Charenton (asylum)

Last updated

Charenton was a lunatic asylum, founded in 1645 by the Frères de la Charité or Brothers of Charity in Charenton-Saint-Maurice, now Saint-Maurice, Val-de-Marne, France.


Charenton was first under monastic rule, then Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul took over the asylum after their founding. Although the town itself was the location of the headquarters of the French Huguenots in the 1500s and 1600s, the founders of Charenton were Catholic. At the time, many hospitals and asylums were Catholic institutions after the Council of Trent and the counter reformation. [1]

Charenton was known for its humanitarian treatment of patients, especially under its director the Abbé de Coulmier in the early 19th century. He showed a remarkable aptitude for understanding Psychoanalytic theory. He used the technique of art therapy to help patients manifest their madness through physical art forms. [2]

Now merged under a new official name with the neighboring general hospital, the psychiatric hospital was known as the Esquirol Hospital (French : l'Hôpital Esquirol or Établissement public de santé Esquirol), after Jean-Étienne Dominique Esquirol who directed the institution in the 19th century. The 1845 structure's architect was Émile Gilbert. [3]


Charenton was founded as a hospital for the poor in 13 September 1641 by the Frères de la Charité after receiving a donation from Sébastien Leblanc, an advisor to Louis XIII. Initially the hospital consisted of a single house containing 5 beds. [3] Starting September 1660 the mentally ill were required to be cared for in hospitals as per a government mandate. Care at Charenton shifted to reflect this change, prioritizing care for more privileged members of the population with mental symptoms. Demand for care grew throughout the 18th century and the Frères de la Charité acquired additional land, including the area of Charenton Saint-Maurice, to ensure there was sufficient space for more patients.

In 1804 François Simonnet de Coulmiers became the director of the asylum, which was named the "Maison Nationale de Charenton" at the time. [4] Jean-Étienne Dominique Esquirol became the chief physician of the hospital in 1826. [5]


Later on in the 18th century, hospitals and asylums shifted away from brutal treatments to more humane solutions, later including psychotherapy.

In 1804, after the Marquis de Sade was transferred from the Bastille, director François Simonnet de Coulmier, a Catholic priest, employed the use of psycho-drama therapy by allowing patients to organize and act in their own plays. [6] Coulmier was known for using this and other forms of psychotherapy rather than the inhumane treatments exhibited at other facilities to encourage alternative forms of expression. However, his psychodrama therapy came under fire by Esquirol and others who criticized him for employing a fruitless treatment and turning the patients into an exhibit to the public. [7]

Despite the tendency to use more humane therapies, not all patients necessarily lived pleasant lives in the asylum. Hersilie Rouy, a thirty-nine-year old French musician, was admitted to Charenton and complained of the subpar living conditions and "tortuous therapy" that also made women more vulnerable to the mismanagement by the institution. [8]

Famous prisoners

Famous prisoners were held in the Charenton asylum including Jean Henri Latude, the Comte de Sanois and the Marquis de Sade (from 1801 until his death in 1814 at the age of 74). De Sade was arrested for his works Justine and Juliette, and was later transferred to Charenton without a trial after his opponents declared him insane.

Pierre Gaveaux was a French operatic tenor and composer who was sent to Charenton in 1819 until his death in 1825. The noted Belgian-born musicologist and composer Jérôme-Joseph de Momigny also died at the Charenton asylum, in 1842. The caricaturist André Gill died there in 1885. Poet Paul Verlaine was interned in 1887 and again in 1890. Artist Charles Meryon died at the asylum in 1868. Composer François Devienne died in the asylum in 1803. The mathematician André Bloch spent the last three decades of his life there, and mathematician Joseph-Émile Barbier also stayed there before being found and brought back into academia by Joseph Bertrand. [9] At the time, many believed that with a degree of insanity came the ability to be more creative and have "access to greater truths." [10]

Significant Physicians of Charenton

Antoine Laurent Jessé Bayle, a French physician who practiced at Charenton, researched using postmortem evidence which concluded in 1822 that general paresis of the insane, or GPI, resulted from chronic inflammation of a brain area. This challenged the established belief at the time that the mental and physical symptoms, such as paralysis, were present before the inflammation, not as a result of a larger disease. [11]

The physician Jean-Étienne Dominique Esquirol used leeches, tepid baths, emetic purging, laxatives, and exercise at Charenton, in addition to psychotherapy. [12] Louis-Florentin Calmeil, who succeeded Esquirol as director, also used leeching as a way to treat monomania. [13]


