Melting snow mixed with her tears as Thomas said his last words to Anne. “My dear, you are in the best possible hands. For as long as you live, my bank will send money for your maintenance. You will be well cared for. The Aston Asylum is one of the finest and most progressive in all of Britain. Dr. Aston is both a doctor of divinity and a physician, a noted alienist who assures me you will have the best treatments known to medical science. Good bye, now. Most probably we will never see each other again, but rest assured that I will always have a place for you in my heart.” With that, the door closed, and Matron led Anne toward the women’s wing.
Anne was the only child of The Reverend Evan Jones and his wife. As a non-conformist, not Church of England, and a displaced Welshman, pastor to a small flock in the north of England, Rev. Jones never had much money, but his family never lacked for the necessities nor felt a need for luxuries. Anne was an intelligent and attractive child, with lively eyes and auburn hair, but she had a speech impediment, a stammer, which exposed her to ridicule. Her parents schooled her at home and discouraged her playing with others. When she was eighteen, she began her monthly periods, as was common in those days, when girls matured more slowly. Her parents arranged a marriage to a lawyer, Thomas Marlow, Esq., an ambitious solicitor in Newcastle. They were married in her father’s church, and, as Thomas took Anne to Newcastle, the Rev. Jones and his wife departed England to bring the Gospel to the heathens of Africa.
The wedding night: Thomas, overcome by lust for her pale, delicate body, ravished the virgin Anne without those gentle preliminaries which might have prepared her for conjugal coupling. In the morning, she communicated to him how painful and distasteful the experience had been, on her part. Her husband’s reaction was to declare that he would never again visit her bed, or even her bedroom. She was forbidden to leave the house or to entertain friends in the house. He rarely spoke to her, but she became aware that he was slaking his lust with women in the city and even, on occasion, with one of the servant girls in Anne’s own house. She knew not what to say about that, so she said nothing.
Over the course of several months, Anne grew more quiet and more melancholy. She lost weight, and her menses stopped. It was almost as if she were regressing, going back into her childhood as a recluse. Thomas and Anne’s mother-in-law, along with the family doctor, as required by law since 1774, testified before a justice of the peace, who then issued an order of commitment. Anne was legally judged to be hysterically insane by a man she had never seen.
The Aston Asylum for the Insane was a big brick building in the Regency style, out of place and isolated in the Yorkshire dales. Apart from the outbuildings and gardens of the asylum, the only sign of human habitation that Anne could see was the distant ruins of a castle which had once belonged to Richard III. Snow covered the ground and swirled around the building, as the wind moaned in the fireless chimneys. Matron, an older women in charge of the female patients and staff, led Anne to a small room, a cell, lit only by the gray light which filtered through a high, narrow window. Anne hugged herself against the chill and waited. She was aware of other inmates, though she could not see them. They were locked in their cells. Most were silent. One sang a bawdy song. Anne did not even understand some of the words. There was an undercurrent of moaning, and an occasional scream or shriek. Anne realized that, for practical purposes, she was no longer Thomas Marlow’s wife. Few would know that he had even been married; fewer would remember Anne, and perhaps no one would know that she was still alive. Thomas might even remarry. She had no one, no friend, no husband, no contact with her parents, who might well be dead by now, murdered by savages in the jungles of Africa. Why had God made her, if her life had no meaning?
At last the bolt shot back and Matron entered, carrying a candle and followed by two men. The elder, with white hair, dressed in black clerical garb, introduced himself. “I am Doctor Aston, and I am here to help you, Mrs. Marlow.” He gestured at the younger man, also clad in black, but without the clerical collar, a handsome fellow only a few years older than Anne. “This is Doctor Wilson, my assistant. First, we must examine you. Tomorrow, we can begin with the standard treatments for your mental illness. Very often, we are successful in effecting a cure, and the patient can return home, so I do hope you will cheerfully cooperate with your treatment.”
Matron took Anne’s wrap and then began to unbutton the back of her dress. Anne simply stood there, until Matron began to pull the long sleeves over Anne’s hands, causing the bodice to fall away. “N-n-n-n”, Anne stammered, trying to protest, but Matron continued to undress her, removing her dress and folding it, then removing the blouse and underskirts, until she was down to Anne’s whalebone-stayed corsets, which confined Anne’s waist and accentuated her hips. The doctors looked on approvingly. Matron’s busy fingers made quick work of the laces, and the stiff garment fell away, leaving Anne standing there in only her thin muslin shift and her shoes.
