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

Inconvenient People: Lunacy, Liberty and the Mad-Doctors in Victorian England. Sarah Wise. The Bodley Head. [pounds sterling]20.00. xxii + 473 pages. ISBN 978-1-847-92112-3. This is a study not of mentally ill people but of 'sane people being declared mad ... victims of malicious asylum incarceration'. To Victorians this was a real and recurring problem and there was a fear of the power held by physicians to certify people who were only odd--much as today social workers and undereducated judges can destroy those accused of 'child abuse' however false the charge. The book also looks at the work of the Commissioners in Lunacy (1845-1913), the exposes these cases produced, and the greater risk faced by those with money or property. The book also gives valuable insights into Victorian attitudes towards mental illness, the roles of women and of men (men were more likely to face false charges), and changing attitudes into the role of the state in coping with such illness. The author follows a chronological approach. She concentrates on individual cases and the misery which some people endured still cries out some 160 years after the event. In her epilogue she reminds readers who might feel smug that abuses, often of a horrible nature, carried on into the twentieth century and probably continue now. This is a slightly frightening book, reminding readers how evil men can be, but a most worthwhile one. (A.K.M.)

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Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 1, 2012
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