Pen & Sword Review: Broadmoor Women – Tales from Britain’s first criminal lunatic asylum, by Kim Thomas

By Kim Thomas
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 192
Illustrations: 20 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526794260
Published: 12th April 2022

Blurb

Broadmoor, Britain’s first asylum for criminal lunatics, was founded in 1863. In the first years of its existence, one in five patients was female. Most had been tried for terrible crimes and sent to Broadmoor after being found not guilty by virtue of insanity. Many had murdered their own children, while others had killed husbands or other family members.

Drawing on Broadmoor’s rich archive, this book tells the story of seven of those women, ranging from a farmer’s daughter in her 20s who shot dead her own mother to a middle-class housewife who drowned her baby daughter. Their moving stories give a glimpse into what nineteenth-century life was like for ordinary women, often struggling with poverty, domestic abuse and repeated childbearing. For some, Broadmoor, with its regime of plain food, fresh air and garden walks, was a respite from the hardships of their previous life. Others were desperate to return to their families.

All but one of the women whose stories are recounted in this book recovered and were released. Their bout of insanity was temporary. Yet the causes of their condition were poorly understood and the treatment rudimentary. As well as providing an in-depth look at the lives of women in Victorian England, the book offers a fascinating insight into the medical profession’s emerging understanding of the causes and treatment of mental illness.

My Review

Rosie Crofts, who does the marketing for Pen & Sword, sent me an email about this book a couple of weeks ago. I sat down and read it over the weekend.

I quite enjoy microhistories; the life of a single person or building can tell you something about the world around them. This book investigates the lives of seven women who were incarcerated in Broadmoor in the first forty years.

Most of them killed their children, one killed her husband and one killed her mother. Most of them had hard lives, limited by social conventions and/or poverty. Respectability was important to them all, and in court could be leveraged by a defendant so that they received a ‘guilty but insane’ or ‘not guilty by reason of insanity’ verdict. Often judges and juries were sympathetic to women who killed new born children in ‘puerperal insanity’ or ‘lactation insanity’. Psychiatrists and doctors didn’t really understand what was going on in people’s minds, and were still clinging to the idea that uteruses could cause madness; one particular belief was that women were so fragile that breast feeding for too long would cause madness.

Some of them had pre-existing mental health conditions before they committed their crimes and hadn’t received any or very limited care. Medical care for mental illness was limited at the time, as people were expected to look after their family members and doctors didn’t really understand how brains and hormones worked. Really bad cases were dropped in asylums and either left or experimented on, observed and drugged. Except in rare cases, like Tukes’ Retreat in York where the Quakers believed in calm, purposeful activity and loving kindness.

They averaged about 7 years in Broadmoor and were often released back to their families. Some husbands started petitioning for their release almost immediately after they were convicted, out of love or desperation for someone to care for their children. Returning to their families was often the worst thing that could happen to the women for several years, since it was the family/home environment that triggered the mental breakdown in the first place.

The regime at Broadmoor in the early years was based on improvement and calm, providing patients with a safe place to recover from their madness, time to heal and return to equanimity before being released. The early superintendents took after Dr. Tuke in their care of the patients; nutritious food, rest and care by sympathetic staff. Their regime was based on the latest (in the 1860s) scientific information. It would still be considered good care, now. Unfortunately, in between 1900 and 2000 there was a change in attitudes from care to abuse and back again. Seriously, I’m working on a project about this for work and it gives me nightmares to think about what happened to people with mental illnesses, learning disabilities or who were otherwise neurodivergent in asylums and residential centres.

I found this book interesting, it humanises the history of Broadmoor and gives us a snapshot into the social conditions of the late Victorian period. It would have been interesting to learn about the lives of the women warders alongside the patients. How did some working class women end up as warders and some as patients?

Could have done with some copy editing.

TBR Pile Review: Walking the Invisible, by Michael Stewart

Hardcover, 288 pages
Published June 24th 2021 by HarperCollins
ISBN: 0008430187 (ISBN13: 9780008430184)

Blurb

Michael Stewart has been captivated by the Brontes since he was a child, and has travelled all over the north of England in search of their lives and landscapes. Now, he’d like to invite you into the world as they would have seen it.

Following in the footsteps of the Brontes across meadow and moor, through village and town, award-winning writer Michael Stewart takes a series of inspirational walks through the lives and landscapes of the Bronte family, investigating the geographical and social features that shaped their work.

