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Inconvenient People

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Title: Inconvenient People   

Author: Sarah Wise 

Publisher: Bodley Head, 2012

Reviewer: Jane Brown, Patient safety advisor Worcestershire Acute NHS Trust

What was it like?

These are stories to shock make your blood curdle. The author has written 12 stories from the Victorian times – these are not myth or Halloween stories; but real stories of unfortunate people who did not fit into the stiff upper lipped Victorian society. It is frightening to think that so many people were “put away” because society could not cope or had understanding of the person, better to shut away than deal with the problem.

This is a well-researched book and is more of a book of crime short stories of that period rather than the history of this subject.


What were the highlights? 

The title itself is a highlight as it describes in two words the thinking of society at that time.

The author is a historian with an MA in Victorian studies and knows her subject well. It delves into a part of history we thought we knew but were merely scratching the surface.

What were the highlights? 

The author is well-read in Victorian history and this is apparent throughout the book. The author will surprise the reader as one normally thinks of the husband or family locking away the mad woman,– much like Rochester’s Bertha Mason in the Jane Eyre novel. This opens up shady characters who put away people for money, people forcibly kept prisoner in their own homes, and shockingly pauper patients who required only one doctor and a magistrate or a member of the public to certify their lunacy.

The appendix section should be read first because this gives the reader information on acts such as the lunacy legislation. Statistics are included for the certificated insane in England and Wales, but the author guides the reader by advising them to take with a pinch of salt and there is no statistics for those suffering from delirium or some other condition as there are no figures.

Who should read it?

Anyone involved in the care of others should read this. Some nurses and clinicians will remember all too well psychiatric institutions. It makes us realise society and healthcare has come a long way in caring for the mentally ill, the title suggesting illness rather than madness.

Readers interested in this part of history will benefit from reading this gripping and fascinating account of Victorian England.

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