We are delighted to present our latest post in this series which shares the experience of researching mental illness in Welsh literature. It is also our first Welsh language post, and we welcome more contributions in Welsh. Non-Welsh speakers, please scroll down for a translation.
Madison Keeping is currently a Masters through Research student in the Academi Hywel Teifi in Swansea University. She has spent four years at an undergraduate level studying BA Welsh where she graduated with a first class honours degree. She hopes to transfer onto a PhD programme this year in order to fully research her chosen subject to the highest level.
Salwch meddwl mewn llenyddiaeth Gymraeg
Myfyriwraig M.A Ymchwil ydw i ar hyn o bryd yn Academi Hywel Teifi gyda’r obaith o drosglwyddo i raglen PhD yn y dyfodol agos. Agweddau ar y modd y cyflwynir salwch meddwl mewn llenyddiaeth Gymraeg yw maes fy ymchwil.
Yn ôl Lilian Feder: ‘The treatment of madness in literature reflects human ambivalence toward to the mind itself.’
Am ganrifoedd, y mae awduron wedi bod yn archwilio’r pwnc cyfoethog hwn er mwyn creu llenyddiaeth ystyrlon, gymhleth sydd yn dal sylw a dychymyg y gynulleidfa. Gan nad yw salwch meddwl yn rhywbeth hawdd i’w ddiffinio’n daclus, gallwn droi at weithiau llenyddol sy’n trafod y teimladau a’r meddyliau sydd yn mygu ac yn ystumio’r dioddefwr er mwyn ehangu ein dealltwriaeth.
Fel rhan o’m cwrs israddedig, astudiais y nofelau Un Nos Ola Leuad a Tywyll Heno yn feirniadol, a gwnaeth y testunau hyn argraff ddofn arnaf. Cefais fy synnu gan y modd yr oedd yr awduron yn ymdrin â phwnc meddygol mewn modd creadigol. Yr oedd y rhyddiaith yn caniatáu i’r awduron fynegi teimladau, emosiynau a phrofiadau sydd yn gysylltiedig â gwallgofrwydd ac iselder yn gymharol rydd o gyfyngiadau, ac yn ein galluogi ni i ddod at salwch meddwl o onglau newydd. Felly, mae fy ymchwil yn canolbwyntio’n bennaf ar y ddau testun craidd hyn, ond rhoddir sylw hefyd i awduron eraill yn y Gymraeg sydd yn ymdrin â’r pwnc megis Alaw Griffiths, gol., Gyrru drwy Storom (2015) a Gwyneth Lewis, Sunbathing in the Rain (2002). Er mwyn cyfoethogi fy ymchwil, penderfynais gynnwys elfen gymharol drwy ddwyn rhai gweithiau llenyddol Saesneg i’r astudiaeth, yn eu plith Ken Kesey, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway a Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar. Mae’r darllen cymharol hwn eisoes yn dwyn ffrwyth ac mae’r corff sylweddol o lenyddiaeth feirniadol ar y gweithiau hyn yn ysgogiad wrth ymdrin â’r testunau craidd Cymraeg.
Wrth ymchwilio i’r maes, dyma rai o’r cwestiynau y byddaf yn eu gofyn ac yn eu hystyried:
i) Pa batrymau a welir yn y nofelau gwahanol a astudir?
ii) Beth yw cymhellion yr awduron? Ai creu ymateb emosiynol arbennig yn y darllenydd? Codi ymwybyddiaeth o’r cyflyrau dan sylw? Cymhelliad therapiwtig neu gathartig, ffordd o ymdopi â phrofiadau personol?
iii) A yw’r defnydd o salwch meddwl mewn llenyddiaeth yn gallu normaleiddio testun sy’n dal i greu llawer o stigma heddiw?
iv) A yw’r gweithiau’n cyfleu delwedd gywir o salwch meddwl a’r sgil-effeithiau?
v) A ellir dosbarthu a diffinio’r ffactorau neu’r cyd-destunau allanol sy’n cyfrannu at salwch meddwl – er enghraifft; tlodi, natur y gymdeithas, safleoedd annheg o fewn y gymdeithas?
