Review Life in the Victorian Asylum – Mark Stevens

life in the victorian asylumHave you ever wondered what life was like for the thousands of ordinary people who experienced Victorian mental health care? Life in the Victorian Asylum is the story of those ordinary people. It details their daily routine, the treatments they were offered and the rules to which they had to conform.

Immerse yourself in the period detail of ward life. Meet the staff and other patients. Seek a diagnosis for your illness. Tour the hospital and take part in the activities on offer.

In Life in the Victorian Asylum, Mark Stevens reconstructs the lost world of the nineteenth century public asylums. Why were they built? Who were they for? And what is the legacy of these remarkable institutions? You may be surprised at what you discover.

This was a very interesting read that shows we have a wrong image of the Victorian asylums. Especially in the second half of the 19th century they were actually great institutions, and in some ways provided better care than the current system does. Although backwards in some of their ideas (especially regarding sexism), they were surprisingly modern and humane, and accomplished a lot with the few means they had (both financial and in ways of medical knowledge/treatments).

The book is written in two parts, the first and largest written as if the reader is about to enter the asylum and contains all you might want to know regarding the building, illnesses, staff, acceptance and discharge, treatment, daily routine, etc etc etc. Sometimes this went into a bit too much detail for my personal interest (I don’t really need to know the particular flushing systems used in the toilets for example), but overall it is very interesting. The second part contains everything else, such as more history on the specific asylum where information was gathered by the author, what happened to the asylums up till now, and a few specific patients were discussed. I really wish this last bit had been longer, because to me this was the most interesting part that really pulled everything together and brought it all to live. I do understand though that it didn’t quite fit in with the topic aimed for in the book.

Overall I thought this was a very accessible and interesting read, which served as quite an eyeopener and a great base to reflect the various portrayals of asylums in fiction against.

4 thoughts on “Review Life in the Victorian Asylum – Mark Stevens

  1. Interesting! I know we’re often presented with fictional views of Victorian asylums, but I never really stopped to think what they would actually have been like. Is this a non-fiction style read, or is it written more like fiction?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is a nonfiction read. The author is an archivist who specializes in asylum documents. This is written as if to be a brochure you would get as if you were about to go into an asylum, and what you might expect your life in there to look like… where you will sleep, what you will eat, what you would wear, what your day looks like. It is written in a very accessible way, and not as dry as some other nonfiction might be.


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