"I Cannot Sleep": Patient Experiences and the Meanings of Madness at Bethel Hospital, 1713-1815
Ruten, Daniel Philip 1994-
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This thesis examines the history of the Bethel Hospital for 'lunatics' in Norwich, the second public institution for the mad in Britain, from its 1713 founding until 1815. Combining a patient-centred approach with methods of discourse analysis, it focuses particularly on recovering the identities and experiences of the hospital's inmates. It seeks first and foremost to understand the lives of these individuals on their own terms as persons, rather than the labels that the institution and their communities at large often reduced them to. To do so, it pieces together a variety of contemporary source material, including newspapers, legal records, and coroner's inquests, in addition to the extant records kept by the hospital administration itself. First, I examine the ways in which English popular and medical sectors of society conceptualized madness, thereby finding commonalities in the sorts of people that were deemed mad and confined at Bethel Hospital in relation to gendered and socioeconomic factors. Next, considerations of Bethel's architecture and geography are used to illustrate aspects of patients' experiences of confinement, treatment, and restraint, as well as the various ways they were able to resist or, alternately, work within these impositions. Finally, I reconstruct individual patients' narratives as a means to better understand their holistic experiences living under the label of lunacy, both inside Bethel Hospital and in their communities in general. These narratives illustrate that patients' experiences could differ widely from each other depending on their gender, socioeconomic status, and the extent of their social ties. By attending to the local context of Norwich throughout this examination, we gain a better understanding of Bethel Hospital's functions within the communities it served, as well as its place within individuals' lives over the long eighteenth century. Overall, the experiences of Bethel Hospital's patients speak to multifaceted aspects of what it meant to be deemed mad in 18th-century England, showing social impacts of public discourse at a local level. They also stress the importance of considering people deemed mad not as homogenous groups, but rather as individuals with diverse origins and experiences depending on many factors including their gender, socioeconomic status, and the extent of their social networks.
DegreeMaster of Arts (M.A.)
CommitteePorter, John; Clifford, Jim; Teucher, Ulrich; Kalinowski, Angela
Copyright DateNovember 2019
history of madness