“Off with the shoes.” said Matron. Anne bent awkwardly to remove her shoes, acutely conscious of her near nudity. “Now the shift. Come on!” Reluctantly, Anne lifted her last garment over her head, exposing her private cleft to the sight of the men, and then exposing her girlish breasts. The chill of the room gave her gooseflesh and made her nipples stand out. She tried to cover herself with her hands, but Matron seized Anne’s arms and easily held them behind her, elbows nearly touching, leaving Anne totally exposed.
Tears glistened on Anne’s cheeks as she tried to protest. “P-ppplease! I-I-I n-n-n-”
Dr. Aston took one of Anne’s wrists and felt her pulse. “Now, young woman, you must cooperate with your physicians. Have you never had a medical examination before”
Dr. Wilson took her other wrist and felt for the pulse, while Dr. Aston placed a rolled up paper above Anne’s bosom and said, “Breathe deeply.” With his ear to the paper tube he listened to her chest, and then her back. “All clear.” he said, “She seems to be physically healthy.” When they released her, Anne again tried to cover herself with her hands and stood there, shivering in the cold. Matron handed her a gray wool garment, cut like a chemise, to cover Anne’s’ nakedness, and Dr. Aston remarked, “Yes, she’s a bit thin, but I see no reason why we can’t begin treatment tomorrow.”
Then he turned to Dr. Wilson and spoke in Latin. “Mental illness.” he said, “has two components, one physical, one moral. First, we treat the physical ailments. Her previous doctor diagnosed chronic melancholia, a hysterical malady common in women. Her bodily humours are out of harmony. Matron will see to that, with purges and clysters. I’ll tell Matron to try to fatten her up a bit, and see that she gets plenty of exercise. The moral component is more difficult to reach, but there are many well known treatments, to focus her mental processes on that which is good. The standard treatments, whippings, cold water baths, blistering poultices, and physical confinement, the same treatments used on our late king, during his madness, tend to focus the attention of the patient on the present, pushing into the background memories of earlier experiences which, perhaps, precipitated the madness. We have here some new instruments of treatment, invented in America by a Doctor Rush. The objective is to so disorient the patient that he or she takes on the temperament of a cow or sheep, contentedly living in the present, with little concern for the past or anxiety for the future. In this patient’s case, we will hope to see a time when the illness which prevents her speech is cured, and she can progress to normal human verbal intercourse, which is, of course, one of activities which distinguishes the human from the beast. ”
Noting the expression on Anne’s face, Dr. Aston resumed speaking English. “Do not fear, Mrs. Marlow. You may have heard of the horrors of the Bedlam madhouse, but you have nothing to fear of that sort here. We do not use branding irons to drive out demons. This is the Nineteenth Century. We do not believe in witches and demons. Patients such as yourself are not possessed. They are ill, and in many cases they can be cured.”
The doctors departed, and Matron followed with the candle and Anne’s clothes, bolting the door, leaving Anne alone in her cell, which was furnished with only a bed and a chamber pot. The mattress was straw in a bag of ticking, and it was covered by smelly woolen blankets. There was no fire to warm the place, and the winter chill, the ice-cold bricks of her cell, made sleep very difficult.
When Anne did fall asleep, she had nightmares which, fortunately, she remembered very little of. One involved a man. Was it Thomas or Dr. Wilson…? Sticking his thing between her legs; she woke screaming. Morning was signified by an increase in the general level of noise and by a faint light through a slit-like window high on the wall, where she could see nothing but a tiny patch of sky. A panel at the bottom of the door slid open, and someone slid a tray through the opening, before it closed again. On the tray was a bowl of oatmeal, with a wooden spoon, a mug of tea, no sugar or milk, and some bread which had been fried in bacon fat. She ate and drank it all ravenously.
