Autobiographies of life and mind. Female writing in the
psychiatric institutions of early Nineteenth century
The analysis of autobiographies and other writings by women hospitalised in a lunatic asylum in Genoa between 1917 and 1929 offers a unique opportunity to obtain insights of their experience in the mental hospital as well as to outline the cultural and social circumstances that had determined their very hospitalisation. This type of source allows for the reconstruction of life experiences that, although centred on suffering, are not limited to it. The women’s autobiographical representation testifies to existing mechanisms of female exclusion and repression, especially as far as those belonging with the lower classes is concerned. The authors of these autobiographies are ordinary women, usually housekeepers and mothers, who are overwhelmed by conditions of indigence, social isolation, and violence, both public and private. While their autobiographical production is contemplated and permitted as part of their therapy, it nonetheless represents for these women an opportunity to escape the threat of alteration of their personal identity within the mental hospital and re-establish a form of contact with life itself.