiarity, as well as their journey to the pleasant and a mention of Sydenham, my current residence, gave an extra level of personal engagement.
There were sections, however, that did drag a little and caused a lull in the pace of some of the stories; some of the more technical details of the law may have been interesting to someone with a more studious knowledge of the subject. There was a small tension between what the book wanted to be, was it a specialist book or a book for a general reader, this sometimes caused it to be a bit hit and miss in content. There was lots of information here and considerable overlap between the stories which, although nicely linked, made it hard to differentiate between some of the characters and plot details. The family members that were often the cause for the mischief for the ‘wrongly incarcerated' were on the whole portrayed as purely bad and money grabbing, one has to suppose there may have been some interesting moral strain that went into making the decisions they did.
A fascinating romp through mental health that manages to be both informative and entertaining and shines a light on some eccentric but strong women that started to change society for the better.
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