ENG 420 Commonplace Book Entry 2/26: Discovering Primary Sources

ENG 420 Commonplace Book Entry 2/26: Discovering Primary Sources

I chose to examine the “Eighteenth report of the directors of the Dundee Lunatic Asylum, for the year ending 31st May, 1838.” There are 32 pages included in what I assume to be a small booklet. It is typed and includes many lists and tables as well as information in paragraph format. The document begins by providing an overview of the purpose of the lunatic asylum and the benefits of a new and more humane approach to patient care over the old, harsher ways of treating the insane. The report then lists the types of activities and simple labor conducted by the patients and details how events such as inclement weather may have affected the above activities.  The report also discusses the importance of attendance by the patients at religious services, the difficulties that arise when it comes to mental health, and a prayer that the “Great Disposer of all events…will not forget our work and labour of love” (15).

The latter half of the document provides patient statistics, such as physical reasons for admittance (drunkenness, fever, masturbatio) as well as “moral causes” (Domestic grief, excess of joy, wounded self-love). The report concludes by listing information on spending on amenities such as fish, soap, and beer.

Since this report is from around the time Jane Eyre takes place, I thought it would be interesting to get some insight about what mental asylums might have been like. Why, for example, would Rochester choose to keep Bertha locked up in his own house in Thornfield rather than admit her into an asylum? I think it would be interesting to explore this document further, as well as some others for comparison, to get a better idea about how mental health was viewed, researched, and treated.

This document would be helpful in a discussion regarding mental health in the 19th century. It could be used to argue that the lack of knowledge on mental health led to questionable methods for the treatment of patients with mental health issues, though perhaps not for a lack of trying. Again, this could be helpful when discussing Bertha and Rochester’s decision not to admit her to an asylum.

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