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Mesmerized: Powers of Mind in Victorian Britain Hardcover – December 1, 1998

ISBN-13: 978-0226902197 ISBN-10: 0226902196 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (December 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226902196
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226902197
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,308,582 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Winter, an associate professor of history at the California Institute of Technology, delivers an accessible account of one of the most overlooked episodes in the history of medicine and popular culture. Equal parts cultural study and history of science, Winter's book uses mesmerism?the practice of using suggestion and "magnetic fields" to induce trancelike states?as a window onto the development of experimental science in 19th-century Britain. With a healthy pragmatism, Winter dismisses as uninteresting the question of the objective reality of mesmeric phenomena. Instead, she concentrates on the social and intellectual conditions that made it possible for many respectable Victorians (among them, Carlyle, Dickens and Harriet Martineau) to believe in the unlikely technique named after the Prussian charlatan Franz Anton Mesmer. Winter skillfully dissects the heated ideological debates over mesmerism between the medical faculties of progressive University College and traditional King's College. Similarly keen is her critical examination of class and gender in early mesmeric experiments, staged events that typically used destitute women as guinea pigs. Most impressive, though, is a marvelous chapter on the relationship between mesmerism and British imperialism, in which Winter shows how the British used "animal magnetism" to confirm their prejudices toward the subject Indian population. Winter combines a flair for storytelling with a scrupulous attention to historical evidence, offering a history at once intellectually satisfying and, well, mesmerizing. Illustrations.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Kirkus Reviews

An exploration of Victorian culture that views mesmerism as a reflection of human interaction, gender differences, medical and scientific dilemmas, and relations of power and authority in Britain and colonial India. Conceived of by the 18th-century physician Franz Anton Mesmer, the technique of one person's control over the mind and body of another reached England in the 1830s and remained, according to Winter (History/Calif. Institute of Technology), at the center of Victorian public attention for three decades. The initial propagators of mesmerism were traveling lecturers. They organized public demonstrations in which a subject (usually female) was put in a trance, induced when the mesmerist passed his hands along her body. The trance caused paranormal reactions, including clairvoyance, extraordinary sensitivity, and suspension of pain. Some mesmerists were skilled enough to diagnose and even treat a patient during a seance; a hospital was set up to sponsor experiments testing the healing properties of mesmerism. Perhaps the most fascinating proof of mesmerisms medical effectiveness was a series of public surgical operations held to remove tumors and limbs: throughout, patients felt no discomfort. The spread of mesmeric pain suppression techniques stimulated research into anaesthetic substances; mesmerism was eventually superseded by ether. Yet along with the medical establishment, the clergy vehemently opposed this psychic practice. (Some priests saw a threat in the potential explanation of Jesus' miracles as acts of mesmerism.) Even after mesmerisms demise in Britain, it was practiced in India (where it resembled indigenous healing methods). Mesmerism helped to change English medical practices and contributed to the rise of women as public figuresfor many female patients (Harriet Martineau, Elizabeth Barrett) regarded their sickness and mesmeric treatment as a source of authority. A captivating inquiry into a bizarre and neglected mystical phenomenon. (59 line drawings, 23 photos, not seen) -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Fernando Melendez on April 18, 2000
Format: Paperback
This excellent book contains many fascinating threads, interwoven skillfully to produce a most satisfying reading experience. It is certainly a good history of altered states of consciousness obtained by interpersonal communication. The Austrian physician Franz Anton Mesmer borrowed the notion of "animal magnetism" (science was infatuated with magnets in those days) and went about effecting cures by touching patients with a glass wand in an abracadabra setting. The phenomenon took his name ("mesmerism") until the Scott James Braid started calling it "hypnotism" based on the Greek name for sleep. As should be expected, Victorian mesmerism/hypnotism bares little resemblance to modern medical hypnosis.
It is also a story of the origins of modern anesthesia: the only known general and dental anesthetics available until the 1840's were alcohol and opium. Anesthetic gases, such as ether and nitrous oxide, had been known since the 1790's, but no one had thought about applying them to block the excruciating agonies that attended surgical interventions in those days. This neglect in blocking pain was due, in part, to the medical profession's ambivalence about the eradication of pain; an ambivalence not entirely lost to this day. For example, when a patient by the name of J. Wombell (age 42) had a leg amputated at the thigh while in a mesmeric trance, he remained quiet and cooperative and had no memory of pain afterwards. He lived another 30 years. The case was given enormous publicity throughout Britain, but doctors were not convinced. Many believed there was collusion between the surgeon and the patient; that Mr. Wombell had been fully awake during the surgery and had been just pretending to have felt no pain.
Finally, it is a history of Victorian medical science and its wobbly foundations.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Ricky Hunter on August 28, 2000
Format: Paperback
Alison Winter has written a thorough , well-researched look at mesmerism in Victorian Britain that is actually a thorough look at Victorian Britain through the concept of mesmerism. It was amazing to see how mesmerism touched on such Victorian concepts as gender relations, the emergence of science and medicine as a profession, and class relations. The chapters on mesmerism and colonial India, and the effect of the idea on mesmerism in changing the image of the homebound invalid were the most fascinating. All the famous characters from this period appear somewhere in this vast study. The metaphor seemed to stretch a little thin when reading and politics were added to the mesmerisic mix near the end of the book, although this was nevertheless very interesting. A good book that makes me interested to read more about this time period in Britain.
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By Bobbananda on January 16, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
An excellent overview of Britain in the day of Mesmerism. Should be made into a movie. For anyone who wants a quick and friendly introduction to Mesmerism, this may be the book.
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