Too soon, the door opened, and two women, one no older than Anne, the other her mother’s age, ordered her out. Strangely, they were dressed like nuns and had crosses on chains around their necks. Anne had heard of “nursing sisters” but had never seen one, and this was a private asylum, wasn’t it? They half dragged Anne, still clutching her blanket, through corridors and up stairs to a room which had a “convenience chair” in the middle of the room, conventional enough, like a box with a back and arms on it, except that under the hole in the seat there was no chamber pot, only a drain in the floor. The “sisters” took her blanket and shift and sat the naked Anne on the chilly chair. They strapped her in; one strap under her breasts and around the back of the chair, straps for each arm, to the arms of the chair, and straps around her ankles to the legs of the chair. A servant girl brought a tray with several mugs on it, and the “nurses” forced Anne to drink. The first contained a hot, herbal tea, rather bitter. A second mug contained a vile tasting oil, which Anne could hardly drink without retching. The third was more tea. By this time, Anne felt bloated and had to struggle to comply with the orders to drink. They draped her blanket over her, for she was shivering, and left her alone.
Anne waited, wondering if she would ever be warm again and anxious at being naked under the blanket. Even on her wedding night, she had never been naked in the presence of other people, yet here they assumed she had no modesty at all. Time passed slowly; she had no way to know how much time. The bloated feeling in her stomach subsided, but it was replaced by painful cramps in her bowels. The sensations spread through her belly, the pain making her sweat, even in the freezing cold. A “sister”, one Anne hadn’t seen, came in and forced her to drink another mug of liquid. The sister stood, silently, and watched as Anne squirmed in her restraining straps and made faces as waves of pain reflected through her abdomen. Then, quite involuntarily, Anne’s little hole in back (no one had ever given her a polite name for it) opened and spewed smelly, mostly liquid matter from her bowels. Anne watched the sister, who was watching her, and felt so embarrassed. The sister waited until most of the splashing noises had subsided and then forced Anne to drink yet another mug of now-tepid brew.
This torment continued, Anne reckoned, all morning, for at one point she was given some bread and cheese to eat, a noon meal, she supposed. By that time, the pain had largely subsided; the gurgles and cramps and showers of bodily waste were only sporadic. Still, they kept her strapped on the commode, straining to expel the contents of her belly. Then Matron came in, followed by the two morning nurses who carried a bucket and a strange machine. The machine was a metal cylinder with a handle on one end and a conical extension on the other. Matron put the tapered end into the bucket and pulled on the handle, which sucked quarts of steaming liquid into the cylinder. Needing no orders, the nurses whipped the blanket off Anne and pivoted the chair forward, off the box, so Anne found herself staring at the floor, supported by the strap beneath her breasts. She struggled for breath as Matron pressed hot metal against Anne’s shitter hole and forced hot liquid into her bowels. Anne felt as if some wild animal was inside her, struggling to get out, stretching her tortured bowels.
“Hold it in!” ordered Matron, as she removed the metal device and the nurses lowered the seat, returning Anne to an upright position. “Hold it in as long as you can. Hold it.” Anne couldn’t. Quarts of almost scalding water jetted from her bottom into the drain in the floor. The nurses again tipped the chair, and Matron again injected quarts of seething fluid, and again the chair was returned to its upright position until Anne had emptied her bowels as best she could. Seven times they did that, until the bucket was empty and Anne felt exhausted. Matron took a greased ebony object and pushed it into Anne’s unresisting hole, where it stayed, preventing the normal closure. “We can’t have you leaking on the floor, Mrs. Marlow.” said Matron as she wiped her hands and went to the door. “Take her down for exercise.” she called over her shoulder as she left.
Barefoot on the freezing floor, with only her inadequate shift and blanket, Anne was taken to a subterranean room, lighted only by smoky lamps burning suet. There was a rotating mysterious machine, like the water wheel of a mill, except the buckets were replaced by bars, like the rungs of a ladder. Three naked women climbed the rungs of the giant wheel, turning it, sweating even in the cold of the basement room. A female staff member, not a nurse, judging from her garb, sat supervising with a whip in her hand! Stripped naked again, Anne was made to take the place of one of the women, who rested and caught her breath. Distracted by the nudity, tormented by the unfamiliar plug in her bottom, Anne worked hard to climb the rungs of the wheel, holding on to a horizontal bar. If she did not climb fast enough, if her arms extended too far or she let go of the bar, the supervisor would crack her whip in warning. The rungs hurt the arches of her feet (she had not yet learned to balance on the balls of her feet) and she panted for breath as sweat drenched her. She was ready to die, she thought, when it was her turn to rest. This torment continued for the balance of the afternoon until, aching all over from overworked muscles, Anne and the others were allowed to stop. The women put on their simple dresses, and Anne wrapped herself in her blanket, as the supervisor marched them back upstairs to their cells. “No talking.” she barked, cracking her whip, when Anne tried to ask a question.
