Sunday, September 24, 2006

An Email

There has been a slight delay in postings due to various matters viz: someone I knew from aerobics suddenly dying from a heart attack which I found very sad because he was so full of life and not terribly old; my agent needing me to indicate the changes I'd made to my novel because the publisher of my last book has asked her to send it to her next week (this was easy once I'd found that Word would do this for me); and the filling in of the tax form (always something I put off doing for as long as possible). I also have to 'revise' my novel 98 Reasons for Being because I am going to be interviewed about it by a Belgian journalist in Amsterdam next week and do some editing to a short story (just remembered about this one).

So in the meantime I am posting this - an email that I found in my in-box this morning:
clare, judging from the title of one of your books i think you might be able to answer the following question:

what are some of the misdiagnoses of women who were labeled "insane" & committed to asylums at the turn of the 19th century? i ask because my son just found that my paternal grandmother was listed on the 1907 u.s. census as "insane", & her residence is listed as an insane asylum. my mother spoke of her as a sweet, kind, gentle woman who died of stomach cancer many, many years before i was born.

i'd appreciate it greatly if you would reply to this email, but hopefully not with, "well just buy my book, you silly woman!".

i think my son is ill-informed about the problem but doubt that he's reading anything other than child-rearing books at present.

thank you in advance for any help you can give me.



and here is my reply:


Thank you for your email.

Of course I have no idea what happened to your relative and I wish your son luck with his investigation, but I can tell you that women in general were misdiagnosed as insane for the following reasons: eloping with an unsuitable man (nymphomania), becoming pregnant out of wedlock, suffering from what we would now call post-natal depression, or just plain depression (when they couldn't afford to marry the right man, or were forced into a loveless marriage).

Women were thought to be more susceptible to going insane than men and doctors were on watch throughout their lives. One particularly dangerous time was the 'critical age' ie the menopause - when a loveless woman might make an unsuitable match or was thought to have strange compulsions.

They were locked up in asylums for all these reasons - and once they were in some of the treatments were sometimes so barbaric that what might have been a temporary neurosis (or just falling in love with the wrong man) could well have become something more permanent. Some became institutionalised. As a result several found it difficult to get out.

However I feel I ought to point out that no doubt there were some that actually were insane and incarceration in an asylum might have been the best thing at the time - for both themselves and the rest of society.

I hope that answers your question. My book would too, but only in a roundabout way because it is a novel. I do hope you buy it and read it though (and tell your friends about it) because writing books is what I do to earn my living, and they take a long time to research and write. But more importantly I would hope that you would enjoy the book - and at just 49 cents (plus P&P) from's other sellers is quite a bargain!

Best wishes,

Clare Dudman.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

So sorry to hear about your teacher, Clare, how upsetting for you and everyone.

Just in response to your emailondent, (is that what they are called?), I love your courteous response --- you could also refer her to Natalie Bennett's blog Philibiblon, as she covers a lot of this kind of thing -- she's a journalist particularly interested in women/feminism/medical history.

Mind you, your emailondent probably sent the same message to 500 other bloggers as well, so maybe Natalie got the message already...

all best, Maxine.

Sun Sept 24, 03:26:00 pm  
Blogger Lee said...

I was immensely cheered by your letter, but not of course by the sudden death. It's good to know that other people write with their pen in cheek - or would that be keyboard these days?

Sun Sept 24, 05:01:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As somebody who suffers from PMT on a rather nasty level, I'd have been sent to an asylum for sure. And to think that it isn't that long ago, either!

49 cents, eh? That's better than what my local charity shop knock 'em out for ;-)

Mon Sept 25, 03:36:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Maxine and Lee - and emailondent, eh? Not heard that one before, sounds a bit French - don't know why I think that.

Sharon J: my sympathies. Depression is something I know very well and I am pretty sure I too would have been committed at various stages of my life if I'd lived in the nineteenth century. However am slightly disturbed (I think) to hear that a charity shop is knocking out my book. No, I'm not - I've changed my mind - it's a compliment, yup, that's what it is, a compliment. I'll tell you how I've figured that one out one day.

Mon Sept 25, 09:09:00 pm  

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