Author debunks Victorian England myths

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Author Sarah Wise proclaimed last Thursday at Sutton House in Homerton, “its a folk myth that the Victorians put the sexually wayward into mental asylums”.

The self-styled “Victorianista” was promoting her latest book, “Inconvenient People: Lunacy, Liberty and the Mad-doctors in Victorian England”. The book was released on 4 October and presents twelve case studies of lunacy and conspiracy.

Ms Wise. stressed that her book seeks to debunk conventional wisdom regarding “Victorian myths” surrounding asylums such as women being admitted to mental hospitals for having illegitimate affairs. She revealed that the “majority of forced incarcerations were a grab for cash,” and that “the richer you were, the longer you would stay in.”

Her descriptions of “mad doctors” and mass rescue attempts from these institutions during the early Victorian era paint a contrasting picture to the one painted of industrial Britain during the Olympic opening ceremony. On the issue of scholarly hostility to her work, she said, “Academic historians look down on people like me, but I’m writing for the general public who are not interested in theories.”

The former freelance arts writer, who was shortlisted for a Royal Society of Literature prize, reminisced about her time at The Guardian and The Independent on Sunday. After spending five years crafting this book, she said she missed “the short sprint of journalism.”