Photo is from the United Methodist Hymnal (1989); the first hymn in the book, Charles Wesley's "O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing"
If you’ve read any of the Saint Maggie books, you’ve probably come upon the characters singing a hymn. A hymn is, according to dictionary.com, “a song or ode in praise or honor of God, a deity, a nation, etc.”
All four of the full-length Maggie novels have hymns that people would have sung in the 1860s. I even used an 1857 Methodist hymnal, so readers encounter lyrics from the 18th or early-mid 19th century.
People in the nineteenth century sang. It was a form of entertainment and it was communal. Today, we don’t do much communal singing. A couple of exceptions come to mind: worship services, rock concerts, and the National Anthem at sporting events. For the most part, though, twenty-first century folks seem to be under the impression that they need to sing like professionals. I’m here to tell you, “No, you don’t need to sing like a professional.” If you like music, and want to sing, then sing! It’s good for the soul and mostly likely good for your health, too.
I am pretty sure that Maggie and family would have sung hymns at church, a camp meeting, or around the piano at home. They would have sung them accompanied by organ (pumped by foot), or piano, or they would have sung without accompaniment.
In terms of hymnody, the things they would have sung was chiefly determined by their denomination. As far as Maggie, Emily, and the boarding house family are concerned that denomination is Methodism. The exceptions are Grandpa O’Reilly who is Roman Catholic, and Eli who was raised in the Society of Friends.
And now, some things you should know the people called Methodist:
1. I am a United Methodist (okay, we’re not so united these days, but we still hold out hope).
2. Historically, we Methodist-types have been known for our love of singing. Garrison Keillor even gently poked fun at us in a short essay. He wrote:
…nobody sings like them. If you were to ask an audience in New York City, a relatively Methodist-less place, to sing along on the chorus of "Michael Row the Boat Ashore," they will look daggers at you as if you had asked them to strip to their underwear. But if you do this among Methodists, they'd smile and row that boat ashore and up on the beach! And down the road!
Many Methodists are bred from childhood to sing in four-part harmony, a talent that comes from sitting on the lap of someone singing alto or tenor or bass and hearing the harmonic intervals by putting your little head against that person's rib cage.
Click to read the whole essay. .
3. The Methodists’ chief hymn writer is a guy called Charles Wesley (1707-1788). Charles was the younger brother of John Wesley, who is the founder of Methodism. The name “Methodist” was originally a pejorative laid on a group John, Charles, and other Oxford University students had created. You see, they did things rather “methodically:” they fasted, visited the imprisoned, helped the poor, studied the Bible together, etc. Hence, the nickname. Other names designed to insult the group included, “Bible Moths” and “the Holy Club.” Anyway, Charles Wesley was rumored to have written an astounding 6500 hymns. Now, there is no way that many hymns would make it into a hymn books, and even if they could, you wouldn’t be able to lift it. However, if you ever happen to open a Methodist hymnal, you’ll see that we did retain quite a few. It’s only natural that some pop up in the Saint Maggie series.
Tomorrow, I’ll post links to some of the hymns on Youtube and discuss where they appear in the series and why they are there.
New York State Asylum for the Insane, Utica, from http://nysasylum.com/utica/images/7655.jpg
Having learned what diagnoses might lead to committal to an insane asylum in the nineteenth century, I set about creating and populating the hospital in SEEING THE ELEPHANT.
Dr. Stanley is a humane man who has embraced the Moral Treatment Method, which was designed by Dr. Aramiah Brigham, the first superintendent of the New York State Asylum for the Insane in Utica.
You may find Brigham’s detailed plan in an article he wrote and published in “The Journal of Insanity.
According to the current-day introduction to the above article: “Brigham presents asylum life in domestic terms; the asylum becomes an ideal middle-class home in which people are nurtured back to mental health and where coercion, if not eliminated, is minimized. Note the unusual role played here by at least some of the attendants. He envisioned them as fulfilling a task that would later be done by psychotherapists. Brigham emphasized “rational” amusements as part of treatment.”
At the beginning of his article Brigham provided a brief outlined the moral treatment method:
The removal of the insane from home and former associations, with respectful and kind treatment under all circumstances, and in most cases manual labor, attendance on religious worship on Sunday, the establishment of regular habits and of self-control, diversion of the mind from morbid trains of thought, are now generally considered as essential in the Moral Treatment of the Insane.
