Wrongful Confinement and Victorian Psychiatry, 1840-1880
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Victorian society witnessed a transformation in the understanding and treatment of psychological disorders. The expansion of nosologies or classifications of lunacy was one measure hailed by psychological physicians as indicative of their mastery over madness. Yet between the 1840s and the 1870s the introduction of moral insanity and monomania to established classificatory systems undercut the medical authority of physicians and challenged their desired cultural stature as benevolent and authoritative agents of cure. Far from consolidating medical authority, these `partial' forms of lunacy (which were detected in the emotions rather than the intellect) paradoxically heightened anxiety about the ease with which eccentric or sane individuals could be wrongfully incarcerated in lunatic asylums. This dissertation examines the themes, motifs and defining issues of wrongful incarceration as they were discussed in Parliament, national and regional newspapers, medical and literary journals, and novels and short stories. Discussing in detail several infamous `cases' of wrongful confinement, it traces the ways in which anxieties were formulated, expressed and negotiated. The public outcry over cultural representations of wrongful confinement generated heated reactions from physicians and lunacy law reformers. The most contentious discussions centred on the manner in which notions of humanity and benevolence, and tyranny and liberty, were marshalled to influence public opinion. These debates represented not solely a legal conflict centring the claim to treatment and authority over the alleged lunatic, but more dramatically a battle for the public's good opinion. As important as medico-legal trials and their consequent rulings was the contested appropriateness of sentiment; this was manifested in words and images utilised to exacerbate or contain anxiety. The wrongful confinement controversy constitutes an important (though largely overlooked) episode in the history of English nineteenth-century psychiatry; formatively altering perceptions of the profession of mental science in the Victorian period. .
AuthorsHomberger, Margaret Alissa
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