Destabilizing Institutional and Social Power in Patrick McGrath’s Asylum

Mara E Reisman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In his novel Asylum, Patrick McGrath chronicles the relationship and aftermath of an illicit love affair between Stella, the wife of the deputy superintendent at a hospital for the criminally insane, and Edgar, a patient who has been convicted of murdering, decapitating, and enucleating his wife. This relationship provides the lens for McGrath’s commentary on the politics of mental illness, marriage, and motherhood in post–World War II Britain. McGrath emphasizes the parallels between the institution of marriage and mental institutions in order to problematize the social and gender inequalities in both institutions. I explore the relationship between morality, naturalized social hierarchies, and narrative unreliability in order to argue that while the time period and hospital setting are key elements in setting up the novel’s moral framework, the unreliable narrator, particularly one in which readers have put their trust, is critical to dismantling this framework and upsetting readers’ moral judgments about transgression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)156-173
Number of pages18
JournalCritique - Studies in Contemporary Fiction
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 15 2017


  • Asylum
  • madness
  • marriage
  • motherhood
  • unreliable narrator

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Literature and Literary Theory


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