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Mad Mary Lamb: Lunacy and Murder in Literary London

3.43  ·  Rating details ·  233 ratings  ·  28 reviews
After killing her mother with a carving knife, Mary Lamb spent the rest of her life in and out of madhouses; yet the crime and its aftermath opened up a new life. Freed to read extensively, she discovered her talent for writing and, with her brother, the essayist Charles Lamb, collaborated on the famous Tales from Shakespeare. This narrative of a nearly forgotten woman is ...more
Paperback, 326 pages
Published February 17th 2006 by W. W. Norton Company (first published December 28th 2004)
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3.43  · 
Rating details
 ·  233 ratings  ·  28 reviews


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BAM The Bibliomaniac
In 1796, a middle aged bipolar woman caring for her elderly parents snapped and mortally wounded her mother, leading to a declaration of lunacy and a stay at a private mental institution. Eventually Mary is released and her younger brother, Charles, makes it his lifelong responsibility to care for her. This book is the story of their relationship and their budding writing careers.
Charles lamb is known today as one of Britain's most popular essayists of his generation and is still studied today.
...more
Laurie
Jun 16, 2009 rated it really liked it
I hadn't read any works by either Charles or Mary Lamb prior to reading this biography of their lives together. Brother and older sister -- which one was the true caretaker of the other? Mary, who murdered their mother? Charles, who forgave Mary and even excused her? Mary, who may been bipolar? Charles, who spent many an evening with literary colleagues...and liquor? A very fascinating and tragic story.

Passages and my reflection...

...Charles Lamb speaking of friend, John Rickman: "the finest f
...more
Bonnie
Mar 11, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: history-books
I am fascinated by the Lambs. Life is truly stranger than fiction here: Mary (the sister) went crazy, killed her mother with a kitchen knife (!) and wounded her father. Charles (the brother) saved her from a life in the mad house by becoming her guardian (though Mary occasionally backslid and had to do stints in asylums throughout her life). Mary and Charles had a circle of friends that included Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth, collaborated on Tales from Shakespeare and separately ...more
Janellyn51
Dec 06, 2013 rated it liked it
I enjoyed this book about Mary Lamb. I wasn't all that familiar with Charles Lambs writings, only the name. I can't see that he was all that witty, but of course it was a different time and different humor. I did find reading about Mary's madness and how they dealt with it pretty interesting. Without knowing too terribly much about psychiatric malady's, it was pretty plain that she was bi polar, or some such along those lines. I'm not sure how you murder your mother and not wind up in jail or ha ...more
Susan Jean Cronin
Jul 23, 2008 rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned
Thin scholarship and sloppy writing made me put this one down after just a few chapters. Hitchcock seems to have gathered random tidbits into loosely structured chapters that don't seem to address much of anything in particular. Even within the scope of individual paragraphs, she loses focus. It's almost reads like a dustbin of endnotes!
Tara Lynn
Nov 30, 2009 rated it it was ok
Although informative, this account of the life of Mary Lamb and her brother Charles was far more dry than it needed to be. I had a hard time keeping my attention focused on the narrative, and often wished that there were more supplemental material about the time period than was provided.
Cathy
Jul 18, 2009 rated it liked it
Interesting person to learn about but reads very slow and dry
Julia
Mar 29, 2012 rated it did not like it
I wasn't looking for a book about writing and was disappointed by the lack of discussion on madness and crime.
Jeffrey Greggs
Jan 26, 2009 rated it did not like it
This the worst kind of biography: it forgoes discipline, style, and scholarship and, instead, relies on its sensational subject to tell a tale. I made it through 4 chapters.
Tanya Presse
Jul 04, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting assessments from a number of angles. I would have liked more on Mary Lamb specifically and less on Charles Lamb, although I do realize that would be a difficult task given that she is chiefly remembered through letters by her brother and by those biographers of her brother.

An interesting work. I especially loved the epilogue commenting on her psychological assessment in modern times!
Lyddie
Feb 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Unexpectedly educational. Really enjoyed this one.
Rose
Dec 08, 2007 rated it really liked it
"Mad Mary Lamb: Lunacy and Murder in Literary London" begins with the September 1796 murder of elderly Elizabeth Lamb. Her spinster daughter, Mary, snapped under the strain of caring for her aging parents and aunt, and reacted to a caustic remark by plunging a carving knife deep into Mrs. Lamb's chest. Mary was confined in a private lunatic asylum for several weeks, and spent the rest of her life juggling literary brilliance and debilitating insanity. Her champion was her brother, famous essayis ...more
Michelle Powers
Feb 19, 2011 rated it liked it
On my Goodreads shelf for over a year and I read it in about 8 hours-which is amazing for me because I don't read non-fiction very quickly.

Mary’s act of matricide is barely mentioned beyond after the first chapter. Instead the book focuses on Mary’s life after the murder. Her writing, her work with her brother, her socializing with poets and writers of the age, and her short stays in asylums throughout the rest of her life.

