Reading Group 9 June 2014

Hysteria in the Nineteenth Century

Monday, 9 June 2014, 6.00 – 7.30 pm, Lit and Phil, Newcastle upon Tyne

The diagnosis of hysteria was a fraught topic throughout the nineteenth century: there were, for example, consistent debates about who could become hysterical, how they came to be ‘nervous’ patients, and what exactly their symptoms would look like. The two articles for this session (from Victorian medical journals) reveal the inconsistencies, uncertainties and prejudices that were an integral part of contemporary conceptions of hysteria.

Pseudoscience is often understood as being on the fringes of, or in opposition to, accepted scientific theory, but the prevalence of hysteria in the nineteenth century could raise questions about the pseudoscientific potential of conventional medicine, as well as its purported objectivity.

Roisin Leonard, MA student in the School of English, Newcastle University, will introduce the following readings:

Denis de Berdt Hovell, ‘An Inquiry into the Real Nature of Hysteria’, British and Foreign Medico-Chirurgical Review, 1 (1870)

Hovell scan

James Oliver, ‘A Few Notes on Hysteria’, Brain, 2 (1886), 218-223

James Oliver Hysteria 1886

The Science Museum website provides a very succinct summary of Victorian women and hysteria:

Refreshments available. All welcome.

For further information about this session or the reading group, please contact Pat Beesley at