Immaculately researched

Victoria Tischler reviews 'This Way Madness Lies', by Mike Jay.

07 April 2017

This extraordinary book was published to accompany the exhibition of the same name at the Wellcome Collection (September 2016–January 2017: see If you were lucky enough to catch the exhibition, this wonderful text is a perfect companion; and if you missed it, the exquisite design combines graphic and text content, giving a flavour of the rich visual and scholarly material that
‘Bedlam’ contained. 

The text is an immaculately researched historical review and visual history of the Bethlem Royal Hospital, the world’s best-known asylum. It scopes the critical moments in the evolution of mental health care internationally, as well providing a pictorial portrayal of people, places and artwork that represent and define madness and its treatment from, as Jay states, ‘the dawn of humanity’ to the current day. 

The text is interspersed with an astounding array of visual images, some highlights include detailed architectural reproductions of asylum architecture, an assortment of depictions of heads, brains and minds being examined, pummelled and purged, and Jane Fradgley’s beautiful photographic images of straitjackets entitled ‘Held’. 

Charting the fascinating history of mental health care, as it moved from mechanical restraint to moral treatment, and including curious facts such as the widespread belief that George III’s madness was caused by his overindulgence in pears, the book holds your attention. Beautiful and other-worldly photography from the Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris depicting Charcot’s phases of hysteria, and the progressive ‘colony of the mad’ in Geel [see Jay’s article at], Belgium that uses adult fostering of those who are mentally ill, still in existence today, also feature. The text considers current understandings of madness and treatment of mental health through inclusion of contemporary work such as ‘the vacuum cleaner’s’ Madlove project, featuring an imagined designer asylum. 

This book is essential reading for all with an interest in mental health, the history of asylums, and the artwork made by those who experience mental distress. 

This Way Madness Lies, Mike Jay, Thames and Hudson, Hb £24.95

- Reviewed by Victoria Tischler CPsychol, AFBPsS, Professor of Arts and Health, University of West London