Hysterical Men: The Hidden History of Male Nervous Illness

Mark S. Micale
Hysterical Men: The Hidden History of Male Nervous Illness

Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen writes:

Mark Micale’s book opens with a scene from John Huston’s film Freud: The Secret Passion (1962), which re-creates one of Jean-Martin Charcot’s legendary demonstrations of hypnosis before an audience of doctors at the Salpêtrière. With magical ease, Charcot makes two patients’ hysterical symptoms disappear. As Micale notes, the scene is taken from André Brouillet’s well-known painting A Clinical Lesson at the Salpêtrière, a print of which Freud hung on his office wall. There are, however, two differences. In Huston’s version, one of the doctors attending the demonstration is the young Freud himself, fresh off the train from Vienna. And, more significant, while in Brouillet’s painting the audience’s eyes converge on a female subject who fully obeys the will of her Master, Huston also portrays a male patient, no less hysterical and suggestible than his female counterpart… Charcot and Freud are the two heroes of Micale’s history, which narrates the slow and difficult recognition of a condition that had been concealed since antiquity by male doctors’ theories about the ‘uterine’ irrationality of women. Micale could scarcely have found a better image to introduce his ‘hidden history’ than the scene from Huston’s film.

(LRB 27 August 2009)

Published by Harvard University Press
11 November 2008
ISBN: 9780674031661