- Hardcover: 384 pages
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (May 23, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780393025606
- ISBN-13: 978-0393025606
- ASIN: 0393025608
- Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.3 x 8.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 23 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #917,409 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Medical Muses: Hysteria in Nineteenth-Century Paris 1st Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Before she entered Salpêtrière Hospital in 1877, Blanche Wittmann was just another damaged child from a poor neighborhood of Paris. Raped by an employer, angry and seizure-prone, the 17-year-old girl almost inevitably became a charity patient of the hospitalâÇÖs mental wards. Once there, however, she came to the attention of one of FranceâÇÖs most famous scientists, the neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot. Acclaimed for his work in diseases of the nervous system (he was the first physician to recognize that ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, was a disease of motor neurons), Charcot had developed a keen interest in the kind of neurotic fits exhibited by the teenage Blanche. Under his care and—critics would claim—his manipulation, she became not just a patient but a star performer known as âÇ£the queen of hysterics.âÇ¥ As Hustvedt details in this compassionate history, the doctor not only studied patients like Blanche, he turned them into public exhibits. Charcot and his colleagues, experimenting with treatment by hypnosis, often held theatrical demonstrations of their power over these troubled women: âÇ£Once hypnotized, Blanche became a smoothly running woman-machine....âÇ¥ These performances have led earlier writers to obsess over the circus-tent nature of the proceedings and the male arrogance of the research. And Hustvedt does explore those issues as well as CharcotâÇÖs eventual fall from professional grace. But her real fascination is in turning these so-called machines into real women, and she tells her story by deliberately focusing on three very dissimilar patients: the celebrated and obedient Blanche; a pretty and incurably willful Augustine; and a religion-crazed, demon-obsessed teenager called Geneviève. They are also completely alike in being poor, powerless, desperate. Their lives provide a near shocking contrast to the privileged existence of Charcot, married into wealth, residing in an ornate mansion on the Boulevard Saint-Germain. That imbalance is so strong (and wrong) that even today it overshadows his research into the elusive nature of neurotic behaviors. Hustvedt comes from a literary family; her sister is novelist and essayist Siri Hustvedt, her brother-in-law Paul Auster. And she has worked as both an editor and translator. But this is her first time out as a book author, and itâÇÖs not surprising to find signs of inexperience in the work. She struggles with doing justice to the complex nature of CharcotâÇÖs work; she visibly gropes for a meaningful resolution to her tale. Still, she does a lovely, sympathetic job of illuminating the lost lives of the famous hysterics, reminding us that the story of science, far from being purely clinical, is ever the most human of stories. 40 illus. (May) Reviewed by Deborah Blum. Deborah Blum is author of The PoisonerâÇÖs Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York.
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'This is a riveting study of the great iconic stars of the Salpetriere, as famous in the belle epoque for their hysteria as celebrities today are for their excesses. Asti Hustvedt probes the records to bring to life the stories of Blanche, Augustine and Genevieve as well as their brilliant doctor, Jean Martin Charcot. In the process, she gives their historic diagnosis new contemporary meaning' Lisa Appignanesi 'Medical Muses rescues from neglect the fascinating lives of these celebrity sufferers who became the face of Hysteria. With rich historical detail, Asti Hustvedt lucidly recreates the lost world of these women, who spoke in a language of sudden paralyses, twitching dances, and robotic actions, and for a while, had all of Europe listening' George Makari, author of Revolution in Mind: the Creation of Psychoanalysis. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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In the beginning, Hustvedt alludes to an Andre Brouillet painting of a doctor lecturing a group of men about hysteria with a female model. This model is a performing hysteric who works for Dr. Charcot and she is just one of the several women exploited for this purpose. Blanche Wittmann was considered the "queen of hysterics" at the age of 18. Her traumatic childhood left her imprisoned in a hospital for those deemed insane or untreatable. The ability to perform gave Blanche a dose of freedom in a time when "hysteria has become a fascinating and fashionable spectactle."
Hustvedt demonstrates excellent research and intriguing depictions of those involved. The author's rich background as a writer, editor, and traslator has perfectly suited her to write this piece, which is in no way clinical or dry. "Medical Muses" is not only nuanced and insightful, but it also delves into the role of photography in exploiting the oppressed. You must check out Face of Madness: Hugh W. Diamond and the Origin of Psychiatric Photography for more pictures. The writing may be quite clinical but it has an interesting antique qaulity. By the end of the book, she arrives at an intriguing concept: not only were these "muses" exploited by others, but they were also exploiting the system in their own right! Ultimately, these women found that the hospital they were living in was less oppressive than the world waiting for them outside - what a scary thought!
My husband has been an M.E. sufferer for over ten years, so I am no stranger to the frustrations others are referring to. However, it is totally ludicrous to review an entire book based on a few passing references in the first pages, particularly if you haven't read the rest of the book. I strongly suspect that this is the case for most of these reviewers here. Please don't let the other reviews blind you to a fantastic piece of writing on a very compelling topic. This book isn't even about M.E.
Hustvedt offers the most colourful, delightful and compelling account of the stories surrounding three women diagnosed with hysteria in late 19th century Paris, women who because of their diagnosis became world famous. Equally fascinating is the account of the hospital where these women lived, their dealings with the doctors and photographers who dealt with them on a daily basis, and the incredible Professor Charcot. Seriously, don't miss out on delving into this incredible history. The final chapter contextualises this history and discusses why it is relevant today. Absolutely fascinating.
I began reading this book yesterday and found it utterly gripping. I read it for three hours straight while my son was at his childminder, had to put it down reluctantly when the time was up, but still thought about it all day. The writing is fabulous, very very accessible, entertaining, concise, thought provoking. I was particularly drawn into the account of Charcot, (I keep imagining him sharing his dinner table with a monkey!) and found myself wondering if he had ever entertained or been entertained by other contemporary prominent Parisians I have studied. I couldn't help but wonder what he would have made of them.
This is the best non-fiction I've read in absolutely ages. My copy is on loan from the British Library, but I love it so much I came on here today to buy myself a copy to keep.