Wrth ystyried (v) uchod yn fanylach, credaf y gallwn ganolbwyntio hefyd ar dri maes cyd-destunol yn bennaf:
1: Y cyd-destun cymdeithasol ‘eang.’ A yw’r unigolion a gyflwynir yn y testunau wir yn wallgof yn ôl safonau gwrthrychol absoliwt neu a yw cymdeithas wedi barnu’r unigolyn yn wallgof oherwydd nad ydyw’n cydymffurfio â chonfensiynau traddodiadol cymdeithasol? A yw’r ffaith bod cymdeithas yn trin gwrthryfelwr fel pe bai’n wallgof yn golygu bod y person wir yn dioddef o salwch meddwl?
2. Yn ail, ystyrir arwyddocâd amgylchiadau economaidd. Yn y nofel Un Nos Ola Leuad er enghraifft, gwelwn effaith tlodi fel rhywbeth sy’n cynhyrchu salwch meddwl neu iselder. Gall ffactorau economaidd achosi straen ar yr unigolyn sydd weithiau’n arwain at chwalfa feddyliol. Ceisir dadansoddi’r ffactorau allanol sydd yn effeithio ar bobl er mwyn penderfynu natur y salwch o fewn cyd-destun llenyddol.
3. Yn drydydd astudir salwch meddwl mewn testunau llenyddol o safbwynt profiadau benywaidd. Olrheinir esblygiad y syniad bod menywod yn gallu dioddef o wallgofrwydd neu iselder oherwydd eu safle mewn cymdeithas.
Y nod felly yw llunio arolwg o’r modd y cyflwynir salwch meddwl mewn detholiad o destunau Cymraeg a Saesneg. Ond bwriedir gwneud llawer mwy na chynhyrchu traethawd traddodiadol ar ‘thema’ arbennig, a hynny trwy gynnwys gwedd ryngddisgyblaethol a thrwy ddarllen y testunau yng nghyd-destun ac yng ngoleuni cysyniadau o feysydd eraill.
Mental Illness In Welsh Literature.
Currently, I am a Masters Research student in the Academi Hwyel Teifi with the hope of transferring to a PhD programme in the near future. The field of my research analyses the way in which mental illness is portrayed within Welsh-language literature.
As Lilan Feder says; ‘The treatment of madness in literature reflects human ambivalence toward to the mind itself.’
For centuries, authors have been examining this rich theme in order to create meaningful and complicated literature which captures the attention and imagination of the audience. As mental illness is something we cannot easily define, we find ourselves turning towards the literary works that discuss the feelings and thoughts which can distort the sufferers grasp on reality in order to further expand our knowledge on the subject.
As part of my undergraduate degree, I studied the Welsh-language novels Un Nos Ola Leuad (One Moonlit Night) and Tywyll Heno (Dark Night) critically, and these works made a deep impression on me personally. I was amazed at the way the authors could deal with and portray a subject that is mainly medical in a way that was so creative. The prose allowed the authors to express the feelings, emotions and experiences associated with mental illness in a way that was fluid and free of restrictions, which in turn, helped us to consider mental illness from different angles. Therefore, my research will focus primarily on these two core literary works; however I have also allowed myself to analyse other Welsh-language authors who deal with the same topic such as Alaw Griffiths, ed., Gyrru drwy Storom (2015) and Gwyneth Lewis, Sunbathing in the Rain (2002). In order to further enrich my research, I have decided to include a comparative element through using some English-language literature such as Ken Kesey, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway and Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar. The substantial body of literary criticism on these works will be a vital asset as I analyse the Welsh-language novels.