Anne was huddled in her blanket on the bed in her cell when Matron appeared. “P-p-p-p-please.” said Anne, pointing to her bottom.
“The plug should stay in.” replied Matron. “You will have daily treatments until the toxins have been flushed from your body.”
The evening meal in her cell, was boiled potatoes in milk, with some dried apple slices for dessert. Later, Dr. Aston visited her. “Well, Mrs. Marlow, are you feeling better yet?”
“N-n-n-no.” replied Anne, shaking her head.
“No? Well, you soon will feel better, once the poisons have been purged from your body and you respond to the benefits of good diet and exercise. I’ll look in on you again tomorrow.”
Exhausted, Anne slept more soundly than before. The next day was exactly like the first, except that Anne’s bum hole had been stretched, and it was harder to hold in the scalding fluid that Matron injected, so the plug was used to contain the scalding liquid inside her until Matron judged it time to expel the contents of her rectum. Later, her muscles screamed in pain as she “exercised” on the treadmill wheel. The evening meal of potatoes and milk was supplemented with boiled cabbage and an ounce or so of boiled meat, mostly fat. Apparently the order to fatten her up was taken seriously, for she was allowed second portions when she asked for them.
For three more days she spewed her guts, though at least Matron removed the anal plug before Anne labored on the treadmill. Then it was Sunday, a day of rest. The women were issued proper dresses (but no corsets or hats or shoes) and taken to a chapel for Church of England services, conducted by Dr. Aston. Anne, of course, had never been confirmed in the Anglican Catholic Church, so she was unable to take communion, but it was a comfort for her to again experience the sense of community that comes from sharing a religious service with other people. There were, she estimated, about twenty women, ranging in age from perhaps sixteen to very old, fifty or sixty. Two were restrained by strait jackets, and some tended to look distracted and to talk to themselves, but it was, just the same, a Christian service.
Monday, after breakfast, she did not have to drink the purgative brews, and there were only three applications of the clyster, so it was still morning when, denied even her simple dress, she was led, wrapped in her blanket, outdoors, into a walled yard, some sort of forecourt for the stables. She saw the sun for the first time since her arrival, though the sun was a weak white spot in the overcast sky. She looked around and saw faces in the windows of both the mens and womens wings. The snow was cold on her bare feet, and the blanket was inadequate to keep her warm. They led her to a kind of marble table and, to her horror, took away her blanket. Anne wailed at her situation, naked, exposed to both the chill wind of winter and the gaze of strangers. Quickly, the nurses forced Anne to lie face down on the stone slab, and they strapped her ankles to one end and her wrists to the other. The cold stone, like a horizontal grave stone, pressed against her thighs, her belly, her breasts. She was helpless to raise off the freezing table as they stretched her as tautly, She might have been on a medieval rack. Her teeth chattered as the warmth drained from her body by the cold, smooth marble. Then, to accentuate the torment, the nurses drenched her with buckets of icy water.
Anne gritted her teeth and tried to bear the searing cold. She could not move, not even shiver, tied as tightly as she was, but her lips fluttered and her teeth chattered. Never had she been so cold. As the minutes passed, her mind became confused and her body numb. She knew that death by freezing was a real possibility, and she tried to pray, though no intelligible sound escaped her lips.
Just as she felt life slipping away, a new pain tormented her. In her befuddled mental state, she had not noticed when two men approached her, carrying bundles of birch twigs. Now, systematically, the two simultaneously whipped her back and buttocks and legs with the birches, as if flogging a criminal. The pain restored life to her frozen body, brought screams from her blue lips, until she could bear no more and fainted.
