Order and disorder in couples in the insane asylum

Regulating family ties
Internment and the regulation of marital ties (France, second half of the 19th century)
By Anatole Le Bras

This paper examines how the internment of the mentally ill contributed to the regulation of marital relationships in France in the second half of the 19th century. It focuses on interment in an asylum as an instrument for resolving marital dysfunction—a strategy that spouses learned to use against each other. The second section shows how the stay in an institution reshaped a couple’s relationship: the asylum doctors endeavoured to keep the spouses at a distance and the guardianship exercised by the institution partly suspended marital authority. Finally, the third section examines the influence of marital ties on the process of discharge, which was often conditional on the spouse’s agreement, particularly when the wife was interned. In the end, internment cannot be viewed simply as an instrument for reaffirming the marital and patriarchal order; it was also a moment of disruption or suspension—albeit partial and temporary—of the marital order.

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