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Inconvenient People: Lunacy, Liberty and the Mad-Doctors in Victorian England
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Inconvenient People: Lunacy, Liberty and the Mad-Doctors in Victorian England

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  385 ratings  ·  57 reviews
The 19th century saw a series of panics about sane individuals being locked away in lunatic asylums, and public feeling often ran high against the rising 'alienist' (or 'mad doctor') profession. English liberty was seen to be under threat from a new class of men who would sign away freedom in return for the high fees paid by unscrupulous people who wanted to be rid of a ...more
Hardcover, 496 pages
Published November 5th 2012 by Bodley Head (first published October 4th 2012)
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Start your review of Inconvenient People: Lunacy, Liberty and the Mad-Doctors in Victorian England
In the mid Nineteenth century there was a series of panics about sane people being interred in lunatic asylums. This coupled with the rise of doctors who specialised in diagnosing the insane, regardless of actual condition, people felt their very liberty was under threat.

Through twelve case histories Wise brings to life the mental state of the middle and upper classes, and the way they treated their relatives who were considered different or odd in some way. She details cases where people were
This book is one I read as it made the WellcomeBookPrize shortlist and I am doing a little reading project of some of the shortlisted books with my friend Elena. I am actually very glad I did read this book as it was a very insightful read and it was a topic I didn't know too much about before reading this book, but I did find it to be a bit of a mixed bag at times too.

This book is divided into quite a few different sections, each on focuses on a case of an individual who is wrongfully/badly
Dec 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A great history of lunacy laws and malicious incarceration in nineteenth-century Britain, with some frightening thoughts on institutionalization in the twentieth century to end on. A great read, with characters and situations sometimes more outlandish than the plots of sensation novels. Also, a great historicized reading of Mr Rochester's decision to keep Mrs Rochester under care in his third storey, rather than committing her to a private asylum.
Ralph Britton
May 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Most of us would probably assume that the plight of someone at risk of incarceration for madness in the nineteenth century was a near hopeless one, especially if we had been influenced by reading 'The Woman in White'. Sarah Wise follows the history of the attempt to reform the lunacy laws in Victorian England by way of a well-choosen series of notable cases. They are entertaining and illuminating. I was surprised how many attempted confinements of alleged lunatics were motivated by the desire to ...more
tom bomp
Mar 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
First, I want to emphasise that unfortunately this pays very little attention to the fate of poorer "lunatics" and pretty much nothing about the public asylum system in general. It focuses instead on a series of cases by richer people involved in the private system and their struggles to change it etc. As long as you're aware of those limitations though it's absolutely fascinating. Every story was incredibly readable and interesting.

One of the most fascinating stories is John Perceval, son of
Jan 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
A really interesting insight into how lunatic asylums were run, false imprisonment and disregard for the patients. A good group of individual stories, from people deemed insane for their religious beliefs, to women who were simply too wilful which was seen as madness. Worth reading by anyone with an interest in the development of mental health.
Mar 18, 2014 rated it did not like it
Dry as dust. Lots of details crammed into page-long paragraphs, presented in as boring a manner as possible.

Quit after 30 pages and 50 yawns.
Oct 24, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: book-vipers
There are a number of interesting and at times horrifying true stories of people being wrongfully held in lunatic asylums, but these details are bogged down by an excess of information on court cases and the evolution of the Lunacy Laws. The more personal info of the cases read well but once each chapter moved towards the more legal aspects, it got very dull very quickly. The only way I could finish the book was to skim read over these pages. The final chapter was the worst offender with 15 ...more
Dec 24, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Evidence of insanity in Victorian England: masturbation, loquacity, strange dress, flamboyancy, absence of womanly reserve, belief in spirits, sarcasm, socialism, love of animals, any perceived eccentric beliefs or choices.
People to trust: spontaneously assembled public mobs, perfect strangers, former lunatics.
People to distrust: spouses, parents, children, doctors, lawyers, egomaniacal literary giants
Marguerite Kaye
Mar 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
A fascinating insight into Victorian mores and the way they influenced and changed the lunacy laws, and an even more fascinating insight into how those laws were used and abused. We tend to assume that they worked primarily against women, but Sarah Wise's statistics destroy that myth along with a good many others. It's true, many, many women who did not conform to the Victorian ideal of womanhood were incarcerated - women who refused to marry, who stood up for themselves, who were socialists or ...more
Firstly this book is good. Really good. It's frightening to think about that some of this could happen today too. This book is about how people where treated by the mental healthcare system of the 19th century. It's about how unjust this system was. How people where committed to asylums by their families and public. It's about how some people who had been committed who fought to be freed. How these people rose up and fought not just for themselves but other people. How they fought to change the ...more
Jan 12, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Think lunatic asylum and the words will instantly conjure up an image of a Victorian institution with mad-doctors and deranged patients in straight-jackets. This book, pieced together from correspondence and court reports of the time, tells the story of how the asylums got their image today. Mad-doctors indeed, this was just what Victorians called doctors who dealt with the mentally ill; they were also referred to as alienists. Neither term elicits confidence of the profession from a modern ...more
Feb 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Title: Inconvenient People
Author: Sarah Wise
Publisher: Bodley Head, 2012
Reviewer: Jane Brown
These are stories to shock make your blood curdle. The author has written twelve stories from the Victorian times- these are not myth or Halloween stories; but real stories of unfortunate people who did not fit into the stiff upper lipped Victorian society. It is frightening to think that so many people were “put away” because society could not cope or had understanding of the person,
May 06, 2013 added it
History of the Lunacy laws in Britain which held sway from the 1840s until 1890. The law allowed anyone with the opinion of two doctors to appeal for certification of insanity on a suspect relative. Doctors in this system were highly compromised by the money they were paid for interviews and also that many were owners of asylums. Wise covers this history through analysis of twelve cases. Many people charged with lunacy were antisocial, eccentric or in the way of some money-making scheme. It ...more
Jan 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Definitely a sipper, not a glugger. It's a fascinating insight to the containment of mental illness from not that long ago, rather worryingly. It seems that stigma and discrimination, isolation and disrespect have been reluctant to disassociate themselves from society's attitude toward the mind (as opposed to the body). Glad I got to the end, but more importantly, I'm glad I stuck with it. It wasn't the easiest book to read, which is a testament to the amount of research, attention to detail and ...more
Jan 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Engrossing and insightful. An incredibly absorbing collection of real-life stories of the lunacy of both patients and doctors in asylums in Victorian England. Sarah Wise has a wonderfully informative voice and adds touches of warm humour even to such uneasy subjects.
Apr 11, 2018 rated it liked it
Inconvenient People is an interesting, and at times quite funny, book that details the advent, progress and effect of so-called 'Lunacy Laws' in 19th century England. Wise augments her research of the laws with numerous case studies - stories of people whose lives were either impacted by these laws, or whose experience with the mental health system led to changes in the laws.

