Contested Meanings of Lunacy in Nineteenth-Century Asylums

Mark Lee is a postdoctoral researcher on a multidisciplinary project based at Wolfson College, University of Oxford, that looks at experiences of illness and medicine across cultures and time periods. He is currently working on a book that explores the experience, interpretation and treatment of religious forms of madness and melancholy in the nineteenth-century Atlantic world.

Astrology and the Moon have featured within concepts of madness and mental wellbeing since ancient times, as the word ‘lunacy’ would suggest. This talk focuses on the autobiographical writings of John Thomas Perceval (1803–1876), an English asylum patient (and son of the British Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval) who, after his release from confinement, co-founded an advocacy group called the Alleged Lunatics’ Friend Society. His writings express a forgotten perspective in the history of psychiatry: the response of alleged lunatics themselves to the narrowing epistemology of modern psychological medicine.