Gaslight tales of rooftop escapes, men and women snatched in broad daylight, patients shut in coffins, a fanatical cult known as the Abode of Love…
The nineteenth century saw repeated panics about sane individuals being locked away in lunatic asylums. With the rise of the ‘mad-doctor’ profession, English liberty seemed to be threatened by a new generation of medical men willing to incarcerate difficult family members in return for the high fees paid by an unscrupulous spouse or friend. And contrary to popular modern belief, the madwoman in the attic was at least as likely to have been a madman.
Among the victims were the beautiful and charismatic Rosina, wife of the novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton; Edward Davies, victim of a mother’s greed; Louisa Lowe, who paid for her religious fervour; and John Perceval, who, despite the best efforts of the abusive asylum attendants, cured himself.
Sarah Wise uncovers twelve shocking stories, untold for over a century, which reveal the darker side of the Victorian upper and middle classes – their sexuality, fears of inherited madness, financial greed and fraudulence – and chillingly evoke the black motives at the heart of the phenomenon of the ‘inconvenient person’.
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An illuminating look at an area of social history that inspired Wilkie Collins among others - Daily Telegraph, Books of the Year
Sarah Wise is an excellent writer, and those who pick up this book will not lightly put it down. Her ten chapters read like short novels, and she has the true social historian’s ability to make her period come alive. She selects and compresses the salient details beautifully; one often feels as if one is actually present at the scenes she describes. There can be no higher praise... Inconvenient People is as interesting a work of social history as you are ever likely to read - Spectator
The great gift of Sarah Wise’s excellent Inconvenient People is to blow apart the myth that the most likely victim of the lunacy laws was a married woman... If much of Inconvenient People reads like a mood book through which Wilkie Collins might have flipped if stuck for inspiration, there are moments of high farce too. Wise is flexible enough in her narrative register to make it all right to find this very funny indeed - Guardian
Deeply researched and gripping... The book owes its enormous power to Sarah Wise’s patience. She has sifted through hundreds of case histories... It makes for harrowing reading, but much of it is also hilarious, and as gripping as the most lurid Victorian melodramatic novel. Yet again, one closes a book with the impression that beneath the polished mahogany surfaces and shimmering silks of Victorian interiors lurked Hell itself - Mail on Sunday
Fascinating... Sarah Wise has used her subject like an axe, to split open the Victorian facade and examine everything wriggling behind. It has enough tragedy, comedy, farce and horror to fill a dozen fat novels, and enough bizarre characters to people them - Financial Times
Sarah Wise has unearthed [several riveting cases] for this fine social history of contested lunacy in the 19th century... Wise has given us a fascinating book that teems with rich archival research. The pictorial sources are an added boon and make for a wonderfully illustrated addition to the history of the 19th century - Daily Telegraph
A dark and disturbing investigation...trenchant and disturbing book - Sunday Times
I thrilled to Sarah Wise’s Inconvenient People, an enthralling study of those who fell foul of Victorian mad-doctors and greedy relatives - Sunday Telegraph
There is so much to interest and entertain in this book, which is enhanced by over eighty informative illustrations - Literary Review
After these cheerful late cases comes a devastating epilogue... You put this quite superlative book down, shaken - Independent
Fascinating and chilling, Inconvenient People reads like a series of Victorian novels in brief - only all the tales are true... Nobody interested in mental health should miss this book - Daily Mail
Uncovers scandals that would send today’s press into a frenzy - Spectator
[A] wonderfully engaging book - Who Do You Think You Are Magazine
Wise reopens 12 uncontested lunacy cases from the 1800s, meticulously exploring the details of each and recreating the stories with a page-turning eye for a great narrative - Independent
Sarah Wise knows how to grab the reader’s attention with phrases that would have done Bulwer-Lytton proud. But the book’s readability does not disguise its scholarship. This is a valuable contribution to our understanding of nineteenth-century mores - Book Oxygen
Wise is a terrific researcher and storyteller. Here she has woven a series of case studies into a fascinating history of insanity in the 19th century - Guardian
This superlative study opens the door on the cruelty of the quacks who locked up lost souls - Independent
A collection of 12 stories, all true, all extraordinary, and any one of would make excellent raw material for a Wilkie Collins novel - The Tablet
Gives incredible insights into this wily political operator - History Today
[Wise] has worked diligently in the archives to uncover fresh details that make the curious characters that populate her pages come to life - Times Literary Supplement
Rich, gripping and moving mix of social history, psychiatry and storytelling - Your Family Tree
Sarah took an MA in Victorian Studies at Birkbeck College, University of London. Her most recent book, The Blackest Streets, was shortlisted for the Royal Society of Literature's Ondaatje Prize (2009). Her debut, The Italian Boy: Murder and Grave Robbery in 1830s London, was shortlisted for the 2005 Samuel Johnson Prize and won the Crime Writers' Association Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction. Sarah was a major contributor to Iain Sinclair's compendium London, City of Disappearances. She has spoken on Radio 4's Thinking Allowed, Woman's Hour and the Today programme, and she regularly lectures to societies and at history events. She lives in central London.