(A source where you may find Brigham’s article is cited at the end of this post.)
The Western New Jersey Hospital for the Insane, therefore, would have rooms to accommodate activities such as plays, lectures and dramatic readings, a newspaper or magazine print shop, and rooms for art and other activities. It also would have a farm that would produce food for the hospital, but the farm and flower gardens also would provide prescribed manual labor therapy for patients.
Early on in SEEING THE ELEPHANT Eli and Frankie, with Rev. George Lowry, visit the hospital. Here is what they see upon arriving
There was no sign of human habitation until the trees abruptly parted to reveal a wide lawn punctuated by trees, shrubbery, and gardens.
“This must be beautiful when spring comes,” Frankie breathed.
“It is,” George assured them, “People from all over come here to picnic.”
“Picnicking outside a madhouse,” Eli mused. “What a notion! And I thought picnicking in rural cemeteries was macabre.”
At the far end of the lawn lay an imposing building constructed of gray stone and mortar. The eye was immediately drawn to its three-story central section. Its portico was guarded by graceful Grecian columns and a roof. The message in the architecture was clear: visitors, doctors, attendants, and inmates alike were entering a place of importance, a place of healing, perhaps even a place of holiness. To either side of the main building were wings, also three stories in height.
Impressed, Eli let loose with a whistle.
“That center section contains the doctor’s office, a print shop, an auditorium, an art studio, six dining rooms, and several lecture rooms,” George was saying. He pointed to the wings. “Those are where the patients are housed. The wing on the left is for the men, the one on the right for women.”
The hospital in the novel has three main wards: convalescent, for those who are getting well enough to return home; general for those who need prolonged treatment; and violent for patients who cannot mingle safely with others and are kept in cells.
I then had to people the hospital with patients. It’s not a very big institution, but Dr. Stanley has plans to expand as experience, time, and money permits. Using the lists of diagnoses found during research, I assigned one to each hospitalized character, whether we got to know them well or not. The reason for this was I needed to know what people were “in for” to understand what the emotional balance in the hospital would be like as I designed the plot. The patients’ list of reasons for admittance is listed below, followed by any background I had developed.
Convalescent Ward (female)
“Excessive Fear” (husband is a captain in the Army)
“The War” (t has a beau in the cavalry)
“Grief (three sons died in the war)
“Politics” (husband admitted woman for having political opinions)
General Ward (female)
“Religious Excitement” (had too much interest in religion)
“Seduction and Disappointment” (tried to run off, was intercepted, and returned home)
“Desertion by Husband”
Violent Ward (female)
“Hereditary Periodical Fits” (also seems disconnected with reality)
Convalescent Ward (male)
“Exposure” (fought in the war, panic attacks)
“Melancholy” (fought in the war)
“Intemperance” (“That means I was a drunk. Got myself corned on a regular basis…”)
General Ward (male)
“Indigent and Aged” (old and no one wanted him)
“Gunshot Wound and Grief” (fought in the war)
“Soldier’s Heart” (fought in the war)
Violent Ward (male)
“Murder, Assault, Outbursts”
We get to know the people in the Convalescent Wards best, since Frankie works as an attendant in the women’s Convalescent Ward and Eli is living in a cottage on the grounds as he researches he hospital for an article… and secretly receiving treatment for his nightmares and panic attacks. We do get to see some of the other patients toward the end of the novel when, to put it bluntly, all hell breaks loose.
Hope you enjoyed our little journey into the world of “madness,” hospitals, and SEEING THE ELEPHANT.
July, A.B. (1847, March). The moral treatment of the insane. American Journal of Insanity. Retrieved [3 September 2015] from http://www.socialwelfarehistory.com/?p=10442.
Image is a drawing of the Western New Jersey Hospital for the Insane, as imagined by artist Diane Stafford (my awesome and talented younger sister).
Are we all thanking our lucky stars that we weren’t born in the 1800s? Let’s face it, we all know that under yesterday's post's criteria, most of us might have been considered insane!
Today, we’re going to tackle how understandings and misappropriation of an “insanity” diagnosis finds its way into SEEING THE ELEPHANT.
Let’s look at the character of Anabel Van Curan. Anabel arrives as a patient at the fictional Western New Jersey Hospital for the Insane. Her diagnosis? “Politics,” which means she has violated the cult of True Womanhood. In the excerpt below, Anabel and Frankie exchange ideas that might strike you as restrictive and a little sad. I have included some of Frankie’s musings about Anabel’s situation, so readers might feel a bit more comfortable.
