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Hysteria Complicated by Ecstasy

Hysteria Complicated by Ecstasy: The Case of Nanette Leroux

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Hysteria Complicated by Ecstasy
    Book Description:

    Hysteria Complicated by Ecstasy offers a rare window into the inner life of a person ordinarily inaccessible to historians: a semiliterate peasant girl who lived almost two centuries ago, in the aftermath of the French Revolution. Eighteen-year-old Nanette Leroux fell ill in 1822 with a variety of incapacitating nervous symptoms. Living near the spa at Aix-les-Bains, she became the charity patient of its medical director, Antoine Despine, who treated her with hydrotherapy and animal magnetism, as hypnosis was then called. Jan Goldstein translates, and provides a substantial introduction to, the previously unpublished manuscript recounting Nanette's strange illness--a manuscript coauthored by Despine and Alexandre Bertrand, the Paris physician who memorably diagnosed Nanette as suffering from "hysteria complicated by ecstasy." While hysteria would become a fashionable disease among urban women by the end of the nineteenth century, the case of Nanette Leroux differs sharply from this pattern in its early date and rural setting.

    Filled with intimate details about Nanette's behavior and extensive quotations of her utterances, the case is noteworthy for the sexual references that contemporaries did not recognize as such; for its focus on the difference between biological and social time; and for Nanette's fascination with the commodities available in the region's nascent marketplace. Goldstein's introduction brilliantly situates the text in its multiple contexts, examines it from the standpoint of early nineteenth-century medicine, and uses the insights of Foucault and Freud to craft a twenty-first-century interpretation.

    A compelling, multilayered account of one young woman's mental afflictions, Hysteria Complicated by Ecstasy is an extraordinary addition to the cultural and social history of psychiatry and medicine.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3371-9
    Subjects: Psychology, Health Sciences, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Part One HYSTERIA COMPLICATED BY ECSTASY: Sexuality, Time, and Commodities in the Malady of Nanette Leroux

    • Chapter 1 PRELIMINARIES
      (pp. 3-17)

      This book comes stamped with the most distinctive of the historian’s occupational credentials: it was inspired by an archival find. More than a decade ago, while poking around a Paris archive, I discovered a manuscript from the 1820s replete with cross-outs and inserts and bearing the intriguing title “Observations of Nanette Leroux: Hysteria Complicated by Ecstasy.” The subject matter was peripheral to the research I was then conducting, but, after a cursory examination of the text, I felt unwilling to let it go and had the manuscript microfilmed. Thus preserved, it lay untouched in my desk drawer for some years...

    • Chapter 2 CONTEXTS
      (pp. 18-82)

      Reflecting on my own, initially unreflective practice as historian of the Leroux case—on how, after transcribing a bundle of densely inscribed manuscript pages, I tried to make sense of them—I realized that my first impulse had been to identify the relevant contexts of the strange narrative that confronted me and to try to fill them in with detailed empirical research. That knee-jerk response was, I now think, basically sound. At the outset I knew the title of the manuscript and, thanks to an archival inventory, the name of its author; everything else about it remained shrouded in mystery....

      (pp. 83-127)

      In analyzing the Leroux case, it is important to distinguish the levels of that analysis: what the various participants thought was happening and what we, reading the text nearly two hundred years later, might surmise. Let me begin by teasing out the participants’ views.

      The striking fact is the agreement of all the participants about the cause of Nanette’s illness. The case study mentions the prurient actions of the garde champêtre at least five times. A fresh glimpse of the offender or an overheard account of the offense suffices to provoke a relapse in Nanette. Even after her recovery in...

    • Chapter 4 TEXTUAL MATTERS
      (pp. 128-134)

      Most of the individuals who appear in the Leroux case can be shown to have had an unmistakable historical existence. Thus, for example, the Dr. Vidal who was the first certified physician to visit Nanette is listed in the Almanach du duché de Savoie during the 1820s as a member of medical staff of the thermal baths at Aix. Monsieur Degaillon, who is among the covert observers of Nanette’s first Scottish shower, appears in the departmental archives of the Savoie as the royal “tax-collector for the administrative district (mandement) of Aix” who purchased a share of stock in the thermal...


    • Observations of Nanette Leroux: Hysteria Complicated by Ecstasy
      (pp. 137-200)

      Nanette Leroux, eighteen years old, with red hair, freckled skin, bright eyes, and a sanguine, bilious temperament,¹ had menstruated for the first time at the age of fifteen and a half. Since then her periods had continued, though with occasional irregularities and even with interruptions lasting three or four months. She was a simple village girl. She had, however, received some education, having spent a year in Aix[-les-Bains] learning to read and write at the convent of the sisters of Saint-Joseph.

      The patient had, moreover, always led an active life. Except for the pallor that she exhibited before the appearance...

  7. Appendix On the Compatibility of Foucauldian and Freudian Approaches
    (pp. 201-204)
  8. Notes
    (pp. 205-238)
  9. Index
    (pp. 239-246)