Friday, 2 August 2013

The Madness Of It All

Broadmoor Revealed: Victorian Crime and the Lunatic Asylum by Mark Stevens

Broadmoor revealed is a fantastic journey in to the world of Lunatics Victorian style. The author has sifted through the records of the Broadmoor Asylum to bring us the story of some of its earliest residents. He also walks through the early history and development of the institution.

Broadmoor became the home to  those held at her Majesties pleasure,  those found not guilty of heinous crimes due to insanity. Also it was home to your more straight lace mad criminals. It is a great snapshot of an era and speaks great volumes of the social and political values of the time. I thank the author for bringing the cast of colourful inmates and staff back from the mist of time.

4.5 Stars

From the Author

It was in 2001 that my office took in patient records from the old Berkshire Asylum. This was my first encounter with mental health archives. I found it fascinating: here were thousands of personal stories of real Victorian men and women. Stories of suffering and hardship, as you might expect, but also stories of compassion and hope.

These were the sort of stories that are not usually given prominence in the history books; stories that might merit a paragraph or two as an aside, but that would otherwise be footnotes in some wider narrative. I found myself drawn to these real Victorian people and to the world that they lived in.

That draw only increased when the Broadmoor archive came our way. Here were more lost lives and forgotten voices from nineteenth century England, but with the added stigma that comes from a criminal act resulting from mental illness. Every patient tells a story; I was determined to write about some of them.

Of course, it takes time to research these stories. Years in fact, just to produce the slim volume that is Broadmoor Revealed. As a result, I feel that I've only begun to scratch the surface of what is in the Broadmoor archive.

When the first edition of Broadmoor Revealed was published, someone wrote to me that the book was 'like a love letter to the Victorian asylum'. I hadn't written it with that intention, but the reaction made me feel very proud. Broadmoor Revealed is an attempt to challenge the prejudices that we all have about the hospital, and I hope it achieves that.

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