Birkbeck Eighteenth-Century Reading Group: 13 Feb 12pm Room 106

Birkbeck Eighteenth-Century Reading Group: led by Anna Jamieson, PhD Student in History of Art,  Birkbeck

‘The Sentimental Look in the Asylum: Henry Mackenzie and Sophie von La Roche at Bedlam

Wednesday 13th February, 12-2pm, room 106, School of Arts, 43 Gordon Square

Anna Jamieson will introduce two texts which describe visiting Bethlem Royal Hospital, commonly known as Bedlam, during the latter decades of the eighteenth century: Henry Mackenzie’s novel The Man of Feeling (1771) and Sophie von la Roche’s diary entry of her visit in 1786 (attached).

By comparing a literary and first-hand account of a visit to Bethlem, this session will consider the ways in which eighteenth-century tourist practices surrounding medical sites (or as Mackenzie calls them, ‘sights’) were informed by preconceived behavioural ideals. Spanning a period when Bethlem had recently put an end to its infamous practice of allowing the general public to view the mad, these sources mark a crucial turning point in the display of human suffering. Situating these texts amongst a number of key contemporary themes, discourses and debates – including emerging behavioural codes and the notion of performance within certain medical spaces, and how wider concepts such as detachment, disinterestedness and consumption may have impacted a visit and subsequent response – this session will frame Bethlem as an eighteenth-century ‘Dark Tourist’ destination, aligned with, but singular from, other spectacular sites along London’s tourist trail.

The session aims to generate further discussion about the relationship between suffering and spectacle. We will consider how wider sympathetic discourses impacted viewing society’s ‘unfortunates’, which in turn led to a proliferation of texts which instructed individuals ‘how to look’ at suffering.

  • Henry Mackenzie, The Man of Feeling (Berwick upon Tweed: John Taylor, 1800), pp.51-61
  • Sophie von La Roche, Sophie in London 1786: being the diary of Sophie v. la Roche. Translated from the German, with an introductory essay, by Clare Williams; With a foreword by G.M. Trevelyan.(London: J.Cape, 1933), pp.161-173

All very welcome! Please  contact Kate Retford – k.retford@bbk.ac.uk – for any further information.

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