The Last Asylum: A Memoir of Madness in Our Times

Front Cover
Hamish Hamilton, 2014 - Mentally ill - 289 pages

'The lived past is never really past; it endures in us in more ways than we understand. Sometimes it doesn't even feel like the past; it just feels like life itself, like the way things have always been and always will be, now as before, then and forever.'

In July 1988, Barbara Taylor, then an acclaimed young historian, was admitted to what had once been England's largest psychiatric institution- Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum, later known as Friern Hospital. The journey that took her there began with anxiety and ended in complete breakdown. Over the next four years she lost her home and her career, as her world inexorably contracted around her illness.

The corridor of Friern - the longest in Europe - reduced visiting friends to tears, but Barbara Taylor's experience was not without hope. Helped by an undaunted psychoanalyst as well as loyal friends, she found a way to recovery. Formally discharged from the mental health system in 1992 - a year before Friern closed - she ended the decade with a job at a London university, a partner and a family, and a life she wanted to lead.

This searingly honest, thought-provoking and beautifully written memoir is the story of the author's madness years, set inside the wider story of the death of the asylum system in the twentieth century. It is a meditation on her own experience of breakdown and healing, but also that of the millions of other people who have suffered, are suffering, will suffer mental illness.

'A wise, considered and timely book.' Hilary Mantel

'Superb. riveting, insightful, relentlessly honest.' Darian Leader

'Eloquent, compassionate, utterly absorbing.' Sarah Waters

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User Review  - Writermala - LibraryThing

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 ... Read full review

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About the author (2014)

Barbara Taylor's previous books include an award-winning study of nineteenth-century socialist feminism, Eve and the New Jerusalem; an intellectual biography of the pioneer feminist Mary Wollstonecraft; and On Kindness, a defence of fellow feeling co-written with the psychoanalyst Adam Phillips. She is a longstanding editor of the leading history journal, History Workshop Journal, and a director of the Raphael Samuel History Centre. She teaches History and English at Queen Mary University of London.

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