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On Hysteria: The Invention of a Medical Category between 1670 and 1820
Arnaud, Sabine
University of Chicago Press / Hardcover / 2015-09-01 / 022627554X
price: $70.50 (may be subject to change)
376 pages
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These days, hysteria is known as a discredited diagnosis that was used to group and pathologize a wide range of conditions and behaviors in women. But for a long time, it was seen as a legitimate category of medical problem—and one that, originally, was applied to men as often as to women.

In On Hysteria, Sabine Arnaud traces the creation and rise of hysteria, from its invention in the eighteenth century through nineteenth-century therapeutic practice. Hysteria took shape, she shows, as a predominantly aristocratic malady, only beginning to cross class boundaries (and be limited to women) during the French Revolution. Unlike most studies of the role and status of medicine and its categories in this period, On Hysteria focuses not on institutions but on narrative strategies and writing—the ways that texts in a wide range of genres helped to build knowledge through misinterpretation and recontextualized citation.

Powerfully interdisciplinary, and offering access to rare historical material for the first time in English, On Hysteria will speak to scholars in a wide range of fields, including the history of science, French studies, and comparative literature.


"In this profoundly original and interdisciplinary work, Arnaud provides us with a major study on the dynamics on science, medicine, and culture in the eighteenth century. Her analysis complements the recent pioneering works by Anne Vila, Elizabeth A. Williams, and Jan Goldstein, among others, while all along offering the most extensive treatment of the early hysteria phenomena since the classic work by Ilza Veith. Her study is essential reading for anyone interested in this quintessential but enigmatic malady—one that so defines long-standing perceptions of gender, bourgeois culture, and modernity itself."

— Sean Quinlan, author of The Great Nation in Decline

"Arnaud has given us a rich slice of eighteenth-century cultural history and a bold methodological intervention into the history of science and medicine. Against the now-familiar background of late nineteenth-century and early Freudian hysteria as a mode of covert feminine protest, she presents for the era of the Enlightenment an unstable discursive field where medical writing overlaps with other literary genres and the hysteric is as often a man as a woman and is usually an aristocrat. An original and fascinating piece of scholarship."

— Jan Goldstein, author of Hysteria Complicated by Ecstasy

About the Author:

Sabine Arnaud is a Max Planck Research Group Director at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin.

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