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Hystories Paperback – April 15, 1998


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (April 15, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231104596
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231104593
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #245,815 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Hysteria is tough to define, but Elaine Showalter knows it when she sees it. She argues that a host of phenomena, both medical and fantastical--alien abductions, recovered memories, chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple personalities--arise from a tripartite collaboration between physicians and mental-health professionals, unhappy patients, and a voracious, gullible media. Stories that should be metaphorical ("I feel that I've been taken advantage of in some way.") become real: "I have a recovered memory of ritual satanic abuse." She makes her case brilliantly, explaining the history, causes, and reactions, but offers no pat solution. "The hysterical syndromes of the 1990s clearly speak to the hidden needs and fears of a culture," she writes. When these go away, new ones will surely crop up to reflect the anxieties of a different era. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

The ends of centuries have historically given rise to increased incidents of hysterical epidemics. Literary critic and medical historian Showalter has written a challenging and insightful history of hysteria that brings us up to the Nineties. After defining hysteria, she examines the subject from three perspectives: historically, including the work of Charcot and Freud; culturally, through literature, theater, and film; and, finally, in what is likely to be the book's most controversial area, in terms of epidemics. In this last section, the author hypothesizes that many of today's syndromes, including chronic fatigue, Gulf War, recovered memory, and multiple personality, along with increased reports of satanic ritual abuse and alien abduction, should be correctly categorized as hysterias. Showalter's main point, however, is not the denial of these phenomena but rather "how much power emotions have over the body." A thought-provoking work for informed readers.?Kathleen L. Atwood, Pomfret Sch. Lib., Ct.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Dr. Showalter's book is a well thought out critique of the "Medicalization of Human Distress."
Joe Walsh
As well, she reports early feminists' scathing critique of this treatment and how early female psychiatrists denied or pleaded ignorance of hysteria.
Carol Bardelli and Jerry Bardelli
Most people are not good at adjusting their ideologies, so if you're one of them, don't read it.
sparagmos

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Courtney L. Lewis on June 30, 2000
Format: Paperback
I really had high expectations for this book - the author worked for the Wellcome Institute of the study of the History of Medicine affiliated with Cambridge University - and I felt a historical look at how women's experience of illness (since men are rarities in the hysterical world) ties into modern conceptions of chronic illness would be particularly insightful. Unfortunately, I was disappointed with the level of scholarship in this volume. Her earlier chapters centering on the development of the clinical concept of "hysteria" through the 19th and early 20th century are her strongest and best researched and the insights she makes regarding connections between influential thinkers are excellent.
Showalter ties the psychological basis of vaguely explained or ephemeral illness to more modern diseases like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome with its numerous psychological and physical symptoms and pinpoints the difficulty of many chronic illness sufferers. Namely that we "live in a culture that still looks down on psychogenic illness, that does not recognize or respect its reality. The self-esteem of the patient depends on having the physiological nature of the illness accepted. The culture forces people to deny the psychological, circumstantial, or emotional sources of their symptoms and to insist that they must be biological and beyond their control in order for them to view themselves as legitimately ill..." While this insight is excellent and, I believe, very true, what the author misses out on is the profound personal nature of the experience of chronic illness with its various ramifications.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Garnet on December 23, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Honestly, when I got this book and started reading it I had this "ah hah!" moment because, after reading many books on the topics of alien abductions, DID/multiple personality, recovered memory work, false memory syndrome, and satanic ritual abuse, I had come to my own theory that much of it fell under a modern version of what used to be called "hysteria." Then here I stumble across this book which basically says my own theories definitely hold water.

The book starts with a few chapters that introduce hysteria from the 1800's, both in women and, less frequently, in men. She talks about how the various hysteria doctors of the day became celebrities, as well as some of their patients, and the hospitals would actually put on "shows" for interested people. Come and watch as women contort themselves and display other odd behavior. The books goes on about how, back in Classical times, they thought that women's strange behavior was caused by a "wandering uterus," hence the name "hysteria." In Victorian times, the symptoms were all over the board, from convulsions to being mute even to having what they called a "double personality, ie, the beginnings of the idea of DID/MPD. The theories of the doctors involved were all over the place, but basically boiled down to...no one really knew what was causing this. Worst still, once a hysteria doctor began working in a hospital, then the hospital and even those working there, nurses and other doctors, would sometimes start to develop some of the same issues, which very much underlines that this is likely a version of mass hysteria.

Our friend, Freud, introduced the idea of repressed memory and how it can manifest itself physically in the body.
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By sparagmos on June 29, 2014
Format: Paperback
A fun read and more truth to it than people will accept. Many will hate it, and you'll see who they are and why they hate when you read it. It's counter-cultural and requires some rethinking. Most people are not good at adjusting their ideologies, so if you're one of them, don't read it. (See other reviews...) On the other hand, if you're not too delicate (you can bend without breaking), I'd recommend it.
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27 of 42 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 18, 1997
Format: Hardcover
Showalter claims that theories legitimizing chronic fatiguesyndrome as an actual illness are "on the other side ofscience" and implies that a handful of questionable experts have legitimized the illness. While her findings serve to support her theory, her investigation misses or overlooks scientific research from peer-reviewed medical journals, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institutes of Health. In reality, the CDC includes CFS on a list of "Priority 1 New and Reemerging Infectious Diseases" along with hepatitis C, malaria, and tuberculosis.
^M Showalter fails to acknowledge a wide range of peer-reviewed scientific research documenting immunological dysfunction, deficits in cognitive function, and neuroendocrine system abnormalities in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome.
^M ^M Had Showalter's book been written at the turn of the century, she would have included multiple sclerosis (once known as "faker's disease") among her list of "hysterias."
^M Meanwhile, today, over half a million American adults and children are suffering from an illness which Showalter dismisses as a "psychic problem" and "coping mechanism." The former Assistant Secretary for Health, Dr. Philip R. Lee, wrote a public letter last fall describing CFS as a "scientifically recognized disease syndrome. . . not, as some have characterized it, some sort of psychological problem." Chronic fatigue syndrome is a complex illness characterized by incapacitating fatigue, neurological problems, and a constellation of symptoms that can resemble other disorders such as mononucleosis, multiple sclerosis, Lyme disease, and autoimmune diseases such as lupus.
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