Out of his Mind is a study of the consequences of a diagnosis of insanity for men, their families, their friends, and the culture at large. Studying the madman allows for an exploration of the cultural expectations of male behaviour, how men responded to those norms in their lived experiences, and what defined the bare minimums of acceptable male behaviour. Men’s authority in society was rooted in control over dependants within their household and beyond; without that power, the foundation of their manhood was in question. As such, madness touched on a key tenet of nineteenth-century masculinity: control. Building on accounts from sufferers, doctors, government officials, journalists, and novelists, Out of his Mind offers insight into the shifting anxieties surrounding men in mental distress. Exploring everything from wrongful confinement panics, to cultures of shame and stigma, to fears of degeneration, this study makes an important contribution to histories of gender and medicine. This text puts the madman at the centre of the history of Victorian masculinity and helps us better understand the stigma of men’s mental illness that continues to this day.
activist groups raised the profile of wrongful incarceration cases and helped individuals find public redress.
The Alleged Lunatics’ Friend Society was founded in 1845 out of a group of like-minded men who had either experienced wrongfulconfinement or believed the issue to be a serious concern. Its driving force was John Perceval, who became an outspoken activist after being committed to a private madhouse in 1830.
He published his story in 1838 and went on to become the honorary secretary of the
Stories of nursing, gender, violence and mental illness in British asylums, 1914-30
the story unfolded in the national press. Parallel
to the debate over the issue of women nursing on male wards, the
Union discussed the allegations of cruelty by attendants made in
the journal Truth by a former patient who had been invalided from
military service after a nervous breakdown. This article belonged to
the genre of tales of wrongfulconfinement and violent staff that had
figured prominently in the Pall Mall Gazette in the 1870s.43 However,
the story attracted more attention as it was written not by an ordinary discharged asylum patient but by an
lunacy law. Ex-patient organisations emerged from 1907 onwards.
In Switzerland, the press started covering cases of allegedly wrongfulconfinement in the late 1870s.
In 1897, anti-vivisectionist Ludwig Fliegel (1865–1947) founded the Zurich-based Irrenrechts-Reformverein [Association for Lunacy Law Reform], active until 1904. In the Austro-Hungarian Empire, conflicts intensified around 1890.
Heated debates arose
accounts. Magistrates, in
conjunction with the inspectors, were undoubtedly aware of debates in the
English press concerning doctors’ role in the confinement of the mentally
ill and the heightened fear of wrongfulconfinement. In the late 1820s
and early 1830s there were two highly publicised scandals involving the
successful London alienist George Man Burrows during which it emerged
that Burrows had based his medical assessment on relatives’ evidence and
had not personally examined the individuals. Following the revelations,
the public suspected that medical witnesses
, that premier commercial space of the 1880s, the music halls. Combining courage, virtuosity, and slapstick comedy, Mrs. Weldon’s campaign of revenge vastly amused the educated reading public, yet it pressed an open nerve about fears of madness and of wrongfulconfinement, thereby continuing a melodramatic narrative of family-medical conspiracy that Wilkie Collins and Charles Reade had popularized in their sensational novels of the 1860s. 2
Spiritualism and the mad doctors
Mrs. Weldon was a target of lunacy confinement because her husband tried to use a public
Stories of violence, danger, and men out of control
covered madmen of all social situations and backgrounds, and took place in both domestic and public settings.
The previous chapter detailed incidents of men finding their voice and protesting against wrongfulconfinement. These men attempted to take back the narrative of their experiences from doctors and asylum officials. And while wrongfulconfinement tales did make compelling copy, these individual stories were countered by a consistent flow of stories of madmen as dangerous
happened to them
in a way that was acceptable to their self-image as they sought to reintegrate
themselves back into the community.90
People who recounted their experiences of what they viewed as wrongfulconfinement appear to have focused specifically on this period in their lives.
Those who admitted that they had experienced mental difficulties which
justified hospital treatment sought to make their breakdown socially comprehensible, situating their experiences of mental distress within the events of
their lives. The Autobiography of David, published in 1946 by Victor
who had been invalided from service after a nervous breakdown. This article
belonged to the genre of tales of wrongfulconfinement and violent staff that
had figured prominently in the Pall Mall Gazette in the 1870s.55 However, the
story attracted more attention because it had been written by a former soldier.
As Peter Barham has argued in Forgotten Lunatics of the Great War, public
concern for the well-being of working-class soldiers who experienced mental
health problems as a consequence of their wartime service helped dismantle
the barriers which segregated
told him ‘she had not the remotest intention to injure His
Majesty, on the contrary, that she had a great notion of him’. Her nervousness as
she waited for him at St James’s resulted in her producing the knife instead of her
petition, but it had all been a mistake.19 In his own critique of insanity and the
State, the republican Richard Carlile repeated the evidence cited in the Sketches as
proof of Nicholson’s wrongfulconfinement. The obviously ‘blunt’ knife showed
just what a ‘trivial affair’ the so-called assassination attempt had been.20 If she was