‘The Cruel Madness of Love’

Sex, Syphilis and Psychiatry in Scotland, 1880-1930


Against a backdrop of contemporary social and sexual concerns, and potent fears surrounding the moral and physical ‘degeneration’ of late nineteenth and early twentieth-century society, ‘The Cruel Madness of Love’ explores a critical period in the developing relationship between syphilis and insanity.
General paralysis of the insane (GPI), the most commonly diagnosed of the neurosyphilitic disorders, has been devastating both in terms of its severity and incidence. Using the rich laboratory and asylum records of lowland Scotland as a case study, Gayle Davis examines the evolution of GPI as a disease category from a variety of perspectives: social, medical, and pathological.
Through exploring case notes and the impact of new diagnostic techniques and therapies, such as the Wassermann Test and Malarial Therapy, the reader gains a unique insight into both patients and practitioners. Significant insights are gained into the socio–sexual background and medical experience of patients, as well as the clinical ideas and judgmental behaviour of the practitioners confronting this disease.
‘The Cruel Madness of Love’ will be of interest to anyone wishing to explore the historical relationship between sexuality, morality and disease.

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Gayle Davis is a Wellcome Trust University Award Holder at the University of Edinburgh. She has published on various aspects of the social history of medicine and sexuality in twentieth-century Britain, and is undertaking a Wellcome-funded research project on the history of infertility in Scotland. She is reviews editor for History of Psychiatry.
"Davis examines the diagnosis and treatment of GPI at four Scottish asylums between 1880 and 1930… she gives a more complete history than those that only rely on formal reports… Davis also stresses the human side of GPI… of interest to students of medical and social history."
– in: SciTech Book News, March 2009

'This is a fascinating work on a form of mental impairment that prevailed in Scottish asylums until the advent of penicillin. Davis has many examples of individual cases which manifested themselves in a variety of ways. These have enabled her to uncover a picture of greater ambiguity than presented by the sanitised printed reports aimed to convey unremitting progress to a public audience."
– in: Journal of Scottish Historical Studies 29/2 (2009), 145–7

"It is not often that a book is as interesting as its title suggests, but Gayle Davis’s first monograph is a fine example… a thoroughly researched, engaging, thoughtful and ultimately important work of scholarship."
– in: Medical History 54/1 (Januari 2010)

"Davis’s analysis of the case notes also sheds new light on the changes in clinical diagnosis of GPI, the influence of the introduction of laboratory procedures such as the Wasserman test, and a number of other topics… The book is a valuable contribution to both the literature of the history of psychiatry and the history of syphilis."
– in: Social History of Medicine (2010)

"This is a meticulously researched and illuminating study… It will be of interest to anyone wishing to know more about the historical relations among disease, morality, and sexuality."
– in: Bulletin of the History of Medicine 84/2 (2010), 303–304
List of Figures
List of Tables
List of Images

1 Introduction
2 Scottish Institutional Provision for the Insane
3 Clinical Diagnosis
4 The Impact of the Laboratory
5 Treatment
6 Aetiology and Social Epidemiology
7 Conclusions

Sources and Select Bibliography
‘The Cruel Madness of Love’ will be of interest to anyone wishing to explore the historical relationship between sexuality, morality and disease.
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