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Child Insanity in England, 1845-1907Review - Child Insanity in England, 1845-1907
by Steven Taylor
Palgrave Macmillan, 2016
Review by Hennie Weiss
Apr 4th 2017 (Volume 21, Issue 14)

Steven J. Taylor has focused on filling in the gaps and adding to the historical understanding and research of mental illness in children during a specific time period during the nineteenth century into the twentieth century. In Child Insanity in England, 1845-1907, Taylor focuses his attention on five pauper (meaning poor or not wealthy) lunatic asylums in both rural and urban areas. According to Taylor, the asylums were used primarily to control the deviant and insane population even though certain legal enactments existed to attempt to treat those deemed insane.

Taylor uses a cultural, societal and political lens to research and construct the notion of child insanity during this specific time period, which includes examining the language used to describe the insane, gender as well as class differences, along with age and type of mental illness to describe a few characteristics. Child insanity was generally divided into three categories; hereditary, acquired and developmental, with length of stay in any of the asylums depending much upon what type of category a child was determined to fit into. Taylor also discusses the networks of care for mentally ill children, which not only includes the rural and urban lunatic asylums, but also schools, hospitals, philanthropic institutions and organizations as well as in home care for children.

Taylor sets out to examine and provide a historical understanding of child insanity in England that he contends has previously been overlooked. In focusing on several different asylums (as mentioned both rural and urban), Taylor is able to dissect and provide a detailed analysis of the type of patients admitted, their diagnosis, length of stay, treatments available and how children were both observed, controlled and sometimes treated in such institutions.

Even though the time period of examination may seem fairly short (approximately 60 years), this is a time during which legislation established pauper lunatic asylums, compulsory confinement was introduced, and asylums were established all over the country. At the same time, there were many laws introduced in regards to mentally ill children that shaped their confinement, and during the nineteenth century elementary education was introduced.

Child Insanity in England, 1845-1907 is an interesting read in which Taylor is able to, through documents from the asylum, take the reader back in time to better understand the notion of the insane child. The book is a valuable addition to the research of cultural and societal notions of child development, what it means to be a child, the history of lunatic asylums, and the development of psychology and psychiatry during that time, and the book can certainly be used in the classroom when studying such disciplines.

 

 © 2017 Hennie Weiss

 

Hennie Weiss has a Master's degree in Sociology from California State University, Sacramento. Her academic interests include women's studies, gender, sexuality and feminism.


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