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Search tags: victorian-england
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review 2017-03-24 21:00
A good book to gain an overview on a particularly complex and fascinating topic for those working in law and/or psychiatry.
Mad or Bad: Crime and Insanity in Victorian Britain - David J. Vaughan

Thanks to Pen and Sword History for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book that I voluntarily review.

As a psychiatrist, and having worked in forensic psychiatry in the UK for a number of years, mad or bad is indeed one of the questions that we’re asked very often. (Of course, the two categories are not mutually exclusive, but in the eyes of the law there are certain prerequisites that need to be complied with to be able to apportion guilt). Therefore, I was very curious to read this book that dealt with the issue of insanity and criminal justice in the Victorian era.

The book is divided into five parts, discussing the main players in the debate, the conditions that were listed under the insanity label, the history of the debate, a part discussing ‘mad women, bad women’, and the last and longest part that discusses in more detail the case studies that caused the debates and the legal changes discussed in the book.

Personally, I was fascinated by reading details about the cases behind some of the defences and legal terms still in use today. Having an overall view of the period and what was behind the discussions illuminates and helps explain the legal changes, placing them at a historical and social moment in time. As a psychiatrist, I was particularly interested in the issues of diagnosis and the discussions as to the different categories used to classify disturbed mental states, including some that sound difficult to believe now (like the many ‘women’s conditions’ that justified all kinds of crimes). Although the details of some of the cases and the discussions might sound bizarre, the truth is that matters are not that clear even now, and even if the debates are framed differently, a decision is not always easy to reach.

The case stories are fascinating to read in their own right and cover the most famous and relevant cases of the era. They provide a great overview without going into excessive detail and would be a good starting point for people who want to delve deeper into the subject, whilst providing a general background to others who might be looking for orientation and general reading on the topic. The book is well organised, written clearly, and provides a good summary of the main issues whilst illustrating them well without excess detail or the use of unnecessarily complicated terms.

A good read for anybody interested in issues of criminal justice, insanity and law in Victorian England, particularly those that pertain to the treatment of women by the legal system of the time. A word of warning: the passing of time hasn’t made these cases less upsetting or shocking, so although the book doesn’t dwell unnecessarily on the gore details, you might find some of them hard to read.

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review 2017-03-20 16:10
A Perilous Undertaking (Veronica Speedwell #2)- Deanna Raybourn
A Perilous Undertaking - Deanna Raybourn

While Victorian England is not generally my go-to time period (Usually I am a sucker for anything Tudor-Era or Dark Ages), one Miss Veronica Speedwell is quickly making me think I should venture out of my bubble more often. This is the second novel in the Veronica Speedwell series. It is just as much fun as the first. Hopefully there will be many more adventures to follow. 

 

The mystery wasn't anything overly complicated and shocking. I had most of it figured out rather quickly. The characters are what sell. Veronica borders on anachronistic at times but her snark and wit are enough for me to forgive the offense. Stoker hits just about every point on my literary boyfriend checklist. The eye patch is just a delicious bonus. I imagine him to be much like Alan Van Sprang's Sir Francis Bryan from The Tudors. Just in Victorian dress. Lady Wellie was a fantastic addition to the ever growing cast of characters. 

 

In addition to getting to know Veronica and Stoker better, I was also introduced to how to say dildo in a variety of languages. Seriously, I don't think I've seen the word phallus so many times in a book since the textbook I had for a college class on Human Sexuality. If that isn't enough to peak your interest, I'm not really sure what more I can offer. I can't recommend this series enough for people interesting in taking a quick romp through Victorian England. And really, how can you say no to that cover? 

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text 2017-03-20 00:57
Reading progress update: I've read 130 out of 338 pages.
A Perilous Undertaking - Deanna Raybourn

"Dil-No, I can't. I can tell you in Greek. These are olisboi. Or if you prefer, in Spanish, consoladores."

 

"Consolers? But how could they console...oh. Oh!"

