Mesmerized: Powers of Mind in Victorian Britain

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9780226902197: Mesmerized: Powers of Mind in Victorian Britain

Across Victorian Britain, apparently reasonable people twisted into bizarre postures, called out in unknown languages, and placidly bore assaults that should have caused unbearable pain all while they were mesmerized. Alison Winter's fascinating cultural history traces the history of mesmerism in Victorian society. Mesmerized is both a social history of the age and a lively exploration of the contested territory between science and pseudo-science.

"Dazzling. . . . This splendid book . . . gives us a new form of historical understanding and a model for open and imaginative reading."—James R. Kinkaid, Boston Globe

"A landmark in the history of science scholarship."—John Sutherland, The Independent

"It is difficult to imagine the documentary side of the story being better done than by Winter's well-researched and generously illustrated study. . . . She is a lively and keen observer; and her book is a pleasure to read purely for its range of material and wealth of detail. . . . Fruitful and suggestive."—Daniel Karlin, Times Literary Supplement

"An ambitious, sweeping and fascinating historical study. . . . Beautifully written, thoroughly researched, and well-illustrated."—Bernard Lightman, Washington Times

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About the Author:

Alison Winter (1965-2016) was a professor of history at the University of Chicago. She taught at Cambridge University and the California Institute of Technology before coming to Chicago in 2001. Her research encompassed the history of sciences of mind, the history of modern medicine, modern British history (especially the Victorian era), and historical issues of gender. She was the author of Mesmerized: Powers of Mind in Victorian Britain and Memory: Fragments of a Modern History. The latter book won the Gordon J. Laing Prize in 2014.

From Kirkus Reviews:

An exploration of Victorian culture that views mesmerism as a reflection of human interaction, gender differences, medical and scientific dilemmas, and relations of power and authority in Britain and colonial India. Conceived of by the 18th-century physician Franz Anton Mesmer, the technique of one person's control over the mind and body of another reached England in the 1830s and remained, according to Winter (History/Calif. Institute of Technology), at the center of Victorian public attention for three decades. The initial propagators of mesmerism were traveling lecturers. They organized public demonstrations in which a subject (usually female) was put in a trance, induced when the mesmerist passed his hands along her body. The trance caused paranormal reactions, including clairvoyance, extraordinary sensitivity, and suspension of pain. Some mesmerists were skilled enough to diagnose and even treat a patient during a seance; a hospital was set up to sponsor experiments testing the healing properties of mesmerism. Perhaps the most fascinating proof of mesmerisms medical effectiveness was a series of public surgical operations held to remove tumors and limbs: throughout, patients felt no discomfort. The spread of mesmeric pain suppression techniques stimulated research into anaesthetic substances; mesmerism was eventually superseded by ether. Yet along with the medical establishment, the clergy vehemently opposed this psychic practice. (Some priests saw a threat in the potential explanation of Jesus' miracles as acts of mesmerism.) Even after mesmerisms demise in Britain, it was practiced in India (where it resembled indigenous healing methods). Mesmerism helped to change English medical practices and contributed to the rise of women as public figuresfor many female patients (Harriet Martineau, Elizabeth Barrett) regarded their sickness and mesmeric treatment as a source of authority. A captivating inquiry into a bizarre and neglected mystical phenomenon. (59 line drawings, 23 photos, not seen) -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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