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Hysteria: The Biography

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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 fasci 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 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 fasci 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.

30 review for Hysteria: The Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jam

    Two things: 1) This is a fun read, in the way interesting histories of medicine are, and 2) Thank fuck I'm a woman now and not at, you know, any other point in history. Two things: 1) This is a fun read, in the way interesting histories of medicine are, and 2) Thank fuck I'm a woman now and not at, you know, any other point in history.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Eternauta

    Ενδιαφέρουσα αλλά προβληματική εισαγωγή σε μια "ψυχοσωματική" ασθένεια τόσο παλιά όσο και η ανθρώπινη ιστορία. Ο Scull - ένας από τους πιο έγκριτους ιστορικούς της ψυχιατρικής - επιχειρεί να γράψει μια κατανοητή και βατή περίληψη των ιατρικών ερμηνειών και παρερμηνειών μιας νόσου που αλλάζει ονόματα, θεραπευτικές αγωγές αλλά ακόμα και συμπτώματα στο πέρασμα των αιώνων. Δυστυχώς από αυτήν την "βιογραφία" απουσιάζουν πλήρως οι φωνές των ίδιων των ασθενών. Μαθαίνουμε πολλά για τις συχνά σαδιστικές α Ενδιαφέρουσα αλλά προβληματική εισαγωγή σε μια "ψυχοσωματική" ασθένεια τόσο παλιά όσο και η ανθρώπινη ιστορία. Ο Scull - ένας από τους πιο έγκριτους ιστορικούς της ψυχιατρικής - επιχειρεί να γράψει μια κατανοητή και βατή περίληψη των ιατρικών ερμηνειών και παρερμηνειών μιας νόσου που αλλάζει ονόματα, θεραπευτικές αγωγές αλλά ακόμα και συμπτώματα στο πέρασμα των αιώνων. Δυστυχώς από αυτήν την "βιογραφία" απουσιάζουν πλήρως οι φωνές των ίδιων των ασθενών. Μαθαίνουμε πολλά για τις συχνά σαδιστικές αντιδράσεις ψυχιάτρων , γυναικολόγων και νευρολόγων σε μια κατά κύριο λόγο πολιτισμικά κατασκευασμένη "ψυχική ασθένεια" αλλά ποτέ δεν ακούμε την οπτική των ίδιων των πασχόντων. Η σιωπή αυτή είναι ακόμα πιο εκωφαντική αφού ο ίδιος ο συγγραφέας υπογραμμίζει τις έμφυλες διαστάσεις της διάγνωσης και των διαφόρων μεθόδων "θεραπείας" και υπογραμμίζει πόσο βαθιά εμποτισμένες σε στερεότυπα για την γυναικεία φύση και σεξουαλικότητα ήταν (και παραμένουν) οι ιατρικές περιγραφές της υστερίας. Και όμως στο μόνο κεφάλαιο που οι ίδιοι ασθενείς "μιλούν" γλαφυρά για την εμπειρία τους είναι αυτό που αναφέρεται στους στρατιώτες του Α' Π.Π. διεγνωσμένους με shell-shock (το αντίστοιχο του σύγχρονου Post - traumatic stress disorder)! Προσωπικά, βρίσκω εκνευριστικό και τον διασυρμό της φροϋδικής / ψυχαναλυτικής προσέγγισης, κάτι που τείνει να γίνει ο κανόνας στην αγγλόφωνη ιστοριογραφία της ψυχιατρικής. Επίσης αρνητική εντύπωση κάνει και η πλήρης απουσία αναφορών σε σύγχρονές μας κατηγορίες ασθένειας όπως οι "κρίσεις πανικού" αλλά και η αδιαφορία για την πρόοδο της ενδοκρινολογίας και των απαντήσεων που ενδεχομένως να έχει δώσει σε μια σειρά από συμπτώματα που στο παρελθόν χαρακτηρίζονταν ως "υστερικά". Σε κάθε περίπτωση το βιβλίο είναι ευανάγνωστο, πλούσιο σε πληροφορίες και χρήσιμο ως εισαγωγικό κείμενο σε όσους ενδιαφέρονται για το θέμα. Παρόλαυτα, θεωρώ ότι το Female Malady της Elaine Showalter παραμένει μια πιο σφαιρική και ουσιώδης ανάλυση και ας είναι κατά 20+ χρονάκια πιο ηλικιωμένο.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

