"Madhouse of Language" considers the relations between madness and language from the late seventeenth to early nineteenth centuries, focusing on the close analysis of both medical records, and texts by writers such as Swift, Sterne, Richardson, Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Byron. The history of writing about madness is seen in terms of a suppression of mad language by an increasingly confident medical profession, in which orthodox attitudes towards language are endorsed by rigorous treatment of the insane, or by a manipulative moral therapy. Recognized writers of the period reflect the fascination with a form of mental existence that nevertheless remains beyond expression through socially acceptable forms of language.
A wide variety of written and oral material by mad men and women, drawn both from medical records and from published works, is discussed in the context of this linguistic suppression. The context, forms, and strategies of mad texts are analyzed in a highly original account of the linguistic relations between madness and sanity, of the appropriation by sane writers of the forms of English, and of attempts by mental patients to gain access to the expressive potential of language.