I found the focus of the book too narrow. By and large the stories are of middle-upper class individuals, and there is
Aug 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
They have become two of the most recognisable stereotypes of women in the Victorian age, thanks to novels such as Jane Eyre and The Woman in White: the madwoman in the attic and the innocent heroine wrongfully imprisoned in a lunatic asylum. In this book, Wise sets out not necessarily to expose those stereotypes, but to explore the society that created them and uncover the reality of the lunacy system in Victorian England.

For a start, the majority of 'lunatics' incarcerated were male, whether
Jamie Crouthamel
Sep 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
What if, one day, you found yourself walking down the street and suddenly, you were dragged into an awaiting coach by people you didn't know waving a piece of paper in your face that certifies you as insane?

In this brilliantly research and written book of medical history, Sarah Wise tackles just that question. She sets about telling the stories of different patients who find themselves confined to asylums on "lunacy orders" procured by relatives. Wise lays out the history of English lunacy laws
Jun 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
A great overview of the wrongful imprisonment of those claimed to be mentally ill during the sixty odd years of Victoria's reign. Each semi-chronological case study contains a fascinating, usually feisty and sometimes eccentric character who fought back against the system. Wise expertly moves the bigger picture along while giving glimpses into the worlds of these characters and a situation in which it was only too easy to sign a family member into the 'care' of a private asylum or single patient ...more
Polly Clarke
Wow, what a tomb of a book. It started getting interesting about half way through in the chapter 'The Woman in Yellow' referring to Rosina, Edward Bulwer-Lytton's wife and the circles of friends he hung around with, including Charles Dickens, who all snubbed Rosina and her literary works. Interestingly, at the same time as reading this book I find myself reading 84 Charing Cross Road, where Helene Hanff refers to Dicken's work as boring. I tend to agree. The more I read about this fellow and his ...more
A.L. Butcher
This is a fascinating book covering the lives of lunatics and alleged lunatics in Victorian England. Mental illness was little understood and feared. Many people found it shameful to have a lunatic relative and so often such people were hidden away. The book covers several persons who, although eccentric, were misdiagnosed as insane, hauled away to either 'private' asylums or larger establishments, with little or no recourse to law.
The author often mentions fiction in which this occurs - namely
May 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
An eye-opening and interesting look at Victorian attitudes to mental health. Sarah Wise has thoroughly researched her book but it is not a dry, worthy text book. She has chosen to focus on 12 people who were put into an asylum - some of the patients were definitely not mentally ill - and tells their stories. Well worth a read.
Rosie Claverton
Oct 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: research, 2015
Excellent book on the history of asylum care and controversy in the Victorian era, through a series of landmark cases. Compelling for anyone with an interest in mental health, particularly the ongoing debates around liberty, society and the anti-psychiatry movement. A very readable book, with fascinating characters inhabiting it - highly recommended.
Tiffany Williams
May 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
A really interesting read which challenges some of the assumptions made about this era. Very satisfying to see how passionate people were in those days about the care of mentally ill people, in a time when most of society barely understood it. The book focuses on adult society - would be interested to know more about how it was for children and teenagers displaying symptoms of illness.
Uncommonly interesting, but also quite text-bookish. Toward the end there, I couldn't decide whether I was reading for pleasure or for a class I signed up for and then forgot about. I did learn a great deal, though!
Mick Finlay
Dec 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A wonderful book. Full of extraordinary stories. Really helps to understand how our debates about mental health and illness have developed.
Stephen Goldenberg
Apr 03, 2014 rated it liked it
Some fascinating case studies but the book is a bit over long for the subject. The case studies are sometimes too similar and repetitive.
Sharon Gardner
Jul 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Very interesting social history. Shocking stories of wrongful incarceration for various motives. I am very grateful I live in more enlightened times.
DeAnna Knippling
Jun 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Normally I only run a five-star review if a book kept me up at nights and I didn't have to force myself to keep reading. I struggled with this. But in retrospect, that wasn't because the book wasn't excellent--it was because my brain needed a little push. I had to change my mind in order to get through this book.

I've always been more interested in fiction than nonfiction. However, I'm having to read a bunch of history-related books as research for a project, so I have incentive to get through
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My Psychology Today blog on 19th-century mental health is here
“But this "progress" in psychiatry had gone hand in hand with what, to many, seemed to be the pathologising of perfectly ordinary human weirdness.” 1 likes
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