Children's Literature in Education

, Volume 49, Issue 2, pp 119–139 | Cite as

The Picture of Madness–Visual Narratives of Female Mental Illness in Contemporary Children’s Literature

  • Imogen Church
Original Paper


This article analyses a selection of contemporary children’s visual texts (for economy and specificity ‘contemporary’ is taken to mean the current century), covering a cross-section of age demographics to better understand how the texts depict female characters suffering with mental illness. It examines these primary texts not only to see how such characters are represented but also to see whether they either bolster or challenge the idea of the female being viewed as the male's ‘Other’. A brief historical and cultural contextualisation of the relationship between mentally ill females and the male-centric profession of modern psychiatry is followed by a close analysis of four primary texts, analysing visual narratives of mentally ill female characters in two picture books, an illustrated book and a graphic novel, noting how contemporary visual depictions contrast with early ideas and images supporting the nineteenth-century feminisation of madness. The conclusion is that, from the limited selection of texts analysed, contemporary children’s visual texts represent a clear contrast to the historical image of the frail and winsome madwoman. The findings are that they do not uphold the image of the female madwoman as Other.


Mental Illness Madness Feminist theory Illustration Graphic Picture 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.NorwichUK

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