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Bedlam: London and its Mad by Catharine…

Bedlam: London and its Mad

by Catharine Arnold

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The subject matter of this book interested me greatly: a study of how London treated its residents who had mental health issues over the centuries, with the focal point being Bethlehem Hospital. This place, of course, became known as Bethlem and later, in the vernacular, Bedlam. However, I found it difficult to focus on for some reason and kept finding excuses to not read it. This could be a case of right book, wrong time, though, so I would not necessarily discourage others from reading it. Maybe the better approach would be to skip through and read only the chapters that interest you (I never did get to the Victorian asylums, getting bogged down somewhere around Elizabethan times). ( )
  rabbitprincess | Apr 28, 2018 |
An interesting and well-researched history of Bedlam and mental illness through the 18th and 19th centruries. Suitable for both mental health professions and the general public. Arnold has the right mix of history, technical information and appealing (if a little alarming) stories. Worth the read. ( )
  SarahEBear | Sep 8, 2017 |
A very good and relatively concise history of Bedlam and some of its more famous inmates. Concentrating more on the 18th & 19th century this highly accessible popular history, reads easily and is never boring. Interesting in places but more often intriguing, this has a good overview feel to this. I doubt it's the most comprehensive study of the subject on the market but it must lay claim to being one of the most readable both to the professional reader and the lay reader. Recommended. ( )
  aadyer | May 10, 2017 |
I read Arnold's "City of Sin", on the history of London's vice side, and found it to be one of the most enjoyable books I've ever read, with its many salacious details of London's history. So, I was sure to chase down "Bedlam", with its study of Bethlam Hospital for those with mental health issues, and through this, a view of madness through the ages.

"Bedlam" lacks the salaciousness of "City of Sin", and for some reason it is more enjoyable to read of a politician's sex romp than the details of how poorly people with mental health issues were treated over the years. Still certainly worth a read, if only to learn of a humane side to King George III. ( )
  MiaCulpa | Feb 18, 2015 |
Slightly better than Necropolis, but written in the same accessible manner, Bedlam is a history of the treatment of madness -- not confining the discussion solely to Bethlem Hospital, but using it as a focus, and examining the pressure that shaped it. I have to say, I wouldn't want to visit the museum that's now in the old building: it sounds like it'd probably give me an anxiety attack just looking at it. Still, this account of the institution is clear and sensitive, examining doctors and patients with sensitivity and care.

I think I'd be happy to read just about any history book by Catharine Arnold: she has the right touch. Biased, yes, towards what one of my lecturers referred to as "popular history", but informative and well written for all that. ( )
  shanaqui | Apr 29, 2013 |
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For my husband
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The mad, like the poor, have always been with us.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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'Bedlam!' The very name conjures up graphic images of naked patients chained among filthy straw, or parading untended wards deluded that they are Napoleon or Jesus Christ. We owe this image of madness to William Hogarth, who, in plate eight of his 1735 Rake's Progress series, depicts the anti-hero in Bedlam, the latest addition to a freak show providing entertainment for Londoners between trips to the Tower Zoo, puppet shows and public executions. That this is still the most powerful image of Bedlam, over two centuries later, says much about our attitude to mental illness, although the Bedlam of the popular imagination is long gone. The hospital was relocated to the suburbs of Kent in 1930, and Sydney Smirke's impressive Victorian building in Southwark took on a new role as the Imperial War Museum. Following the historical narrative structure of her acclaimed Necropolis, BEDLAM examines the capital's treatment of the insane over the centuries, from the founding of Bethlehem Hospital in 1247 through the heyday of the great Victorian asylums to the more enlightened attitudes that prevail today.
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'Bedlam' examines London's treatment of the insane over the centuries, from the founding of Bethlehem Hospital in 1247 through the heyday of the great Victorian asylums to the more enlightened attitudes that prevail today.

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