Post-Colonial Literary Analysis: The Professor and the Madman



Buy the book:


In case anyone had trouble understanding the words, here is the full video dialogue:

Hello everyone, my name is Claire Tanner and today I will be doing a post-colonial literary analysis of the professor and the madman, written by Simon Winchester in 1998.

To start, the book takes place in Victorian England. The Victorian Era spans the time of Queen Victoria’s reign, from 1837 until her death in 1901. BBC describes Victorian England as the world’s superpower, just like how today someone could argue that America is the modern world’s superpower.

The New World Encyclopedia writes about how the suffering in the lives of the poor and working class peoples of the Victorian Era was due to the huge population increase in a short amount of time, there could be 30 people of any age sharing one single room. Although it is normally the poor lower class people that are the topic of oppression in this time in Victorian England, there are other group that faced similar oppression. This book touched on two, the first being the mentally ill, and the other being war veterans.

Simon Winchester writes that William Chester Minor, born in 1834, was a man of high intelligence. Minor, in fact, was one of the leading contributors to the Oxford English Dictionary. He wrote his contributions from inside the insane asylum in Broadmoor, England, where he had been admitted April 17th, 1872.

This is a drawing of Broadmoor, which is descried as “the asylum for criminal lunatics” drawn in 1867, only a few years before Minor was admitted. As you can see in this drawing, the asylum did not have a very welcoming appearance. When the author is describing two of the harsher blocks in the facility, he describes them as secure, tough, and miserable. Now, the author does not write much about the asylum itself, he more so focuses on Minor’s contributions to the Oxford English Dictionary. But after doing research myself, I found just how oppressed the people in the asylums were.

These are various images showing the insides of the Victorian Era Insane Asylums. As you can see, the author’s short description was correct. The conditions were miserable, and although the author did not write much about it it is clear these places are nothing like the clean helpful mental health hospitals we have today.

Now, the comparison between the mentally ill and the average citizens is not the only topic suitable for post-colonial literary criticism in this novel. Before Minor was diagnosed, and possibly what ignited his mental health issues in the first place, was his times as a war doctor during the civil war in America, a war that lasted from 1861 to 1865, and a war that according to determined what kind of nation the United States would be.

The third chapter of the book is called the madness of war, and in it are many good examples of how terrible the war life was. Minor was a medical doctor for the Union Army. When Minor first goes down to the battlefields, Winchester writes “There the full horror of this cruel and fearsomely bloody struggle came to him, suddenly, without warning. Here was an inescapable irony of the Civil War: the fact that this was a war fought with new and highly effective weapons, machines for the mowing down of men-and yet at a time when an era of poor and primitive medicine was just coming to an end” and later writes that it is highly likely that Minor developed his mental health issues during this time.

The Civil War was not the only war to leave its soldiers suffering. These images are of the same man, a Vietnam War veteran who ended up homeless and disabled, and likely has multiple mental health issues. While many think war veterans are treated with respect, that is not always the case. Think of Minor, a man of high intelligence and a Civil War Veteran, who was put in an insane asylum in England and hidden from society.

To conclude, when analyzing this novel from a post-colonial literary perspective, one can see the difference between the life of an average citizen, and the life of a mentally ill citizen, or a war veteran. The sad story that is William Chester Minor’s life is available for all to read, and I highly recommend it. It is a story of suffering, perseverance, and knowledge. Below this video is a link to the book at Chapters, and I hope that this video has made a good impression of the novel. Happy reading and thanks for watching!


Works Cited

Asylum Pictures. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 July 2017.
“A Brief Overview of the American Civil War.” Civil War Trust. Civil War Trust, n.d. Web. 21 July 2017.
“Asylums.” Pinterest. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 July 2017.
Bradford, Eleanor. “Archives reveal life in Edinburgh and Inverness asylums.” BBC News. BBC, 07 Jan. 2013. Web. 21 July 2017.
“Civil War Technology by Maggie Lenihan by Margaret Lenihan.” ThingLink. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 July 2017.
Eaton, Alice. “The Victorian Era and Victorian Gender Equality.” Alice Eaton/Art and Design BA (Hons). N.p., 11 Mar. 2015. Web. 21 July 2017.
“History: Victorians.” BBC. BBC, n.d. Web. 21 July 2017.
“Legacies – Myths and Legends – England – Berkshire – Broadmoor’s word-finder – Article Page 1.” BBC. BBC, n.d. Web. 21 July 2017.
“The mad, the bad and the greater good.” Wellcome Collection. N.p., 19 Nov. 2010. Web. 21 July 2017.
“Victorian era.” Victorian era – New World Encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 July 2017.
“Victorian Houses and Where the Rich and Poor Victorian Children Lived.” Victorian Children. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 July 2017.
Western Libraries – Western University. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 July 2017.

Winchester, Simon. The professor and the madman: a tale of murder, insanity, and the making of the Oxford English dictionary. New York: Harper Perennial, 2016. Print.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s