Inconvenient People

Lunacy, Liberty and the Mad-Doctors in England

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Book Description

The phenomenon of false allegations of mental illness is as old as our first interactions as human beings. Every one of us has described some other person as crazy or insane, and most all of us have had periods, moments at least, of madness. But it took the confluence of the law and medical science, mad–doctors, alienists, priests and barristers, to raise the matter to a level of “science,” capable of being used by conniving relatives, “designing families” and scheming neighbors to destroy people who found themselves in the way, people whose removal could provide their survivors with money or property or other less frivolous benefits. Girl Interrupted in only a recent example. And reversing this sort of diagnosis and incarceration became increasingly more difficult, as even the most temperate attempt to leave these “homes” or “hospitals” was deemed “crazy.” Kept in a madhouse, one became a little mad, as Jack Nicholson and Ken Kesey explain in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest.

In this sadly terrifying, emotionally moving, and occasionally hilarious book, twelve cases of contested lunacy are offered as examples of the shifting arguments regarding what constituted sanity and insanity. They offer unique insight into the fears of sexuality, inherited madness, greed and fraud, until public feeling shifted and turned against the rising alienists who would challenge liberty and freedom of people who were perhaps simply “difficult,” but were turned into victims of this unscrupulous trade.

This fascinating book is filled with stories almost impossible to believe but wildly engaging, a book one will not soon forget.

About the Author

Praise For This Book

Praise for Inconvenient People

"This might seem morbid reading, but Wise's research is rigorous, her writing is lucid and witty, and this book is engaging, although disturbing. A must–read for those who work in the mental health industry, I think most people will find it both eye–opening and provocative."The Guardian

"Wise's meticulously researched study adds a fresh perspective to current scholarship on insanity and offers a chilling reminder of 'the stubborn unchangeability of many aspects of the lunacy issue.'" —Publishers Weekly

Praise for the UK edition of Inconvenient People

"I enjoyed Inconvenient is an illuminating look at an area of social history that inspired Wilkie Collins among others." —Sebastian Faulks, Telegraph, Christmas 2012 Books of the Year

"Wise is a terrific researcher and storyteller. Here she has woven a series of case studies into a fascinating history of insanity in the 19th century." —Kate Summerscale, Guardian, Books of the Year 2012

"I thrilled read to Sarah Wise's Inconvenient People, an enthralling study of those who fell foul of Victorian mad–doctors and greedy relatives." —Philip Hoare, Sunday Telegraph, Books of the Year 2012

Praise for The Italian Boy

"Wise lights up a very dark chapter of London's history…She has a Dickensian sense of London's back alleys and dim corridors, and her meticulous survey of London's eastern slums, where the resurrection men plied their trade, abounds in detail…Her achievement allows us to grasp some of the terrible secrets those mysteries concealed."—The Boston Globe

"Wise's immaculately researched and artfully constructed narrative shows how a band of bodysnatchers went from taking dead bodies to making them…The Italian Boy carves out its own niche in the darkness and, like any good mystery, leaves more mysteries trailing in its wake." —Washington Post

"A highly atmospheric account of corpse trafficking and killing in early 19th–century London...Wise's stately, richly descriptive narrative… evokes tumultuous 1830s London...A fine historical and social reconstruction of a vile crime." —Kirkus