    This is a phenomenal book-- excellent scholarship, approachable writing style, and less than 200 pages! Not only did this book help tremendously with my research, it provided a model for the kind of scholarly writing I hope to produce one day. For readers interested in how hysteria evolved from about the 17-20th centuries, this is an excellent overview. It covers humors, Freud, she'll shock, and much more by drawing on the published medical research, physicians letters, and retrospective evaluat This is a phenomenal book-- excellent scholarship, approachable writing style, and less than 200 pages! Not only did this book help tremendously with my research, it provided a model for the kind of scholarly writing I hope to produce one day. For readers interested in how hysteria evolved from about the 17-20th centuries, this is an excellent overview. It covers humors, Freud, she'll shock, and much more by drawing on the published medical research, physicians letters, and retrospective evaluations of the medical knowledge by contemporary researchers. It is an excellent companion to Edward Shorter's work and would, I expect, be fairly easy to teach with.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Hoogterp

    Really interesting and fascinating brief biography of hysteria and it's travels through medical history. Unfortunately the author completely ignores the brief period during which manual manipulation of women and the electric vibrator came into practice. Perhaps he felt that was too sensational to discuss; however folks will likely be looking to learn more about this and at the very least the author could've acknowledged this medical occurrence and spent a paragraph or two discussing it if not wa Really interesting and fascinating brief biography of hysteria and it's travels through medical history. Unfortunately the author completely ignores the brief period during which manual manipulation of women and the electric vibrator came into practice. Perhaps he felt that was too sensational to discuss; however folks will likely be looking to learn more about this and at the very least the author could've acknowledged this medical occurrence and spent a paragraph or two discussing it if not wanting to spend an entire chapter.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Fern Adams

    This is an interesting book tracing back the history of hysteria and the idea of illnesses being psychosomatic. I was expecting a bit more from it but it is a good point to start off researching from and isn’t too academic.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    It's interesting to read on the history surrounding hysteria and it's evolution throughout the ages. I found the book easy to pickup yet slightly fleeting in certain areas. The final chapter made for more depressing reading as the author touches upon modern society's stigmatized illnesses like CFS. It very much came across as the opinions of someone uninformed in the subject; belonging to a book twenty years previous. It also highlighted how little we have progressed in the acceptance and demyst It's interesting to read on the history surrounding hysteria and it's evolution throughout the ages. I found the book easy to pickup yet slightly fleeting in certain areas. The final chapter made for more depressing reading as the author touches upon modern society's stigmatized illnesses like CFS. It very much came across as the opinions of someone uninformed in the subject; belonging to a book twenty years previous. It also highlighted how little we have progressed in the acceptance and demystifying of certain conditions.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Nut Meg

    Although an interesting subject, Scull provides a level of detail more typical of a wide ranging historical overview with limited discussion of each topic, as opposed to an exclusive exploration of a single "disease." The writing style suggests that this may have been the result of efforts to appeal to a lay audience, especially given the presence of a glossary of medical terms at the end. Whatever the reason, Scull's chapters correlate with particular periods and medical interpretations of Hyst Although an interesting subject, Scull provides a level of detail more typical of a wide ranging historical overview with limited discussion of each topic, as opposed to an exclusive exploration of a single "disease." The writing style suggests that this may have been the result of efforts to appeal to a lay audience, especially given the presence of a glossary of medical terms at the end. Whatever the reason, Scull's chapters correlate with particular periods and medical interpretations of Hysteria, starting with the 17th century when physicians first began diagnosing what was previously attributed to witchcraft, as a disease. Scull makes a point of discussing the gendered nature of the diagnosis and how prejudices about mental illness and femininity influenced both patients and clinicians interpretations. Especially interesting was Scull's explanation of how the evolution of medicine and the politics of medical specialization affected treatment in the 19th century. In conclusion, Scull makes the argument that although the diagnosis has disappeared in the last century, patients have simply been reclassified under disorders with less negative connotations. However, though the basic idea is reasonable, he manages to posit it in rather insulting terms that suggest the same disdain for psychosomatic ailments as the legions of clinicians described throughout the book. Though an informative and easily accessible history, its brevity makes it more appropriate for the casual reader as opposed to an academic or someone well-versed in the history of medicine

  8. 4 out of 5

    Brena

    Extremely useful resource for the history of mental illness and the exhibition of it within the female body

