Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Ellen Rosenman


In Madness Narratives, I examine four understudied texts at the intersection of Victorian asylums, patients’ lack of voice, and resistance narratives. I argue that these texts all reject the silencing power of the insanity diagnosis as they represent patients, former patients, and asylum reformers creating counternarratives that call for recognition of the patients’ humanity and right to be heard. In my first chapter, “Narrating Insanity: Constructing the Madness Narrative in Charles Reade’s Hard Cash,” I assert that Reade’s 1863 novel proposes a nuanced understanding of the insanity diagnosis as a collaboratively-composed story that justifies the confinement of the patient. This story, which I call the madness narrative, is supported by the symbolic capital of the psychiatric establishment and operates under the authority of the asylum system. Reade’s novel suggests that the only way to resist the madness narrative is to create counternarratives supported by symbolic capital and offered outside the asylum system. In the second chapter, “Exposing the System: Richard Paternoster’s The Madhouse System as Early Exposé,” I claim that Paternoster’s 1841 publication features rhetorical techniques that allow him to reject assumptions about his objectivity, self-control, and sense of judgment, practices that would eventually become common in investigative journalism. Paternoster’s rhetorical approach foreshadows the rise of the undercover journalist later in the century and allows him to resist his confinement by rejecting his madness narrative and working to build an identity as an objective investigator. In “A Magazine of Their Own: Literary Periodicals of Victorian Asylums in Scotland,” the final chapter, I study two magazines, The New Moon (1844-1937) and The Gartnavel Gazette (1853-54), that were established by asylum patients. Created to benefit the patients and to support the reputations of the asylums, these periodicals align with moral management’s goal of providing patients with productive occupation. Patients use these creative spaces for identity reinforcement and reclamation. The opportunity for self-expression is occasionally problematic, for some of the contributions challenge the respectability of the sponsoring asylums, subverting the “civilizing” influence of moral management. In conclusion, Madness Narratives: Victorian Textual Responses to the Insanity Diagnosis reframes these texts within the context of the narrative nature of the insanity diagnosis and shows how the authors create counternarratives that reject or modify the implicit narratives about their sanity and humanity.

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