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Mad-Doctors in the Dock: Defending the Diagnosis, 1760–1913

by Joel Eigen Johns Hopkins University Press
Pub Date:
Hbk 224 pages
AU$85.00 NZ$88.70
Product Status: Available in Approx 14 days
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Shortly before she pushed her infant daughter headfirst into a bucket of water and fastened the lid, Annie Cherry warmed the pail because, as she later explained to a police officer, "It would have been cruel to put her in cold water." Afterwards, this mother sat down and poured herself a cup of tea. At Cherry’s trial at the Old Bailey in 1877, Henry Charlton Bastian, physician to the National Hospital for the Paralyzed and Epileptic, focused his testimony on her preternatural calm following the drowning. Like many other late Victorian medical men, Bastian believed that the mother’s act and her subsequent behavior indicated homicidal mania, a novel species of madness that challenged the law’s criterion for assigning criminal culpability.


How did Dr. Bastian and his cohort of London’s physicians, surgeons, and apothecaries—originally known as "mad-doctors"—arrive at such an innovative diagnosis, and how did they defend it in court?  Mad-Doctors in the Dock is a sophisticated exploration of the history of the insanity defense in the English courtroom from the middle of the eighteenth century to the early twentieth century. Joel Peter Eigen examines courtroom testimony offered in nearly 1,000 insanity trials, transporting us into the world of psychiatric diagnosis and criminal justice. The first comprehensive account of how medical insight and folk psychology met in the courtroom, this book makes clear the tragedy of the crimes, the spectacle of the trials, and the consequences of the diagnosis for the emerging field of forensic psychiatry.


Chapter 1. Nasty, Brutish, and Short: Criminal Trials before the Lawyer
Chapter 2. Delusion and Its Discontents
Chapter 3.When Practitioners Become Professionals: The Alienists' Claim to Knowledge
Chapter 4. The Diagnosis in the Dock
Chapter 5. The Witness Takes the Stand
Chapter 6. Homicidal Mania: Provenance and Cultural Context
Chapter 7. The View from the Bench: Judicial Discretion and Forensic-Psychiatric Evidence Conclusion. On the Origins of Diagnosis

"Vital for understanding the development of the English trial... This book and the trilogy of which it is a part provide a major chapter in the history of the public sphere. Historians of law, medicine, and psychiatry will seek out Eigen's work, but the trilogy has much to offer scholars in Victorian studies more generally."

Joel Peter Eigen is the Charles A. Dana Professor of Sociology at Franklin and Marshall College and visiting scholar at Pembroke College, Cambridge. His previous book, Witnessing Insanity: Madness and Mad-Doctors in the English Court, won the 1997 Mannfred S. Guttmacher Award, cosponsored by the American Psychiatric Association and the American Academy of Law and Psychiatry.