Attitude towards Illness



British Victorian society was not thus as progressive as one might expect

It could be harsh in its judgements; One of the areas in which it could be harshest is that of illness; physical and, in particular, mental Very little time was had for anyone who ‘dared’ to be different, did not or would not fit into its neat categories or who were seen as not complying in any way, and those who were unwell were definitely viewed as not complying .Being unwell mad a person a burden to others, whether the condition was the sufferers fault or not


The unwell, like the poor, were frequently categorised as merely lazy or deviant in some way. All in all it was healthier to live in the countryside, away from the fumes, severe overcrowding and crime-rates of the city but this did not rule out insanitary conditions or infectious illnesses. Despite many ailments being caused by the environment in which they were forced to live,  they could be  dismissed from work, turned out of their homes and unable to access anything but the most rudimentary healthcare – often at the cost of entering a Workhouse, or banding together to afford the price of a doctor’s visit.


Knowledge of ‘cures’ and remedies were passed down through generations and whilst some of these were very effective, others were not. In fact a good number sound today disgusting and bizarre- the consuming of a fried mouse (whole), for instance, for a case of whooping cough. Diseases that are easily treatable today (measles, mumps) were often deadly because firstly the patient could not afford care and, even if they could there were no anti-biotics available even in hospitals.


The Victorian hospital whether it be a purpose built establishment or the infirmary of a ‘Union’, tended to be a place of dread for all classes, regarded as somewhere that people went into never to come out again alive. Compared to modern standards they were dirty, gloomy and run with no consistent standard. Prior to the insistence of practitioners such as Florence Nightingale, hands, surfaces and medical instruments went frequently unwashed; the same injection needle used for an entire ward of patients, the same bedclothes for subsequent occupants unless the person paid for laundering; the same staff working in both infectious and surgical areas

The outlook for those with mental was worse; the rich might be quietly ‘put away’ or removed to some remote residence of the family (see the fate of Prince John 1905 -1919) but all to often even they ended their days in an asylum, just as a member of the lower classes might – albeit in slightly better conditions. Any person in an asylum was generally labelled mad or degenerate by the normal populace and lived perhaps in a cell, or a crowded dormitory and often ‘treatment’ bordered more along the lines of punishment or misguided harshness; solitary confinement, un-nourishing food, forced ice-baths or similar were something most could look forward to for the rest of their life, the ‘treatment’ making any condition they already suffered, worse. Unfortunately a great number most likely had no psychological problem at all and could have been detained at the will of another for various dubious reasons. Some of the causes of admission listed at one such facility were;** Jealousy and Religion, Desertion by Husband, Reading of Romantic Fiction and Incest Between Parents.