Views & Reviews Review of the Week

Men behaving madly

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: (Published 25 August 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b3095
  1. Gwen Adshead, consultant forensic psychotherapist, Broadmoor Hospital, Crowthorne, Berkshire
  1. Gwen.adshead{at}

    An elegant study of the “genderisation” of hysteria prompts Gwen Adshead to ask which of today’s psychiatric disorders will be shown by some future historian to be just as socially constructed

    Few terms in medicine generate such passionate and conflicting responses from professionals as hysteria. From Egyptian times through the early modern and modern period to the present day, hysteria has been discussed and argued over by doctors. One of the key issues that has caused debate and dissent is whether it affects only women; the “genderisation” of hysteria is the subject of Mark Micale’s interesting book.

    It reviews the history of the concept of hysteria and its discussion in the professional literature at various times but especially the Renaissance and the Georgian and the Victorian periods. Micale also uses examples from contemporary fictional literature as contrast and comparison, to good effect. He has two main theses. The first is that emotional distress in men was recognised as a disorder in the …

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