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sally

    I picked up Hysteria: The Disturbing History when I went to visit the Bedlam Exhibition at the Wellcome Collection on 8 October 2016. Due to the fact that one of the main characters of the book I'm currently writing is put into an asylum for 9 years, I was hoping to learn a little bit about the treatment of the patients in the hospital during the 18th century, attitudes to madness during those times, patient recovery (if any) and also perhaps a little bit about the hospital itself. However, the I picked up Hysteria: The Disturbing History when I went to visit the Bedlam Exhibition at the Wellcome Collection on 8 October 2016. Due to the fact that one of the main characters of the book I'm currently writing is put into an asylum for 9 years, I was hoping to learn a little bit about the treatment of the patients in the hospital during the 18th century, attitudes to madness during those times, patient recovery (if any) and also perhaps a little bit about the hospital itself. However, the exhibition was significantly more art and literature-based than I was expecting and I wasn't able to glean much that was informative or useful, so I was hoping that this book - along with a few others that I picked up in the shop - might fill in the gaps. This book is very well-written and I found Andrew Scull's narrative style engaging, despite having to refer to the glossary upon occasion to look up words I've never heard of (e.g. 'parturition' - childbirth). Starting with the first use of the term hysteria in 1602 up until it's disappearance from modern-day diagnoses, Scull gives a relatively short history of the 'disease', addressing changing guises, treatments and attitudes of the medical progression across a large period of time. He also explores how doctors struggled to pin hysteria down to a physiological cause, the notion of a mental illness at the time being completely non-existent. The chapter about 'shell-shock' during World War I as a form of 'male-hysteria' I found particularly interesting, as the only form of hysteria I was familiar with was the 'woman's disease', linked to their 'inferior' biology and repressed sexuality to diminish them and write off their emotions and experiences as nonsense. Certainly this book does dwell on this latter aspect of the disease quite a bit. If you're a woman and hadn't felt before that being labelled as 'hysterical' was insulting, you certainly will after reading this book! There's plenty of gory, upsetting detail as to some of the more brutal treatment of hysterical women (and men too, but mostly women) included within these pages, including female genital mutilation and Freud's, quite frankly, disgusting treatment of his sexually abused patient Ida Bauer aka. Dora. Surprisingly, the opposite end of the spectrum for treatment - manual genital stimulation - that famously led to the invention of the vibrator is completely ignored. I found this very odd considering how Scull also went to great lengths to illustrate how some doctors felt victims of hysteria were taking 'flight into illness' for the secondary gains that a sick role could provide. It's actually in relation to this last point that I dropped my rating from five stars to four. In the conclusion to his book, Scull talks about the disappearance of the disease of hysteria, and how it has since been redefined as other diagnoses such as post-traumatic stress disorder, post-natal depression etc. However, rather than talking about a more developed scientific understanding of mental illnesses and changing cultural attitudes towards women, Scull then spends an inordinate amount of time almost discrediting those who claim to suffer from mental illnesses to conclude that hysteria (in it's more stereotypical, hypochondriac form) has never really disappeared, citing ME and chronic-fatigue syndrome as particular sources of contention. This gave me a bad taste in my mouth, as whilst our modern-day understanding of mental illness is by no-means perfect, ever-changing, and often driven by the profits made by Big Pharma, simply dismissing claims of mental illness as being all in the victim's head is completely counter-productive. The very definition of a mental illness is that it is in the victim's head, but that doesn't mean that their suffering is not real or unworthy of treatment. To automatically assume that the patient is making it up for attention is dangerous. Despite the book's conclusion being a bit of a let down, overall I really enjoyed this book. I do not read non-fiction very often so to keep me engaged for 200-odd pages is an achievement in itself.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Diana

    Andrew Scull's book details the history of the amorphous condition known as hysteria. Scull does not tell us what hysteria is or what causes it, instead he describes how hysteria has morphed from a condition originating in the uterus to one caused by neurological problems and psychological issues. I found it fascinating to see how hysteria vacillated between being an indication of good breeding/upper class and a mark of weakness/lower class. The condition has always been most associated with wom Andrew Scull's book details the history of the amorphous condition known as hysteria. Scull does not tell us what hysteria is or what causes it, instead he describes how hysteria has morphed from a condition originating in the uterus to one caused by neurological problems and psychological issues. I found it fascinating to see how hysteria vacillated between being an indication of good breeding/upper class and a mark of weakness/lower class. The condition has always been most associated with women. Scull tells horrifying stories of how some doctors in the 1800s tried to cure the disease by essentially conducting female genital mutilation. Despite hysteria being a female-associated disease, there have been instances in time when men suffered similar problems that were labelled differently. Scull talks about the attitudes towards and treatments carried out on soldiers from WWI who returned from from the battlefield with shell shock, a condition with symptoms strikingly similar to hysteria. Shell shock was assumed by some doctors to be a way for soldiers to avoid going back to the battlefield. These doctors subjected traumatized soldiers to "treatments" (such as painful electric shocks) that aimed to break them of their shell shock. The final chapter presents how hysteria is not really acknowledged as a condition any more, but Scull speculates that it has morphed into other difficult to pin down conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome. I came away from this book thinking about how we classify disease. It's certainly not always based on tangible diagnoses and scientific evidence. Often classification is driven by social mores and drug companies. This is a very readable book and I'm afraid that my three star rating is a bit unfair because I didn't give the book quite the attention it deserved in the beginning.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Natalie Moore

