Madness and marginality

The lives of Kenya’s White insane

Author: Will Jackson

Kenya Colony, for the British at least, has customarily been imagined as a place of wealthy settler-farmers, sun-lit panoramas and the adventure of safari. Yet for the majority of Europeans who went there life was very different. This book offers an unprecedented new account of what was – supposedly – the most picturesque of Britain’s colonies overseas. While Kenya’s romantic reputation has served to perpetuate the notion that Europeans enjoyed untroubled command, what the lives of Kenya’s white insane powerfully describe are stories of conflict, immiseration, estrangement and despair. Crucially, Europeans who became impoverished in Kenya or who transgressed the boundary lines separating colonizer from colonized subverted the myth that Europeans enjoyed a natural right to rule. Because a deviation from the settler ideal was politically problematic, therefore, Europeans who failed to conform to the collective self-image were customarily absented, from the colony itself in the first instance and latterly from both popular and scholarly historical accounts. Bringing into view the lives of Kenya’s white insane makes for an imaginative and intellectual engagement with realms of human history that, so colonial ideologies would have us believe, simply were not there. Tracing the pathways that led an individual to the hospital gates, meanwhile, shows up the complex interplay between madness and marginality in a society for which deviance was never intended to be managed but comprehensively denied.

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‘With this insightful and sensitive analysis of Europeans incarcerated for mental illness in colonial Kenya, Will Jackson manages not only to reclaim these troubled, marginalized individuals as historically meaningful actors. He also casts a fresh and revealing light on the settler community as a whole. The result is a strikingly original and important contribution to the scholarship on settler colonialism. The self-disciplined effort to sustain imperial prestige did not inevitably send Kenya's white settlers mad – just as the constraints of subjection did not necessarily madden Africans. But ordinary human weaknesses – financial, social, or sexual – did seem especially dangerous to an anxious white minority. The documented confinement of their 'poor men and loose women' has enabled Jackson, in this carefully observed and beautifully written study, to portray Kenya's settlers in the round. Not all were libidinous aristocrats swapping wives in Happy Valley, nor all gentleman farmers pioneering under the flame trees of Thika.'
Dane Kennedy|John Lonsdale, Elmer Louis Kayser Professor of History and International Affairs, George Washington University|Emeritus professor of modern African history and fellow of Trinity College Cambridge

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