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The Suffering of Women Who Didn't Fit (Hardback)

'Madness' in Britain, 1450–1950

British History P&S History Social History Women of History Medieval 20th Century 18th Century 17th Century 16th Century 19th Century 15th Century

By David J. Vaughan
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 166
ISBN: 9781526732293
Published: 7th November 2018

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For over 500 years, women have suffered claims of mental decay solely on account of their gender. Frigid, insane, not quite there, a witch in sheep's clothing, labels that have cast her as the fragile species and destroyer of Man.

This book reveals attitudes, ideas and responses on what was to be done with 'mad women' in Britain.

Journey back into the unenlightened Middle Ages to find demonic possession, turbulent humours and the wandering womb. In the Puritan Age, when the mad were called witches and scolds ducked for their nagging. The age of Austen and a sense and sensibility created from her fragile nerves. Then descend into Victorian horrors of wrongful confinement and merciless surgeons, before arriving, just half a century past, to the Viennese couch and an obligation to talk.

At the heart of her suffering lay her gynaecological make-up, driving her mad every month and at every stage of her life. Terms such as menstrual madness, puerperal insanity and 'Old Maid's Insanity' poison history's pages.

An inescapable truth is now shared: that so much, if not all, was a male creation. Though not every medic was male, nor every male a fiend, misogynist thought shaped our understanding of women, set down expectations and 'corrected' the flawed.

The book exposes the agonies of life for the 'second class' gender; from misdiagnosis to brutal oppression, seen as in league with the Devil or the volatile wretch. Touching no less than six centuries, it recalls how, for a woman, being labelled as mad was much less a risk, more her inevitable burden.

The first chapter was actually one of my favourites, it touched on subjects like medieval possession and witchcraft both of which I love reading about because it was such a believed thing many years ago. The book also touches on murders and hospitals and many more interesting subjects. It really seemed to mention things that I was really interested in learning about, I think this is why I enjoyed it so much and I think anyone else who has an interest in the history of madness in women back in the day would love this one too! The writing in this book is also really easy to follow in my opinion, and I was easily kept interested the whole way through... As always Pen and Sword present their books beautifully, from the cover to the section of illustrations inside! I love this little detail! I think I’ll be giving this one 4/5 stars!

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Samantha Paris

This book is packed full of the history of madness and how women were affected by it. The author exposes the numerous theories, put forward by men, to explain the behaviors of women that weren’t considered acceptable, and the treatment or mis-treatment that ensued from those theories. It is not uncommon to see a diagnosis of madness used as a means of controlling women in society. This book is extensively researched and documented.

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A Line From A Book, Jennifer Sahmoun

As featured in

The Bookseller 26/4/19

I’d certainly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in women’s history or perhaps ‘madness’ in history.

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The Medieval Library

It’s amplified while wandering through time within topics... of women labelled as being nervous, more emotive, less predictable, vulnerable, prone to hysterics, and how treatments have evolved over time.

Read the full review here

GoodReads, Kristine Fisher

As featured in

The Bookseller 17/8/18
 David J. Vaughan

About David J. Vaughan

David J. Vaughan, former Assistant County Archaeologist in heritage-rich Wiltshire, is now a full-time author, historian, speaker and radio & tv presenter; writing fact, fiction and screenplays, mostly based in the past. His blog, Mad, Bad or Desperate has inspired this volume, gaining thousands of hits from all over the world. Though rarely not writing, he indulges his passions: house restoration and the famed Merseyside club who play their football in blue! More at: www.davidjvaughan.co.uk

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