44 Years in Darkness by Sylvia Shults – A Review

I am about to deliver the first book review I have written since I was in school.  Majorly scary!

Full disclosure; I did receive a PDF copy of this book for free, but I was trying to buy it anyway, and I am pretty sure it hasn’t affected my opinion.  Below is as accurate a reflection as I can give considering I have a naturally highly critical mind.

Straight off I absolutely loved this book.  I found it informative, insightful, vivid and compelling.

44 Years in Darkness by Sylvia Shults is ostensibly the story of Rhoda Derry, a mentally ill woman who was born in 1834 in Illinois and died there in 1906.  But 44 Years in Darkness is about so much more; great changes were happening in America at this time, and Rhoda Derry’s plight helped cement the positive changes.

44 Years in Darkness will be of immense interest to anyone interested in the history of the treatment of Mental Illness.  But I would recommend it to anyone who had an interest in history; General American, medicine, feminism, religion/superstition or in mental health, feminism or the paranormal.  Actually this book is written in such an accessible way; uncomplicated language with full explanations, that I think anybody and everybody would enjoy reading 44 Years in Darkness.  I should disclose that my great interest in mental health treatment, religion/superstition and history not to mention my brief career as a spirit medium probably made me the ideal reader for this book.  But seriously I can not praise this book enough.

I tried to be critical in my reading; I’m aware that history can be considered dry by some people, but Sylvia Shults paints history so vividly and yet so concisely that not a single word was wasted; there was never a chance for the material to pall.

Dr Zeller was introduced in the Prologue; within a few paragraphs I was deeply invested in this man and his vision.  I could barely wait to find out more about him but there was a considerable gap before the story returned to him.  However I barely noticed as I was drawn by all the other fascinating information.

If I were to make a complaint it would be that I would desperately like to know more about Rhoda Derry.  But alas this is not a work of fiction so of course the author is not in full control of her subject.  I was very impressed by Sylvia Shults conscientiousness in differentiating between fact and fiction; even her exquisitely written, recreated dialogue.  She italicises any conversation for which there is not an historical record.  These conversations I would have thought perfectly acceptable literary licence as they are approximations based on scholarly research.  But Ms Shults makes sure her readers are completely aware of the difference between historically provable data and dialogue created with literary licence to illustrate those private moments.

Having originally heard about Sylvia Shults in an online interview I was expecting her book to contain a little more paranormal happenings.  This is covered well in Part 4, and much earlier historic information is discussed about ‘hex magic’; particularly in chapter 8.  But even if part of me may have initially hoped for a different kind of book, I was so spell bound by 44 Years in Darkness that I didn’t miss it.

So not only would I recommend to everyone to read this marvellous book; I would advise them to read it cover to cover.  The Prologue, Author’s Notes, Appendices & Notes are all riveting and full of information.  And keep an eye out for Elizabeth Packard’s story it is fantastic, and make sure you read the notes on chapter 11.

So what are you waiting for, now go straight to Sylvia Shults’ website & buy 44 Years in Darkness.  It is a fascinating, information-packed trip through time.

Published by autistsix

An autistic woman married to an autistic man trying to raise 4 autistic daughters in a neurotypical world

4 thoughts on “44 Years in Darkness by Sylvia Shults – A Review

  1. Hello, I’m Linda Haynes Jackson,my uncle Bernard Roe was the patient that was left to lie on a mattress by the nurses station and have seizures until he died because the doctor didn’t want to come back in and see about him. The nurses didn’t know what to do so they watch him lay there. Huge law suit and we lost our family member .You can look it up. Thats what I think about with all of these articles romanticising the place. This is our rememberance of it. He was breach at birth and forcips were used to pull him out and left nerve damage at the base of his skull. He was a nice man. I know other things happened there also. But we think of him. Thank you.


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