October 4th, 2015


Halloween Countdown, Day 4

Today I'd like to focus on a scholar whose historical research proves that sometimes fact may be more disturbing than fiction. Sarah Wise's first book, The Italian Boy: Murder and Grave Robbery in 1830s London, was shortlisted for the 2005 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction. Her follow-up, The Blackest Streets: The Life and Death of a Victorian Slum, was published in 2008 and was shortlisted for the Royal Society of Literature's Ondaatje Prize. Her latest publication, Inconvenient People: Lunacy, Liberty and the Mad-Doctors in Victorian England, was shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize 2014.

You can find her "Lunacy and Mad Doctors" blog here at Psychology Today. In its posts, Wise discusses 19th-century understandings of mental health and their depictions in Gothic works such as the novels of Charlotte Brontë and Wilkie Collins and films such as Gaslight.

Here are two of her insightful lectures that are available for free listening.
* "Murder and Grave Robbery," a talk for the Museum of London
* "Tales from the Victorian Lunatic Asylum," a talk for the Whitechapel 1888 Society

Last but not least, here is a short (17-minute) documentary featuring Sarah Wise and focusing on the body-snatching subject of her book The Italian Boy. It's called "The London Burkers."

"...the Morning Advertiser gave regular bulletins about missing children: Caroline Brand, eight, of Wolverley Street, Hackney Road, sent out by her parents to sell bundles of firewood one evening, and not seen again, just as her thirteen-year-old brother had disappeared, five months before; and Henry Borroff, a five-year-old of Hoxton Old Town — gone."
- from Sarah Wise, The Italian Boy
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