Mad Monday: Crime and Insanity in Victorian Britain

What a great title!
Mad or Bad: Crime and Insanity in Victorian Britain.
The book covers 25 cases, tried at a time when insanity was used as a grounds for self defence. Was

the accused mad or bad when they committed that offence? It was the new wave of  'mad doctors' aka alienists (their patients were known as aliens) who sought to define the psychological conditions that could lead to the Insanity plea.
The main part of the book are the case histories, such as the case of one Roderick McLean, who attempted to assassinate Queen Victoria. McLean was found Not Guilty on the grounds of insanity and sentenced to life imprisonment in Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. It was noted that as a teenager, he had suffered a head injury and subsequently spent time in an asylum, as he was not "right in the head." Then there's the case of Isabelle Blyth, who repeatedly claimed her nose and hands were wasting away, and who struck her elderly mother with the fireside tongs. She was recorded as insane - but sent to a general prison. In the end, four decades later, she died in an asylum.

For the family history researcher, the terminology around insanity is useful, with a glossary explaining the terms. There's also a Who's Who of notable medical and legal folk of the time, and a chapter devoted to mad and bad women. The case histories themselves, though, are packed with information about the legal and medical thought of the time.
We have borrowable copies in Auckland Libraries - check them out here. Remember, there is no cost to place a hold and request the book be sent to your local library, and you have eight days to collect it.

Joanne.
Research Central

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