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Prog Brain Res. 2013;206:93-122. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-444-63364-4.00023-5.

Charcot, la salpêtrière, and hysteria as represented in European literature.

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1
Department of Neurology, Atrium Medical Centre, Heerlen, The Netherlands. Electronic address: pkoehler@neurohistory.nl.

Abstract

In this chapter, I describe the influence of Jean-Martin Charcot (1825-1893), his neurological school at the Salpêtrière (Paris), and his teaching of hysteria on European literature. Many references to Charcot and descriptions of hysterical attacks are found not only in French naturalistic literature but also subsequently in naturalistic novels from other European countries (the Netherlands, Russia, Scandinavian countries, Spain, Italy, and Germany) and furthermore in novels written in new literary movements that followed naturalism. At first, objective descriptions were presented, but in the periods that followed, in particular during the past decades, criticism, rather than objective descriptions, became the motivation for continuing to use Charcot and his teaching of hysteria as inspiration for novels and plays, although Charcot as an admired founder of neurology did not quite disappear, even in recent novels. It is quite impressive to observe how Charcot and his demonstrations of hysterical attacks still resound throughout European literature, even after more than a century.

KEYWORDS:

Charcot; European literature; Salpêtrière; history of medicine; hysteria; naturalism; neurology

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