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Nemiah, J.C. (1998). Approaching Hysteria: Disease and Its Interpretations. By Mark S. Micale. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995, xii + 327 pp., $29.95.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 46(1):335-339.

(1998). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 46(1):335-339


Approaching Hysteria: Disease and Its Interpretations. By Mark S. Micale. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995, xii + 327 pp., $29.95.

Review by:
John C. Nemiah

I urgently need, wrote Frederic W.H. Myers (1903) nearly a hundred years ago, “some true conception of the psychological meaning of hysteria—a vague range of phenomena called by a meaningless name.” A Cambridge classical scholar and one of the founders of the Society for Psychical Research, Myers played an important role in the investigation of hysteria, hypnotism, and psychological dissociation that flourished in France, England, and North America during the closing decades of the nineteenth century. His monumental work, Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death, summarizing much of that investigative activity, reveals not only his encyclopedic knowledge of the historical and contemporary literature concerning dissociative phenomena but his creative ability as a theoretician as well.

If Myers was bemused by “the vague range of phenomena” that confronted him at a time when their exploration was limited to a small group of medical and psychological investigators, one can imagine his despair were he to be faced with the magnitude and thematic diversity of the publications that have issued during the past twenty-odd years from the pens of scholars pursuing a study of the history of hysteria. “Once the narrow province of a few physicians and medical historians,” comments Mark Micale in this masterful review of that burgeoning literature.

the history of hysteria at present attracts attention from neurologists, psychoanalysts, psychiatrists, psychologists, intellectual and cultural historians, social historians, historians of science and medicine, women's studies specialists, Freud scholars, literary critics, and art historians. By the early 1990s, the history of the disease had been conceptualized as a scientific, clinical, social, economic, political, sexual, cultural, and aesthetic construction.

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