'Visitation by God': rationalizing death in the Victorian Asylum

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticlepeer-review


This article argues that death from insanity raised serious questions for the medical profession and for those who promoted the public asylum movement in the nineteenth century. While the medical emphasis on the somatic origins of insanity was increasingly accepted, limited observable signs of disease in the brain at post-mortem made it difficult to explain cause of death. This posed problems for a growing county asylum movement which was justified on the basis that insanity was a treatable disease and thus mortality rates would naturally decline. As asylum populations continued to grow and mortality rates remained little changed, statistics on lunacy ultimately became not the predicted measure of success but instead clear evidence of failure.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHistory of Psychiatry
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2012


  • History
  • nineteenth century
  • lunacy
  • asylum
  • death


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