Media panics
Stories of violence, danger, and men out of control
in Out of his mind
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This chapter places media representations of madness as its central focus. Stories of madmen as perpetrators of violence made for sensational copy, and thus they are overrepresented in media coverage. These narratives reveal larger anxieties of the modern age, and the fragility of established rules and norms of society. The fear that madness could strike at any moment, and that a man could suddenly fall victim to an irrational and violent breakdown, was particularly gendered as male. Madwomen were often portrayed as victims whereas madmen were often portrayed as perpetrators of violence, both within the home and within the asylum. These media panics are perhaps the most public expressions of underlying anxieties about the threat that madness posed to everyday people and highlight the deep stigmas of men’s mental illness.

In assessing media trends, clear gender- and class-based panics emerge. In particular, the figure of the working-class madman who murders his family highlights fears of domestic instability. And stories of sudden madness emphasized deeper fears about the state of British manhood and the dangers of modern technology.

Out of his mind

Masculinity and mental illness in Victorian Britain

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