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"Hilda Reilly has written a vivid, powerful and highly readable
version of Bertha's story. The emotional turmoil of her experiences is
empathetically portrayed against a carefully researched period setting
and medical background. An absorbing and thought-provoking book." Scientific and Medical Network Review
"Reilly's skilful writing and thorough research offer an empathetic
portrayal of the vulnerable patient who had an abnormal attachment to
the doctor who misdiagnosed her. Dark and distressing, but equally
interesting, powerful, and educational." The Lady
Reilly has written a novel of immense significance - a must read for
anyone interested in the history of psychoanalysis." Dr Terry Marks-Tarlow, author of Clinical Intuition in Psychotherapy
is a wonderful stroll through the Jewish culture of Vienna at the turn
of the century, holding the hand of 'Anna O,' psychiatry's most famous
patient, all the way." Dr Edward Shorter, Hannah Professor in the History of Medicine, University of Toronto
book is a gift to anyone interested in psychoanalysis and the textures
of human experience. I was moved reading it and in awe of the breadth of
its scope." Dr Deborah Serani, author of Living with Depression
famous people have day to day lives and it is in the story of their
lives that we begin to feel what it might have been like to be in their
shoes. Hilda Reilly gives us the gift of Bertha Pappenheim's lived
experience. "Richard Hill, Director, MindScience Institute
can be glad that the sympathetic Hilda Reilly has wrested the famous
"Anna O" from the hands of clinicians and made her a whole woman again." The Herald Scotland
About the Author
Hilda Reilly is originally from Perth in Scotland and now lives in Glenshee, after spending most of her adult life abroad. Her occupations have ranged from the stupefyingly dull to the wondrously surreal. When asked that common question: ‘What do you do?’ she has generally found that the most accurate reply is: ‘I live on my wits.’ She has an MSc in Consciousness Studies, for which she specialised in the neuroscience of religious experience, and an MA in Creative Writing.
Hilda Reilly is originally from Perth in Scotland and now lives in Glenshee, after spending most of her adult life abroad. Her occupations have ranged from the stupefyingly dull to the wondrously surreal; when asked that common question: What do you do? she has generally found that the most accurate reply is: I live on my wits.
After graduating from Edinburgh University she started training to become an actuary. Three months later she decided that not even the prospect of belonging to what was then the highest paid profession in the country could induce her to carry on in a career to which she was so unsuited.
Subsequent jobs have included oil industry analyst in London, artists' model in Paris, technical translator in Baghdad, charity worker in Zanzibar, English teacher in Malaysia, journalist in Ho Chi Minh City and director of an educational organization in Khartoum.
In recent years she has returned to academic study, obtaining an MSc in Consciousness Studies, for which she specialised in the neuroscience of religious experience, and an MA in Creative Writing, focusing on the use of narrative to explore the medical concept of hysteria. Her first novel, Guises of Desire, which draws on both of those areas of interest, deals with the life of Bertha Pappenheim, aka Anna O, the 'founding patient' of psychoanalysis.
She is also the author of two travel books - Prickly Pears of Palestine: The People Behind the Politics and Seeking Sanctuary: Journeys to Sudan. She is a member of the Scientific and Medical Network.
Guises of Desire is a fictionalised account of the three-year illness of Bertha Pappenheim, known as the founding patient of psychoanalysis, mental illness treatment pioneered by the famous Dr. Sigmund Freud. “Anna O”, Bertha Pappenheim’s clinical pseudonym, was a patient of Dr. Josef Breuer, an associate of Freud’s, and one of the cases on which much of Freud's theory was based. Freud described his patient as cured of "hysteria" with his “talking-cure” method.
Through the author’s extensive research, Bertha’s Jewish upper-middle class of 19th century Vienna is excellently portrayed. A sensitive, well-educated child who spoke several languages, Bertha was deeply disturbed by the gender discrimination she saw in her milieu of society. When her father falls ill, Bertha begins to exhibit more and more alarming symptoms such as paralysis, aphasia, blackouts and hallucinations. Through his regular visits to her home, Dr. Josef Breuer uses new methods such as hypnotism and the “talking cure” to try and root out the cause of Bertha’s psychological problems. As Bertha comes and goes from sanatoriums over the following two years, the author narrates the progress of her illness in a fascinating and horrifying, but truly sympathetic manner that urges the reader onward, to discover what happened to this poor girl, in the end.
I found Guises of Desire an excellent and informative novel and would highly recommend it for readers interested in understanding the history of psychoanalysis.
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NOTE THAT THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS. This book is a novelization of the story of "Anna O" (actual name on the novel: Bertha Pappenheim), described by Freud in the late 19th century as a patient cured of "hysteria" with his talking-cure method. At the beginning of the book, Bertha is a seemingly normal upper-middle-class Jewish girl in 1880s Vienna. When her father becomes ill and the family must unexpectedly return home to Vienna from a vacation in the country, Bertha begins to exhibit one bizarre symptom after another: paralysis of one side of her body, aphasia, and blackouts being only a few of the more benign examples. Under the care of Dr. Breuer, she is in and out of sanitoriums over the next two years. One symptom is resolved only to be replaced by another, even more bizarre and alarming. She develops an infantile sexual fixation of Dr. Breuer that climaxes (literally) near the end of the book, and this climax seems to be a turning point in her cure. The epilogue takes place more than 40 years later, when she has become a well-functioning, prominent writer and social activist. The description of the progress of Bertha's illness is very well written, and fascinating in a horrifying, can’t-look-away way. On one hand, you feel sorry for Bertha’s suffering. But on the other hand, her behavior during her illness is often so selfish, childish and distasteful, that you can’t help but be disgusted, even knowing that she probably can’t help it. My only complaint about this book is that I would have liked to know more about Bertha’s cure. Her mental and physical state by the end of the main part of the book is completely horrifying, but by the epilogue, she is completely normal. I felt kind of cheated by not being allowed to see how she got from Point A to Point B. It would have been interesting to know.
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“What does a woman want?” the frustrated founder of psychoanalysis complained towards the end of his thirty years of research into the recesses of the feminine mind.
Freud already knew what women were. They were inferior to men. They “oppose change, receive passively, and add nothing of their own.” They suffered from “penis envy.” Their achievements outside the home were negligible. “It seems that women have made few contributions to the discoveries and inventions in the history of civilization; there is, however, one technique which they may have invented – that of plaiting and weaving.” Freud’s contemporary, German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, spoke for many 19th century men (and some today) when he declared “Everything about woman is a riddle, and everything about woman has a single solution: that is, pregnancy.”
Hilda Reilly engagingly illuminates this miasma of misogynist fin-de-siècle attitudes through her deeply researched and richly nuanced portrait of Bertha Pappenheim, an unmarried and suitor-less 21-year-old Jewish woman rebelling against the rigid expectations of her gender, religion, social caste, and family.
“Hysteria,” a handy 19th century catchall diagnosis masking medical ignorance and male chauvinism, was frequently trotted out to explain symptoms often exhibited by unhappy or unconventional women of the era – insomnia, lack of appetite, nervousness, irritability, sexual forwardness, a desire to masturbate, a “tendency to cause trouble” – for which no organic cause could be identified. Bertha manifested many of these, as well as hallucinations, amnesia, neuralgia, limb paralysis, a visual disorder, and a persistent cough.Read more ›
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