Lee-Ann Monk, Attending Madness: at work in the Australian colonial asylum, Rudopi, 2008.
In Attending Madness (Rodopi, 2008), Lee-Ann Monk explores the lives and identities of asylum attendants working in Australia in the 1870s, placing their role within a larger international context as well as delving into the daily lives of attendants in Victoria. Monk’s book highlights an area of deficiency in this particular area of scholarship; the narrative about 19th century asylum attendants as simplistic, brutish people with limited qualifications has been widely accepted by students of this era. Attending Madness paints a very different picture, showing how their roles as professionals evolved within the shifting asylum movement of the late 19th century. Far from simply being precursors to psychiatric nurses, asylum attendants had a very specific place.
Popular perception of 19th century asylums often consists of holding facilities where people were stored away from society, for lack of a better place to put them. As Monk points out, a radical shift started to occur in the late 19th century, with a transition from asylums as facilities to lock up people with mental illness to more curative and therapeutic institutions. Monk unfortunately doesn’t devote very much analysis to exploring how and why people were classified with mental illness, as this is not the subject of her work - her focus on attendants means that readers miss some important contextual discussions, like the use of institutionalisation to silence and isolate women who went against their families.