Hysteria: The Biography (Biographies of Disease)

Hysteria: The Biography (Biographies of Disease)

Language: English

Pages: 256

ISBN: 019956096X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


The nineteenth century seems to have been full of hysterical women--or so they were diagnosed. Where are they now? The very disease no longer exists. In this fascinating account, Andrew Scull tells the story of hysteria--an illness that disappeared not through medical endeavor, but through growing understanding and cultural change. The lurid history of hysteria makes fascinating reading. Charcot's clinics showed off flamboyantly "hysterical" patients taking on sexualized poses, and among the visiting professionals was one Sigmund Freud. Scull discusses the origins of the idea of hysteria, the development of a neurological approach by John Sydenham and others, hysteria as a fashionable condition, and its growth from the 17th century. Subsequently, the "disease" declined and eventually disappeared.

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the brutal Species of the 35 hyster ia: the biogr aphy animated Creation.”10 Their ferocity, as Thomas Willis had urged a half century earlier, could be tamed only by a mixture of discipline and depletion, measures designed to put down “the raging of the Spirits and the lifting up of the Soul.” Even still, such creatures were scarcely within the reach of orthodox medical remedies, and instead required forceful, even violent, interventions, measures designed to induce “their reverence or

a fascinating and tortuous medical and cultural history. If the malady seems to change its shape and its form over the centuries, who can be surprised? For here is a disorder that even those who insist on its reality concede is a chameleon-like disease that can mimic the symptoms of any other, and one that somehow seems to mold itself to the culture in which it appears. The nineteenth-century American neurologist and novelist Silas Weir Mitchell invented what was once the most widely used

the Indian tiger. A thirst insatiable is aroused, and life is spent in looking for new victims. Cases running into double and triple figures are cited, where all the worst features of the most stubborn 90 amer ican nervousness nature have disappeared, as though the surgeon’s knife were gifted with the power of an enchanter’s wand.6 Reasserting that insanity and related conditions were the product of “nerve exhaustion” or disease, and hence belonged securely within the neurologist’s province,

feeding). In the beginning, when “the most absolute rest is desirable, I arrange to have the bowels and water passed while lying down, and the patient is lifted on to a lounge for an hour in the morning and again at bedtime [sic], and then lifted back again into the newly made bed.”27 The inactivity and high-calorie diets often resulted in massive weight gain, something the nerve doctors viewed as a thoroughly satisfactory outcome. Above all, the patient’s will was subject to the imperious

deserter, and would for many be a deeply cowardly and “unmanly” act. To stay meant more daily trauma, from which the only possible release seemed to be death. Hence the development of psychosomatic symptoms: mutism, hysterical blindness, uncontrollable shaking, paralyses, disturbances of sleep and gait, disorientation, and cardiac palpitations—so-called soldier’s heart. Now an inability to perform one’s duty had a “physical” cause. It did not go unremarked that many of the psychological

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