The Last Asylum

The Last Asylum

A Memoir of Madness in Our Times

Book - 2015
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In the late 1970s, Barbara Taylor, then an acclaimed young historian, began to suffer from severe anxiety. In the years that followed, Taylor&;s world contracted around her illness. Eventually, her struggles were severe enough to lead to her admission to what had once been England&;s largest psychiatric institution, the infamous Friern Mental Hospital in North London.

The Last Asylum is Taylor&;s breathtakingly blunt and brave account of those years. In it, Taylor draws not only on her experience as a historian, but also, more importantly, on her own lived history at Friern&; once known as the Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum and today the site of a luxury apartment complex. Taylor was admitted to Friern in July 1988, not long before England&;s asylum system began to undergo dramatic change: in a development that was mirrored in America, the 1990s saw the old asylums shuttered, their patients left to plot courses through a perpetually overcrowded and underfunded system of community care. But Taylor contends that the emptying of the asylums also marked a bigger loss, a loss of community. She credits her own recovery to the help of a steadfast psychoanalyst and a loyal circle of friends&; from Magda, Taylor&;s manic-depressive roommate, to Fiona, who shares tips for navigating the system and stories of her boyfriend, the &;Spaceman,&; and his regular journeys to Saturn. The forging of that network of support and trust was crucial to Taylor&;s recovery, offering a respite from the &;stranded, homeless feelings&; she and others found in the outside world.

A vivid picture of mental health treatment at a moment of epochal change, The Last Asylum is also a moving meditation on Taylor&;s own experience, as well as that of millions of others who struggle with mental illness.

Barbara Taylor’s The Last Asylum is a haunting memoir about illness and the psychiatric health system. A well-regarded historian of nineteenth-century British history and literature, Taylor hasn’t merely written an account of the British asylum systemshe’s been a patient in it. Her battles with mental illness were sufficiently severe to lead to her institutionalization in the early 1980s, not long before the longstanding system began to change dramatically. Socially conscious and self-aware, Taylor writes incisively about her own position and privileges in various systems. She speaks clearly, bravely, and explicitly not only about her own experience but about the contemporary treatment of the mentally ill and the need for society to provide, in some sense, asylum for those who need it.

Publisher: Chicago : The University of Chicago Press, [2015]
ISBN: 9780226273921
Branch Call Number: 362.21094 T2124L 2015
Characteristics: xx, 295 pages ; 22 cm


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Apr 12, 2016

The book Jacket says, "The Lived Past is never really past." Barbara Taylor has written the story of her past - 'a memoir of madness' as she calls it. One cannot but feel compassionate towards her; but is all her suffering really necessary? I would question her decision to undergo/continue with psychoanalysis. Given the progress in psychiatry and treatment of psychiatric condition there was absolutely no reason for Taylor to go through all that she did. Also, the title is misleading. The book deals not only with "The Last Asylum" but is also a history of Psychiatric Hospitals in London. Not all readers want to read about these. One also wonders if the sexual overtones present throughout are real or thrown in to perk readers' interest.

Apr 01, 2015

The book, in a form of a very candid memoir, is dense with historical facts and medical knowledge of mental illness.
Extremely eloquent writing.
"Madness touches us all in hidden places..."


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