“I have named her Augustine.”

“Named a lunatic after a saint! Well, perhaps they are much the same. The idiot, the mystic…”

“She is not an idiot.”

She listens at the door, biting her fingernails. She needs to know what they want from her so that she can perform when asked. She has to know how mad she’s supposed to be. Satisfied, she goes back to her room where she dreams of blood and fire. Faces hidden behind shrouds. Dead men.

-Helen Kitson, from Charcot and the Saint.

Gather a group of teenage girls suffering from “excessive femininity,” house them in an asylum for the insane among epileptics, bribe them with positive attention to act out specific “symptoms” (or else return to the depths of the madhouse), coach them, hypnotise them, electroshock them, “manipulate their genitals,” invite an audience, project your fantasies onto them, ritualize the process and photograph the resulting “living theatre of female pathology,” obsessively.


And the result?

A terrific new medical condition that lets you grope and poke and hose women which the Surrealists will eventually hail as the greatest poetic discovery of the nineteenth century, saying “it should be considered in every respect a supreme means of expression.”

Pictured at top, w/cherries, is the 15 year old “Augustine,” Jean-Martin Charcot’s favorite little starlet, who went on to be the so-called “pin-up girl” of the surrealists “convulsive beauty.”

For more:

hystero-epilepsy at skepdic.com

Iconographie photographique de la Salpêtriere, 1878

Invention of Hysteria at MIT Press

On Invention of Hysteria at the American Psychological Association

Jean-Martin Charcot’s works available at Google books

The legacy of Jean-Martin Charcot by Venita Jay

Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot & The Theater of Medicine at the Waring Library

Hysteria and the helio-trope: on bodies, gender and the photograph by Dore Bowen

Nervous Dramaturgy: Pain, Performance and Excess in the Work of Dr Jean-Martin Charcot by Jonathan Marshall

Freud, Charcot and hysteria: lost in the labyrinth by Richard Webster

Scientific Surrealism by Shannon Schmiedke

The Haunted Self Chapter 2, “Seductions of Hysteria,” by David Lomas

On Surrealism and Freud by Jean-Michael Rabaté

Seeking Convulsive Beauty at The Nation

Representations of Femininity throughout Surrealism, at Trent University

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