|David Kennedy Jones commented in the New York Times Magazine that Hustvedt's book exposes at "a country that had for generations channeled its anxieties and vices through the sensationalized form of the hysterical female."|
Friday, May 30, 2014
Sensational 19th-century images of women under duress
I loved this Flavorwire feature on lavish period illustrations for books by Émile Zola, Eugene Sue, and Victor Hugo. Hugo is one of the authors featured in Gilded Youth: Three Lives in France's Belle Époque, while you can sample fellow French writer Honoré de Balzac's La Comédie Humaine series with At the Sign of the Cat and Racket: The Comedy of Human Life, Volume VII. Illustrations for Balzac's works have never been lacking, including the famous Granville image of the author surrounded by his characters.
Equally lurid in its own way is Asti Hustvedt's Medical Muses: Hysteria in Nineteenth-Century Paris, which the Telegraph calls "thoughtful and engrossing." Kathryn Harrison wrote in the New York Times Book Review that "readers who can’t identify Jean-Martin Charcot as the name of the French neurologist whose 19th-century experiments with hypnosis influenced Sigmund Freud’s theory of neurosis may yet recognize the work he conducted at the Saltpêtrière Hospital in Paris. Photographs and illustrations of Charcot’s patients, all women suffering hysteria, remain in currency today, 140 years after they were made, if more as curiosities than as clinically valuable documents.... If [Charcot's] therapies were not purposefully misogynistic, they were imposed, Hustvedt shows, by 'healthy, educated and bourgeois' male doctors on 'diseased, uneducated and lower-class' women who had been committed, often for life, to a warehouse for not only the mad but also the homeless, the pregnant and unwed, and others who refused to abide by the conventions of a stifling society — in other words, the same disenfranchised women who, centuries earlier, might have been tried and executed as witches."