By researching into this field, these are some of the questions that I will be asking and considering:
i) What patterns can be seen within the different novels that are being studied?
ii) What are the author’s motivations? Do they hope to create an emotional reaction within the reader? Do they wish to raise awareness of the conditions under analysis? Or finally, do they use this literature as a personal coping mechanism?
iii) Can the use of mental illness in literature normalise a topic which still creates stigma today?
iv) Do the literary works convey a true image of mental illness and it’s side effects?
v) Is it possible to categorise or define the factors of the external contexts which contribute to mental illness – for example; poverty, societal norms, unfair positions within the community?
By considering (v) in more detail, I believe that I can also concentrate on three sub-contextual fields of further research:
1. The ‘extensive’ social context. For example; Is the individual in these novels really considered ‘mad’ according to absolute and objective standards, or has the society in which the individual resides, judged this person mad simply because of the fact that they do not conform to traditional and conventional norms considered correct within society? Additionally, does the fact that society treats rebels who threaten social order as if they were mad mean that the person does in fact suffer from mental illness?
2. Secondly, I will consider the significance of financial circumstances. In the novel Un Nos Ola Leuad for example, we see poverty as something that can produce depression or mental illness. Economical factors can cause strain on the individual which can sometimes lead to a mental breakdown. I will try to analyse these outside contributing factors in order to determine the nature of the illness within a literary context.
3. Thirdly, I will study the use of mental illness in literary texts with regards to feminine experiences. I will trace the evolution of the idea that women can suffer from insanity or depression because of their restricting position in society.
The intention therefore, is to construct an overview which analyses the way in which mental illness in portrayed in a variety of Welsh and English-language texts. However, I intend to do much more than only produce a traditional essay on a specific ‘theme.’ I hope to achieve this by including interdisciplinary aspects, reading texts within their specific contexts and by considering the research in the light of concepts from numerous other fields.
Our latest post, brilliantly titled ‘Girdle power’, is by Rick Turner who is a doctoral candidate in the Department of History and Classics at Swansea University. Rick spoke about this aspect of his research at our recent Postgraduate Enabling Workshop
Girdle Power: the Use of Saints Relics in Childbirth in Medieval England
Part of my PhD research is into the cult of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in medieval England and Wales. This cult is based upon apocryphal legends that emerged in the early centuries of the Eastern Orthodox Church. A theological debate arose over whether it was only Mary’s soul that was assumed into heaven by Jesus or whether it was her body as well. This debate continued in the Western Catholic Church into the mid-12th century. The visions of a Benedictine nun, Elizabeth of Schönau, were taken to prove that her body rose into heaven to sit at the right hand of Christ.
The fact of her bodily assumption meant that there could be no physical relics of the Virgin Mary. The legends say that her clothes were removed before her burial. A later version, describes how one of the apostles, St Thomas, arrived too late to attend her burial but he was there as Mary rose into heaven. As proof of this miracle she dropped her girdle (the belt around her tunic) down to St Thomas. The Virgin’s girdle became the most important and powerful of her relics.
Relics of her girdle were claimed in 8th century Constantinople, 11th century Westminster Abbey and 13th century Prato in Italy. These relics were recorded as having special powers to help women during their ‘lying in’, the last stages of their pregnancy. The Westminster girdle was taken on at least five occasions to help women of the English royal family give birth. Relics could be replicated by contact with another holy object. This may explain the proliferation of relics of the Virgin’s girdle recorded by Thomas Cromwell’s commissioners when they visited the northern English monasteries in 1535. They recorded 36 relics which were used by women lying in, including 13 of the Virgin Mary’s girdle and 16 girdles of other holy men and women, all of which were destroyed at the Reformation. Girdle relics could be in other media and in private hands. A parchment roll has recently been discovered at the Wellcome Library, (MS 632), which is covered with prayers and images of Christ’ passion. It could be used like the other girdle relics to wrap around the womb of a woman close to giving birth, but had additional powers to help soldiers in battle and sailors at sea.
In parallel with the use of relics, there were practical texts in circulation giving advice to midwives and doctors on helping women during pregnancy. The most famous of these was the Trotula, deriving from the teachings of several women practitioners in 12th century Salerno in Italy. Copies of this text were widely distributed across Europe in Latin and translated into local languages, including English. Some of the known Trotula manuscripts in England were held by the same monastic orders as held the girdle relics.
