Theaters of Madness by Benjamin Reiss
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Theaters of Madness
By Benjamin Reiss

Theaters of Madness

Insane Asylums and Nineteenth-Century American Culture

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Format: Paperback

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Theaters of Madness by Benjamin Reiss

Book Awards

  • Shortlisted for British Society for Literature and Science Book Prize 2008.

Book Description

In the mid-1800s a utopian movement to rehabilitate the insane resulted in a wave of publicly funded asylums - many of which became unexpected centers of cultural activity. Housed in magnificent structures with lush grounds, patients participated in theatrical programs, debating societies, literary journals, schools, and religious services. "Theaters of Madness" explores both the culture these rich offerings fomented and the asylum's place in the fabric of nineteenth-century life, reanimating a time when the treatment of the insane was a central topic in debates over democracy, freedom, and modernity.Benjamin Reiss explores the creative lives of patients and the cultural demands of their doctors. Their frequently clashing views turned practically all of American culture - from blackface minstrel shows to the works of William Shakespeare - into a battlefield in the war on insanity. Reiss also shows how asylums touched the lives and shaped the writing of key figures, such as Emerson and Poe, who viewed the system alternately as the fulfillment of a democratic ideal and as a kind of medical enslavement. Without neglecting this troubling contradiction, "Theaters of Madness" prompts us to reflect on what our society can learn from a generation that urgently and creatively tried to solve the problem of mental illness.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780226709642
ISBN-10: 0226709647
Format: Paperback
(230mm x 170mm x 15mm)
Pages: 240
Imprint: University of Chicago Press
Publisher: The University of Chicago Press
Publish Date: 17-Oct-2008
Country of Publication: United States

Other Editions...

Books By Author Benjamin Reiss

Cambridge History of the American Novel by Benjamin Reiss Cambridge History of the American Novel, Hardback (March 2011)

An authoritative and lively account of the development of the genre, by leading experts in the field.

Showman and the Slave by Benjamin Reiss Showman and the Slave, Paperback (March 2010)

Barnum's first exhibit as a showman, Joice Heth was an elderly enslaved woman who was said to be the 161-year-old former nurse of the infant George Washington. Telling the story about one of the nineteenth century's most famous Americans, the author uses P T Barnum's Joice hoax to examine the contours of race relations in the antebellum North.

» View all books by Benjamin Reiss


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Author Biography - Benjamin Reiss

Benjamin Reiss is associate professor of English at Emory University and the author of The Showman and the Slave: Race, Death, and Memory in Barnum's America.

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