Saturday, October 4, 2008

Ophelia Tours

I've just come to learn about these 19th century Ophelia Tours, in which the women in the asylums were dressed as Ophelia in long dresses and flowers, and visitors could buy a ticket and walk through to see all the beautifully, "mad" women in their cages. I'll admit that I'm guilty of glamorizing tragedy in my writing and whatnot, but this is just too much!

There's not a lot about this on the internet, but I did come across this:

This is Dr. Hugh Diamond's photograph of a young female patient taken during the 1850's in an asylum for the insane. The image, reproduced by Elaine Showalter in "Representing Ophelia," is Plate 32 in The Face of Madness: Hugh W. Diamond and the Origin of Psychiatric Photography, ed. Sander Gilman. The image of the sexually obsessed Ophelia had so thoroughly saturated the popular imagination that the fictional character and the real madwoman had become one, as in this photograph where the young woman has been garlanded in flowers and leaves for her portrait.

"The iconography of the Romantic Ophelia" was so fixed in nineteenth-century culture that, according to Showalter, one way for a young woman to express her psychological anguish was to imitate Ophelia, and "where the women themselves did not willingly throw themselves into Ophelia-like postures, asylum superintendents, armed with the new technology of photography, imposed the costume, gesture, props, and expression of Ophelia upon them" (86). As Oscar Wilde had observed, life imitates art--at least in the incident of this young woman.


goooooood girl said...

Very fine......

almostgotit said...

We still do this, of course. It's all about marketing..

Perhaps the romanticized mad woman was at least more attractive than the unwashed, gibbering one? And perhaps the asylum could garner more community support (or funding) this way?

The socially-bound manifestation of mental (and physical) illness also continues to this day. There was a time when women suffered "hysteria" (yes, comes from the word meaning "womb") in pretty stereotypical ways, too. Nor was it an acting job... women really DID suffer from "hysteria."

As for morning sickness? I can vouch for the fact that it is REAL, having experienced it myself, but by all reports, morning sickness is a modern phenomenon.

ADHD is another current diagnosis, which didn't really exist before this generation. Hmm...

Patti said...

Wow. This is fascinating... can you imagine if they tried that today??
Thanks for the peek into history,

Nicorpse said...

Sexually obsessed? Did you know that doctors used to sexually abuse the patients! This girl was probably merely a victim, they dressed everyone up and sold them like circus freaks. 90% of the girls were not even near insanity, but simply depressed. Asylums didn't help much at all. All those doctors cared about was sex and money. They held them for as long as they disired! Women came out with Post Traumatic Stress disorder; they came out a million times more mentally fucked than when they went in!