Protestant Reformers in England took particular efforts to suppress all evidence of the cult of the Assumption as it was part of the Virgin Mary’s story not contained within the Bible. Clergy were instructed not to use ‘any girdles, purses or measures of our Lady during labour, but to rely on prayers to God to give their patients comfort’. So what we are seeing are two traditions or practices to support women in medieval England during the later stages of their pregnancy. One was characterized by the practical advice of the Trotula manuscripts, the other based upon the faith in the power of holy relics. It was rationally-thinking men at the Reformation who ordered the destruction of the relics, leaving women to the practical help of their midwives and their prayers. In my view the wearing of the Virgin’s and other holy relics lasted for so long it must have brought benefits to women in easing their pain or speeding their delivery, even if it was what we would now call a placebo effect.
This is an historical example of the co-existence of faith-based and science-based medicine brought to an end by men who rejected the belief in holy relics. The same conflicts can be found in aspects of modern western medicine and in developing countries where traditional practices run alongside modern drug-based methods.
Rick can be contacted by e-mail on email@example.com
We are delighted to share the latest post in this series which has been written by Gemma Almond, PhD student in the College of Art and Humanities at Swansea University.
She can be emailed firstname.lastname@example.org and she tweets at @
I was lucky to have the opportunity to speak at the first Postgraduate Enabling Workshop for the Health, History, and Culture Research Group. As a first year PhD student (who only started in October!) I kept it simple and outlined the preliminary stages of my research. My project, ‘Correcting Vision in Nineteenth Century Britain’, incorporates a variety of historical contexts relevant to the research group: medicine, health, disability and culture. Swansea University is my academic institution but I am funded through a collaborative doctoral partnership and, therefore, I am also working with the Science Museum in London. Based on this collaboration, and the proposal I drew up last year, I am drawing upon the ophthalmological collections housed in the Museum’s off-store site at Blythe house. I hope to explore what these collections reveal about nineteenth century perceptions of, and approaches to, eyesight correction.
For the study of vision, its correction, and eyewear, the nineteenth century is a diverse and exciting period of change. Firstly, the professionalisation and specialisation of medicine took place and accelerated across the course of the century and, more specifically, ophthalmology and optometry slowly emerged as individual medical specialties. Within this context, there was a growing medical market-place, which had been established in the eighteenth century, and had led to an increased consumption of medical technologies. Secondly, vision and the eye were also prevalent within popular culture, and the eye was thought to be the ‘quintessential organ’. Yet alongside this there was a parallel growing sense of anxiety over the eye’s fallibility and a supposed deterioration of eyesight.
The collections cover a variety of objects from measuring and diagnostic instruments, such as ophthalmoscopes and optometers, to sight charts and spectacles. Yet to place the objects in their cultural and medical context I am drawing upon a wealth of textual sources, such as contemporary newspapers and periodicals, medical journals and specialist medical texts. Despite all the changes that were occurring in the nineteenth century, the study of spectacles and the correction of vision have not been extensively studied. Medical specialists as opposed to historians have often written previous accounts, and these tend to focus on the ‘big events’ and key figures. By using a diverse range of sources I hope to widen the scope and explore the cultural meanings of eyewear; the complications it could have for its users; the extent to which medical conditions corrected by spectacles were considered ‘disabilities’; and how eyewear was manufactured, distributed, and sold to its prospective customers.
Although I have only been conducting primary source research since the start of January, I discussed at the workshop the variety of topics that are already coming to light within the contemporary newspapers and periodicals that I have studied. From a more technical side, information on eyesight, refraction and how lenses were able to correct vision are found in the popular literature. More specifically, the abuse of vision is extensively proposed, and advice and preventative methods are offered in the form of articles, advice columns, and interviews with eminent medical professions. Equally, the roles that education and certain occupations could play in damaging vision were extensively discussed from the 1880s. Throughout all of these articles, the importance of vision is emphasised alongside the concern over the deterioration of eyesight and the requirement of better corrective methods. This is epitomised in the following quotation:
‘Efforts to improve the faculty of seeing must become matters of attentive consideration and practice, unless the deterioration is to continue and future generations are to grope about the world purblind’.
