The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls by Emilie Autumn
Release: December 15, 2009 / July 22, 2017
Publisher: The Asylum Emporium
Two young women, living one hundred-fifty years apart, both accused of madness, communicate across time to fight a common enemy . . . their doctors.
“It was the dog who found me.”
Such is the stark confession launching the harrowing scene that begins The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls as Emilie Autumn, a young musician on the verge of a bright career, attempts suicide by overdosing on the antipsychotics prescribed to treat her bipolar disorder. Upon being discovered, Emilie is revived and immediately incarcerated in a maximum-security psych ward, despite her protestations that she is not crazy, and can provide valid reasons for her actions if someone would only listen.
Treated as a criminal, heavily medicated, and stripped of all freedoms, Emilie is denied communication with the outside world, and falls prey to the unwelcome attentions of Dr. Sharp, head of the hospital’s psychiatry department. As Dr. Sharp grows more predatory by the day, Emilie begins a secret diary to document her terrifying experience, and to maintain her sanity in this environment that could surely drive anyone mad. But when Emilie opens her notebook to find a desperate letter from a young woman imprisoned within an insane asylum in Victorian England, and bearing her own name and description, a portal to another world is blasted wide open.
As these letters from the past continue to appear, Emilie escapes further into this mysterious alternate reality where sisterhoods are formed, romance between female inmates blossoms, striped wallpaper writhes with ghosts, and highly intellectual rats talk.
But is it real? Or is Emilie truly as mad as she is constantly told she is?
The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls blurs harsh reality and magical historical fantasy whilst issuing a scathing critique of society’s treatment of women and the mental health care industry’s treatment of its patients, showing in the process that little has changed throughout the ages.
Welcome to the Asylum. Are you committed?
I have been a fan of Emilie Autumn’s music since high school, since I discovered there was a rocker who played the violin, since I discovered there was a singer who played the violin and had a classical sound mixed with hard rock elements – I was a weird high school kid. Then I discovered she self-published a book and I had to read it. But it wasn’t cheap and no libraries had it. So I waited a few years, finally bought the hardcover – by the way, the thing is HUGE! – but because of the size, I couldn’t read it comfortably. So this year, she published the Kindle edition and I ate that right up.
And holy cow, y’all – I was not prepared.
In The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls, we see Emilie being committed after trying to kill herself. She’s told that she needs help and her therapist can no longer do so after admitting she tried to end her life so she’s sent to a hospital where she can’t leave until the 72-hour hold is over. But it hasn’t started because there are no beds available. She’s stripped of all her possessions, there’s a doctor that’s taken a fancy liking to her, and she just wants to go home. When a bed is made available, it’s in another section of the hospital, the ward for extreme cases, one she doesn’t believe she should be in. But the hold starts and that’s when she’s finally allowed her notebook and a crayon. Daily, she receives diary entries from Emily, a patient from The Asylum for Wayward Girls who lived in 1845. These entries detail Emily’s life from her brief time with her parents, to her time in a conservatory to cultivate her music, to when she’s taken from there to live with an abusive man, to her time in the asylum.
I think I mostly wanted to read this because I too have spent a brief time in a hospital for my mental disorder and am always interested in stories I can relate with. But this is far beyond what I experienced. My time was pleasant and peaceful, Emilie’s time was the opposite, and Emily’s time was horrible. I definitely wasn’t expecting a happy book, but I wasn’t expecting horror. There were scenes that I had to pause for. I would read them and have to put the book down to take a breather because it was a little graphic – wasn’t expecting that. There aren’t many books that I need to take breaks from because of the gore. It was surprising.
The writing wasn’t what I was expecting. I hate to say that I went into this with a completely different idea what the story was going to be about. I thought the writing might be fluffy, but it truly fit the characters. Emilie was straightforward, extremely detailed, and poetic. As a fan of her music, I could see her artistry on the page. Emily was perfect for the time period and place, 1840s Victorian England.
The characters in both the past and the present were heartbreaking. I’m a person that roots for the characters, it doesn’t matter what I’m reading – I’ll find someone I want to win whatever battle they’re fighting, and all of these characters were in a clear fight. Either for their lives or for their freedom.
What I truly enjoyed was seeing elements of her songs woven perfectly through the tale. And while reading the eBook, there was a treasure hunt – I was too focused on the story, but it’s something I can go back to.
I am truly happy Emilie Autumn released this in eBook. I’m also happy that I have the hardcover. If you’re interested in Victorian England and scary stuff, this is totally for you.