    Interesting, until the last chapter when he attacks patients with fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue/ME claiming these labels are used to avoid being labelled as "classic hysterical malingerers." I am quite sure that it is doctors who come up with diagnostic labels, not the patients. Although according to him doctors have "no interest" in patients with these experiences - a quite frankly dangerous overgeneralisation. Scull also doesn't mention that the World Health Organisation classifies the above as Interesting, until the last chapter when he attacks patients with fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue/ME claiming these labels are used to avoid being labelled as "classic hysterical malingerers." I am quite sure that it is doctors who come up with diagnostic labels, not the patients. Although according to him doctors have "no interest" in patients with these experiences - a quite frankly dangerous overgeneralisation. Scull also doesn't mention that the World Health Organisation classifies the above as a neurological disorder, but I suppose that would negate his entire chapter. Not so much a "disturbing history" as an uninformed opinion.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Bailey

    Good book that goes through all the changes in definition and treatment that came with hysteria and why it disappeared (cough FREUD). Wish it had more focus on patients rather than the academics who studied them.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sophie

    I'm on page 122 of 240 of Hysteria: I'm abandoning this book. I can't believe a book on the history of hysteria is all about the men who defined and diagnosed it. It refuses to acknowledge what this meant for women and instead focuses on how different men defined hysteria. Also, if the writer uses the phrase 'hoi polloi' one more time, I'll have to rip this book to pieces. Shame, such an interesting topic, such an uninteresting book. I'm on page 122 of 240 of Hysteria: I'm abandoning this book. I can't believe a book on the history of hysteria is all about the men who defined and diagnosed it. It refuses to acknowledge what this meant for women and instead focuses on how different men defined hysteria. Also, if the writer uses the phrase 'hoi polloi' one more time, I'll have to rip this book to pieces. Shame, such an interesting topic, such an uninteresting book.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jules

    Andrew Scull explores this elite disease and the majority of women affected by it. There is an interesting chapter on traumatic neurosis and World War I as well, cases of male hysteria. This "hystery" is by no means complete, but he covers a lot of ground in his succinct text and offers up some additional suggestions for further reading. Andrew Scull explores this elite disease and the majority of women affected by it. There is an interesting chapter on traumatic neurosis and World War I as well, cases of male hysteria. This "hystery" is by no means complete, but he covers a lot of ground in his succinct text and offers up some additional suggestions for further reading.

  15. 5 out of 5

    David Lamp

    An insightful, wry, and thoughtful read about a condition that has many similarities to other conditions brought on by the changes of a rapidly evolving culture. An essential book for those consulting with professionals and their families.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sannie Hald

    I am glad I wasn't a woman back in the day.. This books was not useful for my research and I found it boring and upsetting, yet interesting, though the latter does not uplifts the grade due to it being boring and upsetting. I am glad I wasn't a woman back in the day.. This books was not useful for my research and I found it boring and upsetting, yet interesting, though the latter does not uplifts the grade due to it being boring and upsetting.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Liselotte

    Horrible, horrible book. Apparently people like me aren't really sick, but just pretend. This guy uses a lot of big words, to make up for the fact that he has no idea what he's talking about. I DNF'd it because it was horrid. Save your money and buy a good book instead. Horrible, horrible book. Apparently people like me aren't really sick, but just pretend. This guy uses a lot of big words, to make up for the fact that he has no idea what he's talking about. I DNF'd it because it was horrid. Save your money and buy a good book instead.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kayla

    This book really helped me with my research. I also really enjoyed his writing style.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Cordelia

  20. 4 out of 5

    Mara

  21. 5 out of 5

    Christine L.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Karen Timko

  23. 5 out of 5

    Bly

  24. 5 out of 5

    Serena

  25. 4 out of 5

    Tamer Goueli

  26. 4 out of 5

    Rheeanne75

  27. 5 out of 5

    Elena

  28. 4 out of 5

    Emily 🐳

  29. 4 out of 5

    Samantha

  30. 4 out of 5

    Meg

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