The Morning Post, September, 1884
Yet it is equally apparent that spectacles served another function in society as a symbol of status, wealth and fashion. Newspapers, periodicals and prints provided good outlets for criticisms over current fashions, for example:
‘Short sight is becoming very fashionable… it often impairs his visual capacity, unless, indeed, it be, as it not infrequently is, a mere piece of window pane. No; he wears it because he deems it becoming and effect, and we are glad this is so, for it would be too distressing to think that so many elegant young men suffer from weak eyes’.
The Blackburn Standard and Weekly Express, 15 June (1889)
Similarly, the caption for the picture below, ‘Living Made Easy’, states:
Revolving Hat… provides the wearer with an Eye-Glass, Cegar, Scent-Box, Spectacles, Hearing-Trumpet, &c. – all without the intolerable trouble of holding them’.
The image places spectacles among many other luxury items that contemporaries thought were extensively consumed by the upper classes. As items that had the ability to be symbolic and hold a wealth of social meaning, the contemporary newspapers and periodicals highlight the wider role that vision aids could have had in nineteenth century.
It was here that I proposed my dilemma to the audience: where do the objects fit in all of this? The history of spectacles and correcting vision is unusual because of the prevalence of objects. However, they have mainly been used to illustrate rather than add to historical analysis. The key challenge of this thesis will be how to incorporate the science museum’s collection and give them an integral role within my research, and how they can add to that research. Whilst I am still left to find answers to this question, I received invaluable feedback in the discussion that followed. Listening to the other speakers and being able to speak myself challenged the way I previously thought about my project. Although I have always thought of my research as interdisciplinary, in the sense that it covers a broad variety of historical contexts and topics, being able to speak at this first workshop really brought home the value of communicating and discussing ideas within an interdisciplinary audience.
In the first of a series of posts about personal views and experiences of researching health, history and culture, co-director Lesley Hulonce talks about her fascination with people’s histories.
As a historian I rather stumbled upon sources relating to health, disability and medicine. When I first began researching the histories of prostitution in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries I found one of the issues of contention was strategies to combat venereal disease. These policies usually blamed the women concerned and were often implemented without thought of their feelings and indeed sometimes human rights. Prostitutes were nearly always blamed for the spread of syphilis and other forms of VD. From the first appearance of syphilis in Europe in the Battle of Fornova in the 15th century, soldiers were warned to ‘beware of prostitutes’. Similarly, as the poster blow shows this was still the case during the Second World War.
It was however nineteenth century cultures of reform, repression and regulation of prostitution that really caught my imagination. The Contagious Diseases Acts of the 1860s and 1870s could compel women who had been identified as ‘common prostitutes’ (a legal category, still in force in 2010) and force them to undergo intimate internal examinations to determine whether they had syphilis, and admit them for treatment in a venereal ‘lock’ ward or hospital. Many reform homes for ‘fallen women’ were established across Britain in the nineteenth century. Cwmdonkin Shelter in Swansea was one home I have researched, and one of its locations was in Terrace Road which is a stone’s throw from where I now live.
The primary focus for my PhD was children and the Victorian poor laws, and again health and welfare featured in all chapters. I found that pauper children had regular access to medical care; in one institution it was recorded that the doctor called over 70 times in one year. Apart from illnesses such as measles and contagious skin and eye conditions, the children appeared remarkably healthy. Maybe this is because the poor law or workhouse diet, while tedious and probably badly cooked, ensured that the children had enough to eat and they did not have to compete with siblings or parents for food.
I was particularly interested how disabled children fared in the poor law system. In Wales many poor deaf children were paid for by the state to attend the Cambrian Institution for the Deaf and Dumb in Swansea. Similarly the Swansea and South Wales Institution for the Blind educated and cared for many blind children and adults. Children in workhouses and other poor law establishments were prescribed spectacles, sent to sanatoria to recover from long-term illnesses and also fitted with prostheses.