 

Because a person always needs to learn how to say dildo in three different languages. I guess I didn't realize the word even existed in 1887. I would look up the origins by myself but this device was provided to me by the school I work for. And, the other adult in my house is the person who gets notifications when people type strange things into Google.

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text 2017-03-19 21:41
Reading progress update: I've read 51 out of 338 pages.
A Perilous Undertaking - Deanna Raybourn

Lady Wellie! I think I am in love.

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review 2017-01-07 06:07
Another Collection of Holmsian Mysteries
The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes - Arthur Conan Doyle

In a way I’m not entirely sure how I should approach this book, particularly since I generally don’t review short story collections as a whole but rather each story on its merits. Mind you, that is probably going to cause a little bit of a problem when I get around to reading the Collected Tales of Edgar Allen Poe, particularly since I can’t do The Raven the injustice of lumping it together with a bunch of other stories. Then there is At the Mountains of Madness, though it has been a while since I have read anything by Lovecraft, and even then it was only one story, ironically ‘At the Mountains of Madness’. However, I will get around to writing about them when I finally get around to reading the books (and I might read them a short story at a time, as I did with a collections of stories by Joseph Conrad).

 

However, the problem with Sherlock Holmes is that it is, in a way, the lack of variety in the stories. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the stories themselves are bad, it is just that pretty much, with the exception of the content, all of the stories end up being of a similar structure. In fact the novels also followed this structure as well, namely: Holmes is confronted with a problem (which takes up the first part of the story), Holmes wanders about and works it out, Holmes then spends the rest of the story explaining what happened. As it turned out this formula worked out really well, if the five collection of short stories, and four novels, are anything to go by.

 

It’s not as if these stories are unoriginal either – a lot of mystery novels that I have read basically all deal with murders, and in a way it starts to become a little dull and dry. However, while people do die in a Sherlock Holmes story, and of course you have the occasional one where the eventual victim hires Holmes due to some mystery, murder isn’t always the case. In fact, you have ones that involve missing objects, or objects that have been discovered and Holmes is attempting to locate the owner. We have another one that involves a child of a previous marriage that the mother is trying to keep a secret, or a naval treaty that has become the centerpiece of a mystery. In fact it is not the crime that is important, it is the mystery, as in some cases it turns out that no crime has actually been committed.

 

I guess that is one aspect of our human nature – we love mysteries. In fact not knowing is far more exciting than actually discovering the answer, because once we know the answer all of a sudden it ceases to be a mystery and the revelation turns out to be really boring. Mind you, it isn’t as if the revelation is boring, it is just that knowing the answer is boring. It is sort of like hunting, or even courting a future wife – it isn’t the success that is exciting, it is the journey to reach that point. Sure, not all journeys are thrilling – being stuck in economy class traveling from Singapore to Frankfurt (which takes something like 12 hours) isn’t at all exciting, especially if you have somebody behind you kicking your seat (something that fortunately I didn’t have to experience), or the guy in front of you lying his seat back as far is possible and leaving it there for the entire journey meaning that I can’t use my laptop (and that is after having the previous occupant kicked out of the seat because ‘he must has a window seat’, though as it usually turns out, the previous occupant is usually moved to business class as compensation for the inconvenience – something that has happened to me).

 

One interesting thing is that it seems to be apparent that Doyle was attempting to wind up his Holmes stories – why else would he finish the final story by having Holmes thrown off the top of a waterfall. Personally, I’m probably not surprised because while people may have enjoyed the stories, Doyle might have been having a lot of trouble coming up with new stories – writers block if you will. Otherwise, it simply might have been that he had become somewhat bored with the character and wanted to move on. The problem is that once somebody creates something that is beloved by the community, then it can be pretty hard to put it behind you. In a way it is the curse of the celebrity status – once you have become a celebrity you are no longer your own person – you are now what the media, and the fans, make you out to be, and if it turns out that you break this mould, then you run the risk of losing that status all together – while it is painful, it is also incredibly addictive. One simply cannot stop being a celebrity.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/470321982
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