Anne awoke in a tub of hot water, her teeth still chattering, even as her skin turned red like a lobster. Dr. Aston and Dr. Wilson stood beside the tub, watching as she was brought back to life. At last the chill was gone and the heat became oppressive. Anne tried to raise herself from the tub, but Matron pressed her back down. “That’s all right, Matron. Let her get out. There is no need to prolong her discomfort. Dry her off with soft towels. My, the birching left some nasty welts…and give her back her dress and blanket. Give her an extra blanket, too, and let her recover in her cell until dinner.”
The following day, Anne was subjected to the American chair, which Dr. Aston and two nurses demonstrated for Dr. Wilson. First, Anne was strapped into a strait jacket, a kind of canvas coat with closed sleeves. First, the waist was constricted, like a corset, until Anne could hardly breathe. Then the arms of the coat were crossed beneath her breasts and fastened together behind her, so her arms were tightly hugging herself and were entirely immovable. They seated her in a chair which could pivot around a horizontal axis. They strapped her in, with belts around over her breast, around her waist, and across her lap. To test the bindings, they rotated the chair forward in a half circle, so Anne was upside down, and then tipped it backward in a complete circle, until Anne was once again upright. A wooden box was placed enclosing her head, so she could breathe but could not see her surroundings. She felt the chair, with her in it, lifted, and they attached it to a turntable which could rotate around a vertical axis, propelled by a crank and connecting rod to a tall lever.
Anne, of course, could not see what was happening to her, but Matron signaled to a nurse who leaned on the lever. As the lever moved forward, the chair rotated a half turn, and pulling back on the lever completed the turn. After a few turns, the lever moved smoothly back and forth, as if the nurse were churning butter, and the chair rotated smoothly at a constant rate. Anne, of course was conscious of spinning, but that was nothing terribly unfamiliar. As a child, she had enjoyed whirling on her toes until, dizzy, she collapsed on the floor laughing. This was similar, except that she could not stop when she wished.
The chair slowed, and Matron removed the box from her head. “See the nystagmus, the twitching of the eyes.”
“Yes, she must be very dizzy.”
The box was replaced, and the rotation resumed. However, when it had reached a steady speed, the chair was suddenly rotated around the horizontal axis, so Anne was facing downward. The result was instant mal de mer, intense nausea and retching, though Anne had nothing in her stomach to throw up. She made incoherent noises like an animal in a trap, but the multi-axis spinning continued until she was, almost, driven to a true insanity.
The chair was stopped and the box removed. “Mrs. Marlow, can you hear me?”
“Ullk! Awrgh! Ak.”
“Take her back to the women’s ward. Don’t leave her alone, lest she choke on her tongue.”
Back in the common room, the nurses were distracted by some sort of emergency, and Anne, still in the strait jacket and unable to stand, was left on the floor. Slowly, Anne regained her senses.
“Eh, it’s the new girl.”
“What’s yer name?”
“Ah, ah, ah…”
“Oi, she ain’t got a name!”
“Shame she can’t even stand. Let’s have some fun with her.” Someone kicked her hip. “Stand her up and let’s see wot she’s made of.”
“Let’s make ‘er ride the horse.”
“Yes, the horse.” They stood Anne on her feet and lifted her skirt, so as to examine her womanly parts. Someone brought out a blanket and rolled it into a thick rope. They passed the rope between her legs and raised the ends, until Anne’s weight was supported by the blanket and her feet left the floor. Three women held each end of the rope, and they started a sort of tug of war with it, pulling it up and down, back and forth, while two other women steadied the helpless Anne so she would not fall off “the horse”.
“N,n,n,n,noooo!” she protested, as the wooly blanket was forced upward, parting her labia and rubbing intensely on places Anne had never touched. N,n,n,nahhh.”
Laughing, the inmates continued, forcing the helpless Anne to ride the bucking “horse.” In time Anne’s protests stopped. Then she began to giggle. “At’s it. Keep it going.”
Anne’s giggles became louder and more continuous, until she was laughing and choking. “Oh, God!” she screamed. Instantly, the women dropped the blanket and scattered, trying to hide in their cells or elsewhere. Anne lay on the floor, her skirt around her waist, the rolled blanket still between her legs, her breasts heaving as the constricting strait jacket was making it difficult to breathe.
