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Theaters of MadnessInsane Asylums and Nineteenth-Century American Culture$
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Benjamin Reiss

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780226709635

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: March 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226709659.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM CHICAGO SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.chicago.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Chicago Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CHSO for personal use.date: 19 June 2021

Brothers and Sisters of Asylumia: Literary Life in the New York State Lunatic Asylum

Brothers and Sisters of Asylumia: Literary Life in the New York State Lunatic Asylum

Chapter:
(p.23) Chapter One Brothers and Sisters of Asylumia: Literary Life in the New York State Lunatic Asylum
Source:
Theaters of Madness
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226709659.003.0002

This chapter focuses on the Opal, a journal of patients' creative writing published at the New York State Lunatic Asylum. It reconstructs the psychiatric theory and practice behind the journal's production and examines the ways in which patients used the space provided to them to make sense of their social situation and their afflictions. It argues that patients responded to the enforced anonymity and “civil death” of asylum life by mimicking an elite, literary anonymity practiced by genteel writers of the period. Rather than using the journal to voice coded protests against authority, many of the authors cast their confinement as a retreat from the overwhelming forces of nineteenth-century modernity with which they had been unable to cope on the outside; and they cast their authorship in a mode that similarly retreated from market forces that their doctors claimed had poisoned the culture.

Keywords:   Opal, journal, patients, creative writing, New York State Lunatic Asylum, civil death, modernity, doctors, confinement, anonymity

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