A DARK SCIENCE: Women, Sexuality, and Psychiatry in the Nineteenth Century by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson

A DARK SCIENCE: Women, Sexuality, and Psychiatry in the Nineteenth Century

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Anthology of horror-show articles by 19th-century doctors who advocated sadistic treatments for sexually disturbed women. This is a wild book, for many reasons. Masson passionately argues that: Freudians and other psychiatrists even today go along with these doctors, who belong more in a rogues' gallery than in medical history. One advocated cauterization as a remedy for excessive masturbation. Many believed removing the ovaries was a cure-all. A thrifty variation was merely telling the patient that her ovaries had been removed. These sorry stories were written as case histories by the quacks concerned, and have been carefully translated and arranged from various medical journals of the time. So far so good. Masson has gone to this trouble as part of his campaign to show that Freud, in disbelieving children who claimed to have been sexually molested, was merely going along with the medical rank and file of his day. There are some minor glitches in Masson's argument that these were reputable doctors of the time: one he cannot supply with a first name, let alone reputation, for example. Moreover, although he suggests that some of the most sadistic articles were criticized at the time of their publication, he does not describe this criticism, which would explain much about the true climate of opinion existing at that time. So, this is in some ways history affected by emotion. Doubtless these stories are horrible, but how truly accepted they were remains to be proven. A furious diatribe against pornography is added by Masson, which seems a bit beside the main point.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1986
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux