Wednesday, November 12, 2008

lunacy panic

Not my own, actually, but Victorian England's lunacy panic of 1858-9. Shockingly, it was discovered that a number of medical "professionals" were locking away people who were actually quite sane, but perhaps awkward or embarrassing to their families, thus warranting their convenient disposal into asylums. (It occurs to me that this practice arguably exists today only it's called rehab...). Anyway, when newspapers published stories about this, there was a public outcry and what came to be known as the lunacy panic -- which helped regulate psychiatry and the admission of psychiatric patients, and also spawned a number of delightful sensation novels. One of which I will be teaching on Friday:

I love this novel -- the lunacy panic, the mistaken identities, the gender identity issues, Marian's mustache, Frederick Fairlie's art-loving invalid status, the obsese Count Fosco's sexy/creepy magnetism and his love for small dogs... There is plenty to talk about so I should have no trouble filling 50 minutes of class and, as I have not been teaching all semester, I'm looking forward to being back in the classroom. Even briefly. Hmm. Especially briefly! I get to talk about a novel for an hour with smart and enthusiastic students and I don't have to grade any essays. What a deal.

If you haven't read The Woman in White and you want a taste of Victorian sensation, this is a good place to start. I can also endorse wholeheartedly Mary Elizabeth Braddon's Lady Audley's Secret (and if you like THAT novel, you'll LOVE the dissertation chapter I've written on it!). Happy reading.




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