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08/15/2021

A Scene of Chaos in a 19th Century Asylum – Image of the week

Our image of the week looks at a scene of anarchy in an eighteenth-century asylum.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, life was extremely hard for many. And it only became more so when you possessed a mental health problem. Indeed, in this period mental health issues were known, but often not fully understood. One such arena in which ‘lunacy’ was often not considered as a court. So, an ongoing battle was fought in the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century to have mental health issues considered as part of trials.

At the same time, those who did manage to have their mental health problems recognized as being a mitigating factor in crimes were sent to some less-than-nice places.

A Scene of Chaos in a 19th Century Asylum – Image of the week

The image above is a scene entitled In the Madhouse, painting eight of William Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress. In the scene, we can see the inside of Bethlem Hospital (‘Bedlam’), the foremost criminal lunatic hospital of its day. The painting was produced in the 1730s. The hospital’s roots can be traced as far back as the thirteenth century, while in the Georgian era, it housed many people who were classed as insane by the authorities. The image itself shows us a picture of chaos inside the hospital, with dark figures lurking who are undertaking all sorts of weird and wonderful activities.

The latest issue of History is Now magazine features an article on criminal lunacy in the nineteenth century. The magazine also has a range of fascinating articles related to modern history from America and the wider world.

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