Medical Muses, By Asti Hustvedt


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The Independent Culture

Fascinating and unsettling, this is a book about a disease that no longer exists.

The hysteria suffered by Blanche, Augustine and Geneviève made them celebrities in Belle Epoque Paris.

Jean-Martin Charcot, the doctor at the Salpêtrière Hospital who treated symptoms (ranging from wild dancing to rigor mortis rigidity) with hypnosis and magnetism, became a medical superstar.

 Hysteria was "partly an illness of being a woman in an era that strictly limited female roles," says Hustvedt, but she draws parallels in our own time with "a crop of bizarre new illnesses".