Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Five best books on hysteria

Asti Hustvedt is the author of Medical Muses: Hysteria in Nineteenth-Century Paris. An independent scholar who has written extensively on hysteria and literature, she has a Ph.D in French literature from New York University, is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and the recipient of numerous grants and awards, including a Phi Betta Kapa Fellowship. Hustvedt is the editor of The Decadent Reader: Fiction, Fantasy and Perversion from Fin-de-Si├Ęcle France and has published many translations. She lives in New York City.

For the Wall Street Journal, she named a five best list of books on hysteria. One title on the list:
Mad, Bad and Sad
by Lisa Appignanesi (2008)

Lisa Appignanesi's ambitious and fascinating book explores two centuries of "mad, bad and sad" women and the mind doctors who treated them. While the author's scope extends well beyond hysteria proper, the disorder in its myriad forms appears throughout the text. Some of her subjects are women who became famous patients, such as a young woman named Augustine, whose hysteria made her a medical celebrity in 19th-century Paris; and some are famous women who became patients, including Zelda Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe. Appignanesi reminds us that medical history is made up of human stories and that unhappiness, especially of the female variety, tends to be adapted to fit current diagnostic categories. These days, the tendency is to locate mental illness in biology—in "chemical imbalances" in the brain, for example. Appignanesi counters, with ample evidence, that illness is not stable but shifts according to the needs of the time.
Read about the other books on the list.

The Page 99 Test: Lisa Appignanesi's Mad, Bad, and Sad.

--Marshal Zeringue