A good read for anyone interested in the writers and writing of the tim
...more
Brigid
Jan 21, 2013 rated it liked it
Overall, I did quite like this book. It too me considerably longer to finish than I expected, and I don't know if that's life getting in the way or the pace of the book itself. I found the first 1/3 to 1/2 of the book really enjoyable. Then I felt the book slowed, considerably. It seemed like the long, block quotations (from letters or printed works by both the Lambs) and the introduction of important people became more frequent. There were a LOT of names, and not all of them names I recognized ...more
Rob
Mar 03, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Until now I was unaware of Charles Lamb having a sister and this book gave me a faint picture of who she was and the circumstances of their mother's murder. However, with so little resources available now (or ever) about Mary the author can only really explain her through her brother's letters and the society of the times. I wanted so much to hear her own voice and what she thought of her own life and actions.

Still I am left giving this 2 stars because the work done in the book just consisted o
...more
Lizzie
Dec 11, 2009 rated it it was ok
A biography of a footnote character. Mary Lamb is remembered now for writing, with her brother, Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare. But years before that, in a manic episode, she killed their mother. Charles Lamb saw that she was sent to a good madhouse, and when she regained her sanity, she came to live with him as his housekeeper and companion. Besides the Tales, they collaborated on poems and stories for children, and she wrote books for children on her own. Their friends were other creative peopl ...more
Sasha
Jun 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating, one of the best biographies that I can remember.
It gives not just a portrait of famous sibling's "double singleness" but a perspective of London's literary scene some 200 years ago, publishing trends and fashions, moral codes that ruled behavior and along the way we get a glimpse at mental institutions of the time. In all, Mary Lamb was saved from life of misery by her kind and loving brother who took her under his protection, even if this burden cost him his own family life (appare
...more
Rosemary L'Esprit
Feb 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Discovered this book on my Friends of the Library sale shelf. I'm not a scholar of the romatic poets or early 19th century England, but I really got caught up in this very readable book. At 32, Mary Lamb suddenly killed her mother with a carving knife as she was setting the table. What happens to her afterwards as she lives her life with her literary brother, Charles Lamb, is quite remarkable. For those interested in women's stories, mental illness treatment, societal attitudes towards criminali ...more
Suzan Alteri
Mar 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best book's I have read about literary London outside of anything about Bloomsbury. This is the biography not just of Mary Lamb, who was a children's author in the late 18th and early 19th century, but also a biography of London at that time, and especially of the literary circle that Lamb and her brother were involved with (Coleridge, Wordsworth). A truly great book for anyone wanting to know more about literary circles, women writers, and how mental illness was treated in th ...more
AK Mama Reads
Feb 12, 2009 rated it liked it
This was a fascinating story of a disturbed young girl, who was a product of an unhealthy environment as well as genetics. I didn't really know anything about Mary Lamb, and this book was a marvelous insight into a dark world. I gave it 3 stars because while the story is moving, the book isn't the most captivating as it's written. I feel it's too vague at times. Nevertheless I did enjoy it greatly and would recommend it to fans of true crime novels.
Sue
Mar 22, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: aarf-yuck-ugh, crimen
The subject was awful: caught with a knife right after she stabbed her mother? Non-contested conclusion. Forget the Lizzie Borden saga (did she? or didn't she?) -- this gal should have gotten "an eye for an eye." I don't care how literate she turned out to be.

And the book? The writing was awful, twisted, round-a-bout, unclear, on and on and on. ugh. This whole thing could have been condensed to 25 pages, or less!
Terragyrl3
Oct 21, 2014 rated it liked it
The author makes good use of the Lambs' personal letters to effectively trace the lines of friendship among the Romantics of the day: Coleridge, the Shelleys, Wordsworth, Blake, and the Hazlitts, to name a few. I would have enjoyed more general description of the time period, but the book carefully elucidates the way Mary Lamb struggled to play the acceptable female role while being at the center of a literary movement.
Syd
Jun 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
I knew the name Charles Lamb, but had never heard of Mary Lamb. Biographies are often boring and accurate, or interesting and incredibly biased. But I loved reading about Mary Lamb and feel that this biography has done credit to such an interesting and important woman.
Heather
Not sure how to rate, as this wasn't what I was expecting. I thought it would have more detain about the murders, but no. Mostly just a bunch of details making her seem like a normal person. Talks a lot about her brother.
Heidi
Mar 25, 2008 rated it liked it
Sad book, but interesting. Worth the time reading.
Ashley
Aug 09, 2015 marked it as to-read
#
NC
Own in paperback.

FS: "It was a Thursday afternoon in London, September 22, 1796."

LS: "It is time for her to step out into the light."
Julie
Mar 08, 2015 rated it it was ok
I had all the best intentions to finish this book, but I just lost interest. It seemed muddled with historic fact that distracted from the story. Almost as if it was filling a void.
Ellie
rated it liked it
Jan 09, 2011
Margitm
rated it liked it
Dec 28, 2014
Melanie
rated it it was amazing
Apr 15, 2013
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Susan Tyler Hitchcock has written 13 books, including Frankenstein: A Cultural History, Mad Mary Lamb, and Coming About: A Family Passage at Sea. She has degrees in English from the University of Michigan and the University of Virginia. She works as a book editor for the National Geographic Society. She has been collecting Frankensteiniana for more than 20 years. She and her husband live in the ho ...more