The Insanity of Bedlam by Dylan Callins – Guest Blog and Giveaway

Long and Short Reviews welcomes Dylan Callins who is celebrating his release today of Interpretation. Enter the Rafflecopter at the end of the post for a chance to win a copy of the book.

The Insanity of Bedlam

In my new novel, Interpretation, there is this place where the main character wakes up one day. Behind bars, mold growing wherever it can. Concrete surrounds him. It is an institution – part prison and part asylum. Perhaps surprisingly, this is not far from what mental institutions used to look like. I even kept the name, now synonymous with madness: Bedlam.
This hospital, originally known as the Bethlem Royal Hospital or Mary Bethlehem, was originally designed to care for the poor and the homeless. It was also used to raise money for the Crusades through their collection of alms. Carrying out this mandate during its first hundred years, the institution did in fact care for the poor, often exchanging labor for food and shelter. By the mid-1300s, however, their agenda changed. It was at this time that most people began referring to the institution as Bedlam. As a hint towards what went on in this place, the word Bedlam means uproar, confusion, and chaos. What happened behind these walls?

For the longest time (and as suggested in the documentary, The Madness of Bedlam), these institutions were nothing more than a place to abuse the underprivileged. Strange solutions to mental diseases were attempted – blood-letting, restraint, cold baths, and rotational therapy (the patient was strapped to a chair that was suspended from the ceiling and spun around hundreds of times), were a few common solutions to psychological ailments. Generally speaking, care-takers sought to balance the four humors: blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm. It was all very scientific, as you can imagine.

Certainly, there was abuse at Bedlam and similar institutions. There is little doubt of that. Yet, keeping in mind their elementary understanding of the human brain, these care-takers were trying to do the right thing. It’s easy to look back and say that giving a patient cold baths to align the humors is silly and inhumane; however, when you consider that they were doing it in the best interest of the patient, in order to cure that patient, the goal is reasonable. It was a genuine attempt to help these people. They were simply misguided.

I’ve always been a fan of Michel Foucault. In his work Madness and Civilization, he called these institutions a method of enforcing authority. It was a way to control whatever authorities deemed to be unfit for civilization.

Given the large populations sent to asylums, not all patients belonged. Certainly, they weren’t all mad. Many homeless people were put into these asylums to keep them off the street. Alternatively, some of them did need help. As dubious as these institutions seem, their motivation couldn’t have been as harsh as Foucault believes.

In the end, it is the popular vision of Bedlam that I used for inspiration in my novel, Interpretation. I don’t think that this place was the sinister asylum that many made it out to be, but I do enjoy the stories that came from it. I’m sure that many injustices and atrocities did take place over the hundreds of years that Bedlam was a medieval asylum but without the sinister goals that so many people suggest. Still, Bedlam is undoubtedly associated with madness. Even the images of the horrifying corridors and the sketches of patients in pain is enough to make one look twice. Above all, I wanted a name that suggested Foucault’s narrative: that this was a place where authority was enforced.

Carl Winston awakens to find his son, Liam, screaming with fear. Trying to understand why, Carl tries to soothe him. Neighbors gather in front of Carl’s apartment to help – until they see him. The crowd cowers back, afraid of this monster.

Carl runs. His life of luxury is ripped away. Forced beyond the city limits, Carl sees a land bereft of life. Traveling in search of answers, his quest comes to a sudden halt when he collapses. As darkness shrouds him, a figure hovers from above.

Traveling along the same route, Eva Thomspon finds Carl and nurtures him back to life. Together, they continue the journey, finding out that their lives have too much in common to be a coincidence. As their affection for each other deepens, an unknown nemesis attempts to remove their only source of happiness – their love for each other.

Interpretation is a dystopian fiction that explores hope and happiness in the bleakest of conditions and what happens when it’s torn away.

About the Author: Dylan Callens lands cleanly. That would be the headline of a newspaper built with an anagram generator. And although Dylan is a Welsh name meaning god or hero of the sea, he is not particularly fond of large bodies of water. His last name, Callens, might be Gaelic. If it is, his last name means rock. Rocks sink in the sea. Interestingly, he is neither Welsh nor Gaelic, but rather, French and German. The inherent contradictions and internal conflict in his life are obvious.

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