This extraordinary novel tells a dramatic and compelling story
of three people caught up in the turmoil of the late eighteenth
century, their lives inexorably intertwined in a time of war
plots and paranoia sweep across England in the aftermath of
the French Revolution, landing
tea broker James
Tilly Matthews in Bethlem Hospital, a notorious, crumbling home
for the insane. Although he is clearly delusional, Matthews appears
to be incarcerated for unspecified political reasons. His beloved
wife, Margaret, spends years trying to free her often lucid husband,
only to be blocked at every turn by her chief adversary, John
Haslam, Bethlem's apothecary and chief administrator. The
ambitious Haslam finds himself trapped between his conscience
and a desire to further his career by studying his famous patient.
an indelible portrait of London, a city teetering between darkness
and light, struggling to
make its way to a more
just and humane future. In its darkest corners, where noblemen,
pickpockets, royalists and republicans jostle for power, where
corruption is all in a day's work, Hollingshead finds humanity,
truth, decency and forgiveness.
with wit and intellectual daring, written in a beautiful prose
that is resonant with time and place, Bedlam sweeps the
reader into a strange yet somehow recognizable world that often
echoes our own. From the enduring love of Matthews and his wife,
to the despair of the Bethlem inmates, to the moral agonies of
John Haslam, Hollingshead's eye for rendering the human
condition has never been finer. This is a flawless novel in which
imagination bridges the chasm between love and hate, between
loss and reconciliation.
PRAISE FOR BEDLAM
"Bedlam is a tough, textured book, vibrant
and complex and compelling. . . . Greg Hollingshead creates a remarkably
detailed picture of the social and political worlds of the 18 th
century that raises intensely important questions about our own."
"An imaginative tour de force. Bedlam has the slippery lucidity of its subject: knowing madness in a world gone mad."
"Bedlam is stylishly written, full of
dazzling epigrammatic insights into authority, tyranny, jealousy, love
and other knotty aspects of human nature."
--The Globe and Mail
"An exquisitely rendered tour of
melancholy and raving madness tempered with profound love and hope. . . .
Not since Jean Rhys's novel Wide Sargasso Sea . . . has the
sordid depravity and mercurial beauty of the unhinged mind been
illuminated. . . . Hollingshead's style is strangely compelling. It's
harsh, intimate and wise and filled with poetic flashes and sublime
-- Ottawa Citizen
"Hollingshead has long used empathy, wit and
lucid prose to nail contemporary manners. Now he has applied those same
qualities to a very different epoch, and, as a good historical novel
should, Bedlam shows how some things may not have changed as much as we think."
--The Gazette ( Montreal)
"[Hollingshead] has brilliantly brought to life
the atmosphere, ideas and language of late-18 th- and early 19
th-century England. . . . With a pair of rich characters (and Matthews'
wife is no small achievement, either), a vivid setting and a nuanced,
thought-provoking set of ideas, Bedlam ought to attract considerable attention this year in Canada and internationally."
-- Winnipeg Free Press
"Hollingshead's use of three narrators to tell the same story gives Bedlam a multifaceted depth and complexity few contemporary Canadian novels achieve."
-- Calgary Herald
"[Hollingshead] handles his first-rate material with verve and sensitivity."
"A rich, complex and often disturbing novel about an extraordinary man."
--The Hamilton Spectator
"Delivers shocking jolts of truth about the immutable dilemmas of the human condition."
-- Edmonton Journal
--The Chronicle Herald ( Halifax)
"An important and compassionate contribution to the literature of madness."
--The Vancouver Sun
Bedlam is a novel based on the true story of James Tilly Matthews,
an inmate of Bethlem Hospital at Moorfields in London during
the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Although delusional,
Matthews is in for political reasons, and his wife Margaret spends
ten years trying to get him out. Her primary opponent, the author
of an eloquent description of his condition (the first extended
account of a paranoid system in English), is the author and apothecary
John Haslam, a man compromised by defending an imprisonment he
has been given no reason for, of a patient who he knows would
be better off released. Bedlam is told in the voices of these
The British social historian Roy Porter has told this story
most thoroughly in his 1988 edition of Haslam's book concerning
Matthews, Illustrations of Madness (1810). While exercising some
fictional licence, I am doing my best to be faithful to the characters,
their voices, their experiences, and the times.
PRAISE FOR GREG HOLLINGSHEAD
" Wit, imagination, intensity abound . . . an elegant sensibility."
- The Globe
understands some of the most intricate manoeuvres of the human
. . a writer who deserves to be considered in the front ranks
of contemporary fiction writers."
is) immediately striking about Hollingshead is the gravity
of his voice, which is authorial and strong
in its comic mode."
imagination that moves equally freely in the realms of the
bizarre and the everyday."
- Times Literary Supplement
an electricity in the writing . . . it's
honest and organic in its discovery of characters, human tendencies,
the natural – that all speaks of his gifts as a storyteller."
- Quill & Quire
"[W]it, intelligence, provocation, a refined
focus on the rhythms and nuances of language, meticulous research and
big ideas worthy of attention."
--idea&s [Faculty of Arts and Science, University of Toronto]
"Hollingshead narrates the story of paradoxically ordinary characters practising affective individualism in a surreal setting."
--History of Psychiatry
"It is . . . very much worth entering into this
world, not only because of the novel's wonderful climax, but because of
what Bedlam achieves in general by experimenting with the grandeur and
the intimacy of eighteenth-century prose as well as with the themes of
reality and illusion."
"[S]uperbly disturbing . . a decidedly intellectual yet profoundly moving examination of both mental and political lunacy . . ."
--The Boston Globe
"[G]orgeous . . . heartfelt writing and smart research . . . carefully unearthing and framing a long-lost time."
--New York Times Book Review