This is a literary study of both the social and natural history that has inspired writers and walkers, and the writings of a family that have touched readers for generations. Finally we get to understand the ‘wild, windy moors’ that Kate Bush sang about in ‘Wuthering Heights’, see the imposing halls that may have inspired Thornfield Hall in Jane Eyre, and learn about Bramwell’s affair with a real life Mrs Robinson while treading the same landscapes. As well as describing in vivid detail the natural beauty of the moors and their surroundings, Walking the Invisible also encompasses the history of the north and the changing lives of those that have lived there.

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TBR Pile Review: Those They Called Idiots, by Simon Jarrett

52612667
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published December 30th 2020 by Reaktion Books
ISBN:1789143012 (ISBN13: 9781789143010)

Those They Called Idiots traces the little-known lives of people with learning disabilities from the communities of eighteenth-century England to the nineteenth-century asylum and care in today’s society. Using evidence from civil and criminal court-rooms, joke books, slang dictionaries, novels, art and caricature, it explores the explosive intermingling of ideas about intelligence and race, while bringing into sharp focus the lives of people often seen as the most marginalized in society. 

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Review: The Reacher Guy, by Heather Martin

The Reacher Guy:


The Authorised Biography of Lee Child

Heather Martin

Constable – 29th September 2020 hardback £20.00 – also available as an eBook/audio

The definitive, authorised biography of

Lee Child

“Riveting . . . archival diligence . . . [Martin] is a skilled and audacious interlocutor, too, but her subject is just as adept as interviewee . . . starkly affecting” – Irish Times

The Reacher Guy is a life of bestselling superstar Lee Child, a portrait of the artist as a young man, refracted through the life of his fictional avatar, Jack Reacher. It tells the story of how the boy from Birmingham reinvented himself to become the strongest brand in publishing, selling over one hundred million books in more than forty different languages across the globe.

Heather Martin interviews friends, teachers, colleagues and neighbours, including agents and editors. Based primarily on her conversations with the author over a period of years, together with readings of his books and research in his literary archive, this authorised biography reveals the man behind the myth, tracing his origins back through the generations to Northern Ireland and County Durham, and following the trajectory of his extraordinary career via New York and Hollywood until the climactic moment when, in 2020, having written a continuous series of twenty-four books, he finally floats free of his fictional creation. 

Lee Child comments: “I met Heather Martin some years ago, and we started talking about why people love telling and hearing stories. To get more depth and detail we started talking about why I do. Eventually I said, ‘If you want to really get to the bottom of it, you’re going to have to write my biography.’ So she did. It was a fun and illuminating process. I had forgotten a lot, and it was fascinating to be reminded. Now it all makes sense.”

“Vivid and entertaining . . . a must-buy for any aspiring novelist, thanks in particular to its terrific insight into how Child’s first book was written, rewritten, edited, sold and published.” – The Telegraph

“You’ll emerge from the first 300-odd pages knowing more about [Child’s] formative years that you do about your own.” – The Times

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Review: Stephen From The Inside Out, by Susie Stead

Publication date: 2 Apr 2021
Category: Biography / Memoir
Paperback price: £9.99
Page count: tbc
ISBN: 978-1-911293-68-2
E-book price: £3.99
ISBN: 978-1-911293-67-5

Stephen struggled for most of his life with severe mental health issues, endured 25 years inside British psychiatric wards and never felt acceptable outside, in the ‘normal’ world. People found him difficult and demanding yet on the inside was a man with wide interests, deep longings and an integrity that would not be compromised, whatever the cost.
This is his story, inside and out; a story of grave injustices, saints and bigots, a faithful dog, a wild woman, a fairy godmother and angels hidden in plain sight.
It is also the story of the author, Susie, who started off by wanting to ‘help’
Stephen ‘get better,’ and instead found herself profoundly challenged by a
friendship she did not expect.
Idiosyncratic, unorthodox, tragic, yet at times hilarious – this book not only tells a compelling and important story but will be vital reading for anyone who cares about mental health in our contemporary world or who might just be open to a different way of seeing: from the inside out

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Review: The Queen of Romance, by Liz Jones

18 MARCH 2021
Market: Biography
Paperback
ISBN:9781912905119
Price: £9.99

Blurb

The first biography of the bestselling author and journalist Marguerite Jervis.
Daughter of an officer of the Indian Medical Corps, Marguerite Florence Laura Jarvis (1886 – 1964) was born in Burma and became one of the most successful novelists of her time. During the course of her 60-year career, Marguerite published over 150 books, with 11 novels adapted for film, including The Pleasure Garden (1925), the directorial debut of Alfred Hitchcock. In her heyday she sold hundreds of thousands of novels, but is now largely forgotten; under numerous pseudonyms she wrote for newspapers, women’s magazines and the silent movie screen; she married one of Wales most controversial literary figures, Caradoc Evans. She also trained as an actress and was a theatrical impresario. Known variously as Mrs Caradoc Evans, Oliver Sandys, Countess Barcynska and many other pseudonyms, who was she really?

