Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts

Jo Walton

Olivia Bailey 

A History of the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum

The Resilience of Jo Walton’s Protagonists in Isolation

Criminal lunatics have always been outcasts in society. Not only are they certifiably insane but they have done an action so dangerously obstructive that they earned themselves the title of criminal. The Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum opened in 1863 to house the criminally insane in a more humane, dignified way. Broadmoor was unlike any other asylum of the Victorian Era as they treated their patients with great care and respect, treatment most criminals and lunatics in Great Britain were unaccustomed to. The creation of the Broadmoor Asylum was a result of the Criminal Lunatics Act. Passed in 1800, this Act made a defendant's mental state part of the decision making process regarding punishment, prison location, and term length. The Criminal Lunatics Act also allowed defendants the ability to plead “not guilty” on grounds of insanity. Even though it was a highly feared institution, Broadmoor housed these outcasts with as much kindness and comfort as they could offer.

Much like the criminal lunatics, Jo Walton’s protagonists are made to feel worthless in isolation. In all of Walton’s books, the people that surround the central characters cause them to question their identities, as well as their own perception of reality. These protagonists lack the healthy connections everyone should have. Even in their most intimate relationships they are abused, leaving them with no one to trust. In the case of Patricia, of My Real Children, she is an older senile woman left alone in a nursing home, unable to remember which one of the lives she remembers living is actually real. In one memory of her life, Patricia is an oppressed housewife who is not allowed to have her own opinions, and in another, she finds love, but cannot be with her partner because same-sex relationships are forbidden. In this end, though Patricia is not left with any clear resolution, she demonstrates her resilience in the face of this confusing isolation. The loneliness in Walton’s books show the need for connection and what impacts it can have on a person's life.

Major Works Consulted:

Murray, Kevin, and Mark Stevens.“Broadmoor Hospital: Inside a Victorian ‘Lunatic Asylum.’” BBC. Last Modified February 28, 2014. Accessed January 24, 2017 . com/news/magazine-26335033.
Stevens, Mark. Broadmoor Revealed. South Yorkshire, Great Britain: Pen and Sword Books, 2013.
Walton, Jo. Ha’Penny. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 2007.
---. My Real Children. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 2014.
Photo Credit: "Jo Walton." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 14 June 2014. Web. 01 Mar. 2017.