Inconvenient People – a talk by Sarah Wise

Sarah Wise
Sarah Wise

Author, Sarah Wise came to Kensington Central Library  on Thursday 18 April to speak about her book, Inconvenient People. This looks at 75 years of psychiatry in 19th Century England bringing to light new research and unseen stories of contested lunacy.

This event was part of our Cityread London events. For more information about this London-wide reading campaign, check out the Cityread London website.

For those that missed the event, Sarah supplied us with some images that she used and talked about on the night. I also took note of some of the questions the audience asked Sarah.

In the attic
In the attic

A rare illustration of Bertha Mason, restrained in the attic at Thornfield Hall in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (1847). Mr Rochester had chosen not to send Bertha to an asylum, but to secrete her instead at home with keeper Grace Poole.

Lancaster Moor Asylum
Lancaster Moor Asylum

Lancaster Moor Asylum, in the north-west of England – built as part of the massive, mid-19th-century national construction programme of public asylums for the poor.

Georgina Weldon
Georgina Weldon

Anti-lunacy-law campaigner Georgina Weldon became a huge star, championing all sorts of progressive social measures. She was able to command large sums for personal appearances and product endorsements, such as this soap advert.

Kensington House Asylum
Kensington House Asylum

Kensington House Asylum stood, until 1872, approximately where Kensington Court is today – facing towards Kensington Palace. In 1838, the asylum was the focus of a  scandal that prompted the formation of a campaign to improve patients’ conditions and to change the rules regarding lunacy certification.

Questions & Answers

Q – If a person was put into an asylum but they were sane how did they get out?

A – At the time, it was regarded that the state couldn’t interfere with family life but they would try to exert gentle pressure on the family for their relative to be let out.

Q – Will Sarah continue her research into the 20th century?

A – Sarah doesn’t think so. She found the research for this book quite upsetting and with the changes that occurred after the 1913 Mental Deficiency Act it would be hard to carry on.

Q – Were operations on people’s skulls happening in the 19th century?

A – Doctors would drain blood from the head but more often than not this would injure the patient such as causing deafness.

Jodie Green, Lending Librarian
Jodie Green

Jodie Green

Lending Librarian

Further Information

  • Sarah Wise’s book ‘Inconvenient People: Lunacy, Liberty and the Mad-Doctors in Victorian England is available from our libraries
  • For more information about Kensington House Asylum please contact our Local Studies Library.
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