The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis Sade , which is usually simplified to Marat/Sade, is a play written by Peter Weiss in which de Sade directs a play featuring the inmates as actors. During his time at Charenton, de Sade did direct plays at the facility. Marat/Sade depicted the controversy surrounding de Sade, in which French officials criticized the asylum for giving him an elevated status though a lunatic and prisoner. These plays were considered a form of treatment thought to help patients get better by learning new ways to express suppressed feelings. [14] Despite being a subject of controversy, the practice spread from Charenton to other asylums in Europe. [15]

The play has been reprised in many forms and forums. The 1967 film adaptation featured many of the original players, and utilized the long version of the play's name in its opening credits, although this was frequently shortened to Marat/Sade in publicity materials. The screenplay was written by Adrian Mitchell. Peter Brook directed a cast that included Ian Richardson, Patrick Magee, Glenda Jackson, Michael Williams, Freddie Jones and Clifford Rose. [16]

See also

Related Research Articles

Esquirol means scab (strikebreaker) in Spanish, and squirrel in catalan and occitan. It is also a surname and may refer to:


Quills is a 2000 period film directed by Philip Kaufman and adapted from the Obie award-winning 1995 play by Doug Wright, who also wrote the original screenplay. Inspired by the life and work of the Marquis de Sade, Quills re-imagines the last years of the Marquis's incarceration in the insane asylum at Charenton. It stars Geoffrey Rush as de Sade, Joaquin Phoenix as the Abbé du Coulmier, Michael Caine as Dr. Royer-Collard, and Kate Winslet as laundress Madeleine "Maddie" LeClerc.


The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade, usually shortened to Marat/Sade, is a 1963 play by Peter Weiss. The work was first published in German.

Abbé de Coulmier

François Simonet de Coulmier was a French Catholic priest, originally a member of the Premonstratensian canons regular, and an active member of the French legislature at the start of the French Revolution and again during the First French Empire.

Mark Jones was an English actor, who appeared frequently in various films and television series.

<i>Lunacy</i> (film)

Lunacy is a 2005 Czech film by Jan Švankmajer. The film is loosely based on two short stories, "The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether" (1845) and "The Premature Burial" (1844), by Edgar Allan Poe. It is also partly inspired by the works of the Marquis de Sade. The film was shot between October 2004 and April 2005, on location in the village of Peruc close to Prague, and in Švankmajer's studio in the village of Knovíz.

Jean-Étienne Dominique Esquirol French psychiatrist (1772–1840)

Jean-Étienne Dominique Esquirol was a French psychiatrist.

Marquis de Sade in popular culture

There have been many and varied references to the Marquis de Sade in popular culture, including fictional works, biographies and more minor references. The namesake of the psychological and subcultural term sadism, his name is used variously to evoke sexual violence, licentiousness and freedom of speech. In modern culture his works are simultaneously viewed as masterful analyses of how power and economics work, and as erotica. Sade's sexually explicit works were a medium for the articulation of the corrupt and hypocritical values of the elite in his society, which caused him to become imprisoned. He thus became a symbol of the artist's struggle with the censor. Sade's use of pornographic devices to create provocative works that subvert the prevailing moral values of his time inspired many other artists in a variety of media. The cruelties depicted in his works gave rise to the concept of sadism. Sade's works have to this day been kept alive by artists and intellectuals because they espouse a philosophy of extreme individualism that became reality in the economic liberalism of the following centuries.

Jean-Pierre Falret French psychiatrist

Jean-Pierre Falret was a French psychiatrist. He was born and died in Marcilhac-sur-Célé.

Guillaume Ferrus

Guillaume-Marie-André Ferrus was a French psychiatrist born in Château-Queyras, near Briançon, Hautes-Alpes.

Louis-Florentin Calmeil

Louis-Florentin Calmeil was a French psychiatrist and medical historian born in Yversay.

<i>Marat/Sade</i> (film)

The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade, usually shortened to Marat/Sade, is a 1967 British film adaptation of Peter Weiss' play Marat/Sade. The screen adaptation is directed by Peter Brook, and originated in his theatre production for the Royal Shakespeare Company. The English version was written by Adrian Mitchell from a translation by Geoffrey Skelton.

Antoine-Athanase Royer-Collard

Antoine-Athanase Royer-Collard was a French physician and psychiatrist. He was a younger brother to philosopher Pierre-Paul Royer-Collard (1763–1845).

Achille-Louis Foville was a French neurologist and psychiatrist. He produced the first description of the terminal stria.

Théophile Archambault was a French psychiatrist who was a native of Tours.

