The Life of the Reverend Mr George Trosse is an autobiographical account penned by Rev. George Trosse in the late seventeenth century and posthumously published in 1714. Later in life, Trosse became a nonconformist minister, but his youth was spent on the Continent (both in France and Portugal), where he pursued a career as a merchant and an existence of pleasures and vice. He candidly describes these early adventures in The Life, which is not only the retrospective and judgemental account that the now-older-and-wiser Reverend gives of his past follies, but also a minute chronicle of a rather long and painful experience of descent into madness which he underwent soon after his return to England in the 1650s. Trosse was indeed confined into a private madhouse at Glastonbury after three major episodes of mental disturbance in which the voices of God, of the devil and his own mingled into blurred and hallucinatory perceptions of physical and spiritual realities. In fact, Trosse’s account proves interesting not only with regard to the exploration of distraction and of its management in early modern England, but also to the investigation of the generic conventions of spiritual autobiography to which the text seems to conform. How can ‘mad diversity’ be handled by such a literary form, and can it be considered instrumental in the recovery or is it just a strategy of containment and maybe of repression of the voice of a ‘broken individuality’? This essay aims at raising these questions also by tentatively placing Trosse’s text into the broader perspective of the then growing notions of ‘individuality’ and ‘inwardness’ and their problematic relationship with the concept of insanity.
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