The construction of a reputation for madness: the case study of Lady Caroline Lamb

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Abstract

This article scrutinizes Lamb’s historical reputation as the archetypal female hysteric. The scope of the paper is not conclusively to prove or disprove the actual state of Lamb’s mental health, but to examine the context in and the procedures by which Lamb was diagnosed as being mentally unstable and how her own declarations to the contrary could be legitimately ignored. The article also examines the way in which biographies of her life have gone some way to attributing to Lamb the attributes of her own statement about Byron, in being ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’. The repetition and highlighting of the more melodramatic episodes of Lamb’s life, whilst being of interest, have presented an unbalanced view of her that undermines her intellectual commitment to her writing. Lamb is here compared with her contemporary, Rosina Bulwer Lytton, whose own reputation for insanity stems from a similar process of de-legitimisation which both authors attempted to combat through the medium of writing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-44
JournalWorking with English: Medieval and Modern Language, Literature and Drama
Volume2
Publication statusPublished - 2007

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