THE STRANGE CASE OF MADEMOISELLE P. by Brian O'Doherty

THE STRANGE CASE OF MADEMOISELLE P.

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Art critic O'Doherty's first novel is a quiet, sure-footed, and sensitive glimpse into the inner workings of Enlightenment Vienna and the world of Mozart, the Empress Maria Theresa, and Dr. Franz Mesmer. In 1777, an 18-year-old girl by the name of Marie ThÇräse, named after the great (and reigning) Hapsburg empress, is brought for treatment to Dr. Mesmer, who is known--through his theory of ``animal magnetism''--for having previously cured cases of blindness. The lovely Marie is a gifted pianist whose talent--she plays duets with Mozart and performs often before the royal court- -has already earned her a royal pension. That her blindness is due to no organic flaw in her eyes is determined at once by the intelligent and soothing Dr. Mesmer--but his successful treatment of her hysterical blindness (mainly through massage of the body) also brings about an apparent diminishment in her musical skills. Marie's father, a ruthless courtier who desperately fears losing the remunerative favor of the Empress, is so alarmed at the loss of his daughter's performing ability that he schemes to bring about the disrepute of Dr. Mesmer and finally manages, in the face of the confused hysteria of his own crazed and deluded wife, to wrest her from Dr. Mesmer's care. This domestic and medical drama--unfolded in chapters told by the beleaguered Marie herself, by the good Dr. Mesmer, and by Marie's demonically self-interested father--allows O'Doherty to graze wonderfully amidst the living ideas of the Enlightenment, tasting its daily life, watching the French Revolution pass by, and offering jabs at the inadvertent narrow- mindedness of, for example, the rational Ben Franklin, who plays a part in the Commission denouncing the pre-Freudian Dr. Mesmer. Marie herself is pathetically captivating, and the novel she appears in is an intellectual tour-de-force of quiet powers abounding with nosegays of subtle historical pleasures.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-679-41208-5
Page count: 128pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1992




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