Marquis de Sade French nobleman famous for his libertine sexuality

Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade, was a French nobleman, revolutionary politician, philosopher, and writer, famous for his libertine sexuality and sexual abuse of children. His works include novels, short stories, plays, dialogues, and political tracts. In his lifetime some of these were published under his own name while others, which de Sade denied having written, appeared anonymously. De Sade is best known for his erotic works, which combined philosophical discourse with pornography, depicting sexual fantasies with an emphasis on violence, suffering, anal sex, crime, and blasphemy against Christianity. He became infamous for his numerous sexual crimes and abuse against young men, women, and children. He claimed to be a proponent of absolute freedom, unrestrained by morality, religion, or law. The words sadism and sadist are derived from his name in reference to the great pleasure he derived from inflicting non-consensual sexual abuse on others.

Lunatic asylum Place for housing the insane, an aspect of history

The fall of the lunatic asylum and its gradual transformation into, and eventual replacement by, the modern psychiatric hospital, explains the rise of organized, institutional psychiatry. While there were earlier institutions that housed the "insane", the conclusion that institutionalization was the correct solution to treating people considered to be "mad" was part of a social process in the 19th century that began to seek solutions for outside families and local communities.

Étienne Pariset

Étienne Pariset was a French physician and psychiatrist.

Sainte-Anne Hospital Center Hospital in arrondissement of Paris, France

The Sainte-Anne Hospital Center is a hospital located in the 14th arrondissement of Paris, specializing in psychiatry, neurology, neurosurgery, neuroimaging and addiction. With its creation dating to 1651, the organization remains, along with the Esquirol Hospital in Saint-Maurice, the symbol of psychiatric asylums in France.




    1. Lindemann, Mary (2010). Medicine and Society in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press. ISBN   9780521732567.
    2. Bender, Douglas (15 November 2010). "De Sade and The Insane Beauty of Charenton". Charenton Macerations. Retrieved 17 February 2017.
    3. 1 2 "The Esquirol Hospital". Archived from the original on 7 October 2016. Retrieved 24 March 2017.
    4. Beleyme, Marie (5 November 2016). "François Simmonet de Coulmiers (1741-1818) – D51 (tombe disparue)". Père-Lachaise 1804-1824 – Naissance Du Cimetière Moderne (in French). Retrieved 25 March 2017.
    5. Cousin, Francois-Regis; Garrabe, Jean; Morozov, Denis (2008). Anthology of French Language Psychiatric Texts – Collection Les empêcheurs de penser en rond. John Wiley & Sons. p. 55. ISBN   9780470986721 . Retrieved 25 March 2017.
    6. De Saussure, Raymond. "Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences." Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences , vol. 3, no. 3, 1948, pp. 452–452.
    7. Schaeffer, Neil (2000). The Marquis de Sade: A Life. Harvard University Press. p. 486. ISBN   0674003926 . Retrieved 24 March 2017.
    8. Matlock, Jann (1991). "Doubling out of the Crazy House: Gender, Autobiography, and the Insane Asylum System in Nineteenth-Century France". Representations . 34 (34): 166–195. doi:10.1525/rep.1991.34.1.99p0054v. JSTOR   2928774.
    9. O'Connor, John J.; Robertson, Edmund F., "Joseph Émile Barbier", MacTutor History of Mathematics archive , University of St Andrews .
    10. De Young, Mary (2015). Encyclopedia of Asylum Therapeutics, 1750-1950s. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. ISBN   978-0786468973.
    11. Nitrini, Ricardo. "The Cure of One of the Most Frequent Types of Dementia: A Historical Parallel." Ovid. N.p., July 2005. Web. 1 March 2017.
    12. Esquirol, Etienne (1838). Des maladies mentales considérées sous les rapports médical, hygiénique et médico-légal (in French). 2. J.-B. Baillière. pp. 159, 818, 849.
    13. Quétel, Claude (2014). Histoire de la folie, de l'antiquité à nos jours (in French). Tallandier. p. 242. ISBN   9791021002265 . Retrieved 24 March 2017.
    14. White, John (1968). "History and Cruelty in Peter Weiss's "Marat/Sade"". The Modern Language Review. 63 (2): 437–448. doi:10.2307/3723254. JSTOR   3723254.
    15. Baeza, John J.; Turvey, Brent E. (May 1999). "Sadistic Behavior: A Literature Review". Knowledge Solutions Library Electronic Publication. Archived from the original on 29 January 2017. Retrieved 25 March 2017.Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
    16. "Variety review of the film". 20 February 2007. Retrieved 1 February 2012.

    Coordinates: 48°49′7″N2°25′47″E / 48.81861°N 2.42972°E / 48.81861; 2.42972