10 February 2019

10th February, 1864 - A Blighted Life


Rosina Bulwer Lytton wrote a letter on 10th February, 1864 to the publisher Charles Reade in response to reading the madhouse scenes in the sensational novel  'Hard Cash' . They involve the hero being thrown into an asylum.

Rosina was dismissed for years as the mad wife of the novelist and politician Edward Bulwer Lytton, but was an author in her own right. She had 14 books published. However her book, A Blighted Life, was based on this long letter, and published by Reade - perhaps without permission.

Blighted Life tells of the conflict with her husband, her own experience of being locked up in a private asylum against her will, and fighting until she was released a few weeks later. She says that without her connections regaining her freedom would have been much more difficult.

She had become estranged from her husband and sought to get the allowance owing her and ended up publicly opposing him. To silence her, in 1858, her husband had her committed 'insane' under the supervision of Mr Robert Gardiner Hill, a British surgeon who specialised in the treatment of lunacy, and incarcerated in a private asylum.

Despite the fine surroundings of the place, to which some two constables took Rosina, she was enraged.

In the letter she says 'At H_____'s the rule of the house was about two inches of candle to go to bed with, for fear of some mad incendiary, and then the door double locked upon you outside, but as I was not either mad or an incendiary ... I could not do with the two inches, and so effectually resisted the candle rule, but could do nothing against the locked door, and therefore was greatly frightened ...'

Newspapers and the public took up her case and after a few weeks she was freed.

"'Pon my word," said H_____, "those abominable papers are too bad! More especially the Somersetshire ones; to read their abusive tirades, one would really suppose, Lady L_____, that instead of being surrounded with every comfort, you had been thrown into a dungeon."

"You forget, Mr. H_____,"  she said, "to the impartial public, who are not paid, and have no interest in thinking otherwise, the infringement upon the liberty of the subject in any way, much less in the brutal one of so unwarrantably kidnapping and seizing without judge or jury an inoffensive and defenseless woman, and incarcerating her in a lunatic asylum, is in itself quite sufficient deed of iniquity."

Thankyou to Wikipedia for the date and the details of  A_Blighted_Life. More details came from The Welcome Library.

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