“What then became of me? I know not; I lost sensation, and chains and darkness were the only objects that pressed upon me. Sometimes, indeed, I dreamt that I wandered in flowery meadows and pleasant vales with the friends of my youth, but I awoke and found myself in a dungeon. Melancholy followed, but by degrees I gained a clear conception of my miseries and situation and was then released from my prison. For they had called me mad, and during many months, as I understood, a solitary cell had been my habitation” (Shelley 142-143).
This excerpt above is from Victor Frankenstein’s perspective. Victor is the main protagonist in Frankenstein who generates life, but quickly regrets it because the monster he creates wreaks havoc on his entire life and everyone he loves. Victor frequently experiences mental breakdowns and fainting fits throughout the novel. His mental fragility is a defining aspect of his character. The excerpt above is the epitome of those mental breakdowns which results in him being sent to an asylum.
The affliction Victor experiences would be described by William Battie as “consequential madness” (41). Consequential madness occurs as a result of a traumatic event or incident. In Victor’s case, it is the death of his father and fiancée. Battie’s beliefs on mental illness and its potential cures would have been considered mainstream during Shelley’s time. He published his book, A Treatise on Madness, in 1758, outlining his beliefs and methods for curing mental ailments. He was a strong supporter of using medication to alleviate the symptoms. However, more recent practices that were popularized by Phillipe Pinel in his 1801, Medico-Philosophical Treatise on Mental Alienation or Mania, advocated for strictly behavioral treatments for his patients. Both Pinel and Battie headed their own private madhouses during the mid- to late-18th century. Unfortunately, madhouses funded by the state were not as forward-looking as the private madhouses run by Pinel and Battie. Public madhouses were characterized by malnourished and mistreated patients, who were frequently threatened with bloodletting or purging as a means of keeping them under control (Jay 46). Based on the brief description given by Shelley of Victor’s time in the asylum, it appears as if he was in a public madhouse, being locked up in solitary confinement to keep him away from other inmates and workers for their safety.
The image above, Bedlam Hospital by Robert White (Gothic Tea Society), portrays Bethlem hospital (referred to as Bedlam in the image). This image is supposed to represent the stereotypical madhouse during the mid- to late-18th century.
Jay, Mike, and Bárbara Rodríguez Muñoz. This Way Madness Lies: The Asylum and Beyond. Thames & Hudson, 2016.
Battie, William. A Treatise on Madness. Vol. 1, London: Whiston and White, 1758. https://books. google.com/books/about/A_Treatise_on_Madness.html?id=F6JbAAAAQAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=kp_read_button#v=onepage&q=anxiety&f=false. Accessed 10 April. 2018.
Pinel, Philippe. Medico-Philosophical Treatise on Mental Alienation. Vol. 2, Wiley-Blackwell, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1002/9780470712238. Accessed 8 April.
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, and J. Paul Hunter. Frankenstein: the 1818 Text, Contexts, Criticism. W.W. Norton & Co., 2012.