Madwoman by Louisa Treger

I’d been looking forward to reading Madwoman, Louisa Treger’s new novel since I first saw the announcement of what the subject was going to be. With the subject matter a part of my own research it was a book I had to read.

Madwoman continues Louisa Treger’s theme of highlighting some of history’s most inspiring, yet understated, women, in The Lodger, we heard the story of the influential feminist writer, Dorothy Richardson, whose novels were some of the first historical accounts of feminist history in the early twentieth century. In The Dragon Lady, we learn of philanthropist Lady Virginia (Ginnie) Courtauld, whose fight for racial equality included building a school and theatre in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia).

In Madwoman, we hear the startling tale of Nellie Bly, one of the early female journalists who undertook to get herself committed to the notorious Blackwell’s Asylum in late nineteenth century New York.  Spending ten days committed and experiencing the brutal and inhumane treatment patients were being subjected to.  On being released her articles shocked the country and influenced mental health reform.  This however is not the whole story, Madwoman also highlights the expectation and prejudice in the nineteenth century where women were expected to marry, have children and only take ‘safe’ jobs.  The more dangerous aspects of Journalism certainly weren’t meant for the faint-hearted, especially not women, yet Bly’s story tells of someone determined to carve out her own future and make her own rules.  Her determination paved the way for radical change not just in mental health but also in what would become investigative journalism.

As with her previous novels, Louisa Treger handles her subject with the care and respect they deserve.  Madwoman certainly isn’t the easiest story to write about and it would have been easy to over-sensationalise the subject, however, taking from previous research, and Bly’s own writings, the story is not just a compelling page-turner, but a highly informative insight into mental health and discrimination in the nineteenth-century written by an author passionate about the subject and ensuring the world hears these women roar!

In Madwoman, Louisa Treger not just captures the reader with a highly engaging story, but captures the emotion and anguish of the characters that they’ll be ingrained on the reader for time to come.

  • Madwoman by Louisa Treger is published by Bloomsbury Books (£16.99). To order a copy go to www.bloomsbury.com
Tom Stanger
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Founder and Editor of Pilgrim House, currently researching folklore and early Welsh Christianity and curator of the archives of the lost village of Pontyddim.

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