The truth is women really were expected to adhere to a code of social behavior that was much more restrictive than the one we experience today. You might say, “What code? Women have rights nowadays!” My answer to that is: “Not completely.” We’re still arguing about what constitutes proper dress, about whether a woman “asked” to be raped. about abortion and birth control, about adequate child care, about glass ceilings and equal opportunity, about inappropriate advances by males – and good golly Miss Molly, we still don’t get equal pay.
So, my cool, latte-sipping, cell-phone obsessed twenty-first-century denizens, please don’t be smug. Women still do not have equality with men. And the rights that have been won must be jealously
guarded, or we just may find that they are being taken away.
I know I might come off as a raving feminist but cut me a break. I was born in the 1950s and came of age in the late 1960s. I remember being told “girls don’t do that,” being given a toy nurse’s kit instead of the toy doctor’s kit I had asked for, and on one occasion in the mid-1970s, while I was working as a secretary at a temp agency, being told by its owner that he didn’t like hiring women who had boyfriends, because they would “just get married and have babies and quit.” So, don’t judge me. Learn history instead. (Wow, am I cheeky today!)
In this excerpt, look for the reason Anabel has been admitted, her real problem, and what she is advised to do about it. How is she being encouraged to adhere to the Cult of True Womanhood? Doe the doctor’s encouragement have an impact on Frankie? If so, what?
Anabel Van Curen was waiting outside. The twenty-six-year-old married woman had been admitted to the hospital by her husband for “politics.” There was a story behind the word. Mrs. Van Curen, who supported the Republican Party, had openly argued with her husband, who reputedly was a Democrat and a Copperhead. As a result, declared her incompetent and had her committed.
“I am sorry to disturb you so late,” Mrs. Van Curen said. “However, I am finding it difficult to sleep and was wondering if you would be available to talk and perhaps take a cup of tea.”
Frankie smiled. “Of course. I’ll fetch my dressing gown.”
A few moments later, the two women were in in the hospital’s large kitchen. Frankie stirred the ashes in the stove, fed it some wood and then went to the sink to pump water into the kettle. “What is it you wish to discuss?”
Anabel looked down at her hands as they sat folded on the kitchen table. “I expect to be released in a few weeks, Miss Blaine.”
“I know.” Frankie set the kettle on the stove. Turning to the cupboard, she fetched the teapot and two teacups with saucers. “Does it concern you?”
“Yes, I fear it does a bit.”
“Tell me about it.” Frankie set the chinaware on the table.
Anabel watched the attendant return to the counter and start spooning loose tea into the pot. “I fear my husband.”
Frowning in concern, Frankie turned.
“It is not what you think. He has never laid a hand on me. But I fear he will say something against Mr. Lincoln or against our nation’s policies that will cause me to say something in return.”
“Must you be silent about all things political?”
Anabel nodded. “He will brook no disagreement. He says women do not understand such things. I have no option but to remain silent, especially since he sent me here to be ‘cured’ of it.”
Frankie sincerely hoped that when she married Patrick he would be of a different opinion. She was apt to vocalize about all things political, particularly female suffrage. “What does he do when you speak your mind?”
The kettle began to boil.
“He tells me my views are of no consequence and becomes quite cold toward me.”
Frankie went to the big cast iron stove and poured hot water from the kettle into the teapot. It annoyed her that Anabel needed to stifle her opinions while Mr. Van Curen was free to speak his. She wondered why women were not supposed to have attitudes about politics, but said, “Well, how might you more positively channel your feelings when your husband says such things?”
“Dr. Stanley says I am to think of other things. Pleasant thoughts, like the way the trees look in spring and the smell of roses in summer.”
“Perhaps we should practice that.” Frankie thought Anabel should pack up and leave her husband, even though it was seldom done. She wondered why women were forced to suffer silently with men who possessed all manner of strange attitudes and behaviors – even violent ones.
There is more to check out from the book, which I think would make a final installment regarding women and insanity in SEEING THE ELEPHANT. I mean, you haven’t met some of the other characters yet. But I can't show you ore than the tip of the…elephant. After all, "spoilers, Sweetie," to quote River Song from Doctor Who.