The catchy title of Mad, Bad, and Sad: Women and the Mind Doctors says it all. With actual text finishing just under 500 pages and an extensive list of source notes, Appignanesi has provided readers quite the thorough read. From the history of psychiatry and early mental health institutions, to both the artistic and non-artistic woman, she discusses many cases of individuals who, either due to their madness, badness, or sadness, have been a little emotionally off course - causing them to sometimes commit crimes, or just perpetuate their own cycle of madness, badness and sadness with more self-loathing and/or self-inflicted injury, emotional or otherwise.
In addition, much is spent discussing Freud, as well as other “mind doctors” and their impact these theories have had upon the psychiatrist over the years. Some of the famous cases included are Zelda Fitzgerald, Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Alice James, Jane Fonda, Marilyn Monroe, “Sybil,” and numerous others. Appignanesi addresses depression, eating disorders, self-mutilation, schizophrenia, multiple personality disorders, drugs, abuse, incest, and many other ailments. Surprisingly, the book makes no mention of Judy Garland, the very talented actress and singer who not only attempted suicide several times, but also was the victim of drug addiction brought on by the Hollywood studios back in the 1930s and ’40s. It would have also been interesting had there been a discussion of Nelly Bly, the famous journalist who is known for having uncovered the brutality of the mental institutions during the 1880s by “faking” her insanity to the doctors.
Yet, these are quibbles, because as is, the book is quite informative and very well researched. Another positive note is that there isn’t any “preaching” going on throughout the narrative, and Appignanesi merely presents the cases, making her arguments, and moving on to the next. This book is, in a sense, a full meal to digest yet the topics cover a wide range. A primer served to give a history and quick analysis of both these cases and ailments, Mad, Bad, and Sad: Women and the Mind Doctors holds many fascinating moments that will keep readers turning the pages.