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Fortune, C. (1988). A Dark Science: Women, Sexuality and Psychiatry in the Nineteenth Century, by Jeffrey M. Masson, New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1986, 199 pages, $15.95. Free Associations, 1(12):130-134.

(1988). Free Associations, 1(12):130-134

A Dark Science: Women, Sexuality and Psychiatry in the Nineteenth Century, by Jeffrey M. Masson, New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1986, 199 pages, $15.95

Review by:
Christopher Fortune

Jeffrey Masson's controversial critique of psychoanalysis and its origins, The Assault on Truth: Freud's Suppression of the Seduction Theory (see review by Kovel, 1985), attempted to show through original documents that Freud denied the reality of sexual assault on women. In his new book — a collection of nine translations of French and German medical papers from 1865 to 1900, with a lengthy introduction — Masson delves even further back for evidence to muster a broader attack on present-day psychotherapy in general.

In the introduction, he charges that extreme Victorian therapeutic attitudes towards women and their sexuality remain central to psychotherapeutic practice today. Women (and children), he claims, are not only abused, but made to feel guilty through the approach of ‘blaming the victim’. He also contends that women, particularly, continue to be brutalized by surgery, drugs and electroshock — the tools of modern medical psychiatric treatment.

Masson culls a narrow range of papers, including a number of shocking examples of sanctioned nineteenth-century medical malpractice. His authors are essentially minor figures of European psychiatric thought.

Given these inherent limitations, Masson's collected papers cannot carry the burden of proof for his broad argument indicting modern psychotherapeutic attitudes. By taking a sensational and sweeping approach to the serious, complex issue of therapeutic attitudes, he stands to alienate many critical readers who would be sympathetic to aspects of his argument.

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