“Mrs. Marlow, are you all right?” asked the newly arrived Dr. Wilson. Anne could only gasp. “Is this woman having a fit?” he asked the cowering inmates, who obviously were afraid of punishment for simply having a bit of fun with Anne. No one wanted to speak. Dr. Wilson knelt beside Anne and deftly undid the buckles and ties which held her confined in the canvas jacket. As soon as she could, she scuttled away from him, pulling down her skirt and trying to cover her shamefully exposed genitals. “Mrs. Marlow, are you all right? I thought I heard you exclaim,’Oh God’.”
“Someone fetch Matron. I fear Mrs. Marlow has gone quite mad. I never did trust those Americans.”
Anne managed to sit up, and she looked at Dr. Wilson with new insight. “Dr. Wilson.” she said in Latin, “I am quite as sane as you are.”
“Did you just speak to me in Latin?”
“But you can’t even speak English.”
“I am a clergyman’s daughter.” she said in passable Latin, “and reasonably well educated.” she added in Greek. “Since childhood.” she continued, reverting to Latin, “I have had a speech impediment which makes it difficult for me to express myself in my native tongue. However, I can sing in Italian or French, and speak Latin, Greek, and a bit of Hebrew and Icelandic, for those tongues, so foreign to me, apparently reside in portions of my psyche which do not share the impediment in my native speech.”
“Oh, God.” said Dr. Wilson. “And you were laughing. The melancholia is cured?”
“I think so, learned physician.”
“So the chair of Dr. Rush was an effective treatment, in spite of my doubts?” He was speaking Latin, now, and the watching inmates of the asylum were completely perplexed.
“No, the chair is an abomination. The cure came from my sister inmates, all, supposedly insane. The order of commitment, it said I suffered from hysteria, did it not?”
“And ‘hysteria’, from the Greek, is a state of mental aberration attributed to the female organ, the womb.”
“Yes, that is the commonly held hypothesis.”
“These women, by making me ride the horse, as they put it, must have adjusted my womb, and cured my melancholy, for I felt a euphoria such as I have never before experienced, and you heard me laugh. As further evidence, I believe a quantity of fluid exuded from my female orifice. Perhaps a congestion of the womb, and an impounding of natural fluids, was, in fact, the cause of my condition.”
“Amazing. Please come with me, Mrs. Marlow. We must inform Dr. Aston.”
Some days later, Dr. Aston approached Anne. Anne was dressed in the same clothes as she had worn when she arrived at Aston Asylum, and she was housed in a cosy room in the central, administrative, portion of the building, a room with a feather bed and a cosy hearth. She had been working closely with Dr. Wilson, and they had repeatedly demonstrated that a new treatment, involving pressure and friction between the lower limbs, was, indeed, effective in adjusting the condition of the womb and raising the spirits of female patients. Further, they had shown that the clyster, irrigating the bowels, was misapplied. A stream of tepid water, applied instead to the regions of the forward orifice, was also effective in revitalizing a congested womb. Several women, not just Anne, testified to being able to feel the paroxysms of the womb and the releasing of fluids, with a resulting general improvement in temperament. “I have been in communication with your husband, and he says he does not want you released to his custody. In fact, he says you are not properly his wife. He is seeking an annulment, claiming you were never properly married and that, in any event, the marriage was never actually consummated and was therefore invalid. He intends, I gather, to remarry as soon as possible. He says, however, that the payments for your maintenance here will continue as long as your live, and he prays that we will keep you here.”
“I suppose I should call you Miss Jones.” said Dr. Wilson.
“Or Anne.” she noted.
“If you would consent, Miss Jones.” said Dr. Aston, “we would be pleased to have you remain here on our staff. I shall be retiring soon, and perhaps Matron, also. I’m sure Dr. Wilson would be pleased to have you as an assistant.”
“Yes, Miss Jones. Please stay. You have been invaluable to me.” Impulsively, he took her hand in his.
“Dr. Aston, Dr. Wilson.” she replied, in fluent Latin, “As a Christian, as one who strives to help the unfortunate, I shall be happy to stay here and assist you in your research.”
- The End -