Children from the Swansea and South Wales Institution for the Blind
While all these institutions provide a framework for my research, my primary focus is the people themselves. The middle-class ladies who managed Cwmdonkin Shelter did so quietly, without fuss and recourse to melodrama (unlike many of the Gentlemen’s’ Committee). While at first I was wary of the power they had over the young ‘fallen girls’, the more I researched I became convinced that they genuinely cared for their charges
One woman who availed herself of the Shelter on several occasions particularly caught my imagination. Dorcas Carr (below) was a widow who had also been incarcerated in Swansea Gaol several times, had been sent to an Inebriate Homes for women with alcohol problems, and ended her life in the workhouse where she died in 1911.
Image from WGAS
At the moment I am writing a book based on my PhD research about pauper children. Someone tweeted a few months ago that most academic books about the history of children promise to find the ‘voices’ of the children themselves, but are six chapters examining social and government policies for children.
In the image above, are the cottage homes of Swansea Poor Law Union on the brow of the hill in the background. They are demolished now but this is a wonderful record of their structure and situation. But if you look carefully, under the bridge on the bottom right are two boys. Are these boys from the cottage homes or are they just passing local lads? I think they have been posed by the photographer as they would have had to keep still for some time because of the camera exposure. I have zoomed in on this photo many times and examined their expressions, their clothes and their shoes, and made up stories about who they could be.
I intend to write about the children themselves, their experiences, their families and their future prospects. Children like Beatrice Isaacs who was deaf and attended the Cambrian Institution, was educated, trained in dressmaking, and left the school to become a dressmaker with her sister in the early twentieth century. I am also fascinated by Beatrice’s younger sister who was employed in the very modern role of ‘typist’ in the 1911 census – I wish she had left a diary.
Diaries and working-class autobiographies are a major source to locate poor children lives. I am using many ranging from famous former child paupers, such as Charlie Chaplin’s and Henry Morton Stanley’s memoirs, to unknown writers such as Edward Balne’s wonderful autobiography about his poor law childhood from the Burnett Collection; Joseph Bell, whose story is in the Bedfordshire Archives & Records Service; and the wonderfully named Lucy Luck who features in Useful Toil by John Burnett.
There are many different sources to allow us to glimpse into the lives of these children. One of my favourites is this note (below) It is letter signed by boys from Swansea Poor Law Union’s cottage homes promising to be ‘Good Boys and do all we are told by the Master, to always be truthful and honest and never to run away again’.[ This slip of paper, while written by an adult, was signed by the three boys themselves – Willie Edmunds, Thomas Harris and David Harris. Although their signatures are very neat the various embellishments to their letters (especially Willie’s rendering of ‘W’) demonstrate the boys’ individuality and has made me cry several times.
Lesley Hulonce blogs at Workhouse Tales and tweets @LesleyHulonce
 Claude Quetel, History of Syphilis (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1990).
 Lesley Hulonce, ‘These Valuable Institutions’? Educating blind and deaf children in Victorian Swansea, Welsh History Review, 28:2 (2014), 310-37.
 Hulonce, ‘“A Social Frankenstein in our Midst”: Inciting Interpretations of Prostitution in Late Nineteenth-Century Swansea’, Llafur, The Journal of Welsh People’s History, vol. 9, no. 4 (2007), 47-60, and ‘Rescued Lives? ‘Fallen women’ and their ‘rescuers’ in Victorian Society’, Workhouse Tales
 Hulonce, ‘A Woman of No Importance? Dorcas Carr’, Workhouse Tales
 John Burnett, ed., Useful Toil: Autobiographies of Working People from the 1820s to the 1920s(London: Routledge,1994), 53-63.
 West Glamorgan Archive Service (WGAS), U/S 85, letter in Cockett Cottage Homes Visiting Committee Report, 5 April 1904.