Psychotherapy as we know it today wouldn’t exist without the so-called female “hysterics” of the late 19th and early 20th century. Their inexplicable symptoms included loss of voice, paralysis of limbs, anorexia, bulimia, and fainting fits. Many of these women — including Anna O., Elisabeth von R., Dora, and Jane Avril (a dancer at the Moulin Rouge who was painted by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec) — were treated by Sigmund Freud, who made them notorious in his writings.
The stories of these women and how their perplexed doctors founded psychoanalysis are brought to life in Hysteria, a graphic novel written by Richard Appignanesi with drawings byOscar Zárate. The second book in SelfMadeHero’s Graphic Freud series, it makes Freud’s dense, psychobabble-filled texts accessible to a 21st-century audience, and illustrates part of the complicated lineage of contemporary approaches to human suffering.
Told from the perspective of a wizened old Freud, Hysteria’s narrative spans from his early lectures on the wonders of cocaine to his training with Jean-Martin Charcot at La Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, which housed 5,000 mostly female mental patients.