The “Mad Victorian ladies” are portraits of women who do not adapt to the social norms of their time. Deranged souls, treated by others as if they were the crazy ones, instead of society.
I was inspired by photos of my ancestors in my grandparents’ guest room in Sweden. Those serious, stiff and uncomfortable black and white people were a bit scary. As a child, I spent time pondering about their lives.
When I read about the life of women in Europe during the 19th century, in the book Ahora, feminismo, by the philosopher Amelia Valcárcel, I was shocked. Especially with the fact that a mother could have her children given up for adoption against her will if her husband so decided. This in itself is a level of cruelly that is difficult to digest. But, if we also take into account that women were educated exclusively to be mothers and wives, the sadism of the norm is particularly ruthless.
Women were banned from studying and labelled ignorant, banned from having a career and seen as passive, defined as sex but punished if they wished to enjoy it as they pleased, locked up in psychiatric hospices for being rebellious, or for suffering from depression or epilepsy.
If you can’t study, or work on your own, you don’t own your money or your life, you are forced to get married and have children to survive, and on top of that, your children can be taken away against your will, the strange thing is not to go mad, but to stay sane.
Blog: Better mad than in bad company