Spring Books

Approaching Hysteria: Disease and its Interpretations

BMJ 1995; 310 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.310.6988.1209a (Published 06 May 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;310:1209
  1. Simon Wessely

    Mark S Micale Princeton University Press, pounds sterling24.95, pp 327 ISBN 0 691 03717 5

    For some medical specialties historical inquiry might seem to have little to offer, conjuring up images of elderly consultants writing the history of their hospitals. Not so in psychiatry, and not so in Mark Micale's enthralling account of the history of one particular disease—hysteria.

    Micale, a professional historian, takes as his task not the illness itself but the way in which authors past and present have approached it. He uses hysteria to illuminate the history of ideas, tracing it through its diverse appearances in the psychiatric, neurological, literary, feminist, psychoanalytic, sociological, and historical literatures. He pays particular attention to French publications, for hysteria has always been the great neurosis of not just French medicine, but French art, science, literature, and culture. French society has conducted a longstanding and continuing love affair with hysteria. Guy de Maupassant said that “we are all hysterics.” Jules Clarette wrote that “the illness …

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