Liz Jones has dug deep beneath the tale told in Marguerite Jervis’s own
somewhat romanticised memoir to reveal what made this driven and
determined woman. And what turned her from a spoilt child of the English
middle classes to a workaholic who could turn her hand to any literary
endeavour and who became a runaway popular success during the most
turbulent years of the 20th century.

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Review: The Philosopher Queens, ed. by Rebecca Buxton and Lisa Whiting

17th September 2020 | PBO £9.99

Where are all the women philosophers?
• A beautifully illustrated introduction to twenty of the most important and underrepresented women philosophers, from 400BCE to the present day
• In 2015, women accounted for only 22% of philosophy professors at the top 20 US universities; in some fields of philosophy there has been almost no increase in the number of women since the 1970s
• Three of the most comprehensive histories of philosophy published in the last 20 years have made little or no mention of women

The history of philosophy has not done women justice: you’ve probably heard the names Plato, Kant, Nietzsche and Locke – but what about Hypatia, Arendt, Oluwole and Young?

The Philosopher Queens is a long-awaited book about the lives and works of women in philosophy by women in philosophy. This collection brings to centre stage twenty prominent women whose ideas have had a profound – but for the most part uncredited – impact on the
world.

You’ll learn about Ban Zhao, the first woman historian in ancient Chinese history; Angela Davis, perhaps the most iconic symbol of the American Black Power Movement; Azizah Y. al- Hibri, known for examining the intersection of Islamic law and gender equality; and many more.

For anyone who has wondered where the women philosophers are, or anyone curious about the history of ideas – it’s time to meet the philosopher queens.

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Review: Nothin’ But A Good Time, by Justin Quirk

PAPERBACK
978-1-78965-135-5
3 September 2020
£10.99 / $14.99 / €11.66

From 1983 until 1991, Glam Metal was the sound of American culture. Big hair, massive amplifiers, drugs, alcohol, piles of money and life-threatening
pyrotechnics. This was the world stalked by Bon Jovi, Kiss, W.A.S.P., Skid Row, Dokken, Motley Crue, Cinderella, Ratt and many more. Armed with hairspray, spandex and strangely shaped guitars, they marked the last great era of supersize bands.
Where did Glam Metal come from? How did it spread? What killed it off? And why does nobody admit to having been a Glam Metaller anymore?

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Review: The Magic of Terry Pratchett, by Marc Burrows

The Magic of Terry Pratchett

Published By: Pen & Sword – Imprint: White Owl
Price: £13.99
ISBN: 9781526765505
Published: 6th July 2020

The Magic Of Terry Pratchett is the first full biography of Sir Terry Pratchett ever written. Sir Terry was Britain’s best-selling living author*, and before his death in 2015 had sold more than 85 million copies of his books worldwide. Best known for the Discworld series, his work has been translated into 37 languages and performed as plays on every continent in the world, including Antarctica. Journalist, comedian and Pratchett fan Marc Burrows delves into the back story of one of UK’s most enduring and beloved authors; from his childhood in the Chiltern Hills, to his time as a journalist, and the journey that would take him – via more than sixty best-selling books – to an OBE, a knighthood and national treasure status. The Magic Of Terry Pratchett is the result of painstaking archival research alongside interviews with friends and contemporaries who knew the real man under the famous black hat, helping to piece together the full story of one of British literature’s most remarkable and beloved figures for the very first time.

*Now disqualified on both counts.

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Pen & Sword Review: ‘The Hidden Lives of Jack the Ripper’s Victims’, by Robert Hume

The Hidden Lives of Jack the Ripper's Victims
ISBN: 9781526738608
Published: 18th September 2019
£15.99

Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly are inextricably linked in history. Their names might not be instantly recognisable, and the identity of their murderer may have eluded detectives and historians throughout the years, but there is no mistaking the infamy of Jack the Ripper.

For nine weeks during the autumn of 1888, the Whitechapel Murderer brought terror to London’s East End, slashing women’s throats and disembowelling them. London’s most famous serial killer has been pored over time and again, yet his victims have been sorely neglected, reduced to the simple label: prostitute.

The lives of these five women are rags-to-riches-to-rags stories of the most tragic kind. There was a time in each of their lives when these poor women had a job, money, a home and a family. Hardworking, determined and fiercely independent individuals, it was bad luck, or a wrong turn here or there, that left them wretched and destitute. Ignored by the press and overlooked by historians, it is time their stories were told.

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