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The Mesmerist: The Society Doctor Who Held Victorian London Spellbound Hardcover – 9 Mar 2017
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Wendy Moore has written a thrilling account of this odd byway of medical history...she has successfully taken a historical episode and used it to colour in the world of 19th-century scientific endeavour and its attempts to uncover the still-unexplained mysteries of the human unconscious (Lucy Lethbridge LITERARY REVIEW)
Engrossing...her social history of Victorian medicine, which struggled with innovation and provision for the poor, also feels rivetingly topical...[A] witty and instructive tale (Miranda Seymour DAILY TELEGRAPH)
Elliotson, as Moore's engrossing study describes, became passionate about hypnosis, under which (he tried to prove) a patient could have surgery without pain. His demonstrations became as fashionable as any theatre - but was it fraud? (SUNDAY TELEGRAPH)
The enthralling story of the Victorian doctor who claimed patients could be cured and operated on with hypnosis - only to be branded a fraud by the medical establishment. Today he's been triumphantly vindicated (DAILY MAIL)
Charles Dickens, as it happens, has a cameo role in Moore's book. Sceptical at first about the powers of mesmerism, the novelist became a convert after witnessing one of the many sessions run by John Elliotson, the doctor who helped to start a craze for putting Londoners, sick and healthy alike, into trances (Clive Davis THE TIMES)
Lively...Moore tells her story with gusto (Lucy Hughes-Hallett THE OBSERVER)
Fascinating...she brings the London medical world to vivid life. Elliotson's experiments were covered in lavish detail by contemporary journals, but Moore has made this an altogether richer story by judicious use of details gleaned from diaries, case reports and hospital archives (Thomas Morris TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT)
Medicine in Victorian Britain was brutish and operations were performed without anaesthetic. Enter the self-styled Baron Dupotet, promoting hypnosis. Crowds flocked to see Elizabeth and Jane Okey mesmerised then suffer electric shocks or have nails hammered through their cheeks. So was his mesmerism quackery or real medical aid? (John Lewis Stempel SUNDAY EXPRESS)
The idea of a higher, healing state took 19th-century society by storm but, as this lively book shows, it was to prove controversial (HISTORY REVEALED)
Wendy Moore is an expert guide to the world of early 19th-century medicine, and this fascinating book is packed with buccaneering, larger-than-life doctors and gruesome operations, as well as the minutely documented antics of the Okey sisters. UCH in those times was evidently a much livelier place than it is today under our dear old NHS (Jane Ridley THE SPECTATOR)
From the author of the No. 1 bestseller WEDLOCK, the story of two pioneering scientists, and a nation held under the spell of mesmerism...See all Product description
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While for me the book spends a little too much time on the specific antics of the experiments (and the subjects of these), this is a highly engrossing and engaging read – filled with colourful characters, a major Victorian scandal, bitter rivalries and sanctimonious bigots. Cracking stuff.
Also explaining with great background, the origination of some of our finest institutions, this is an enjoyable, almost novel-esque piece of writing which serves up a delicious and curious slice of history.
Elliotson was the son of a wealthy Southwark pharmacist. He studied at Edinburgh and Cambridge, and made a fortune through his private practice. In 1831 he became Professor of the theory and practice of medicine at University College Hospital. The hospital was part of the recently established University of London. Elliotson despised the place. He was a keen advocate of new technologies such as the stethoscope and acupuncture, things which most of his colleagues scoffed at.
He championed a new publication called the Lancet, a publication that wanted to end the closed shop world of the medical profession. In that profession quackery and corruption were rife. Not sure, the profession was outraged. Elliotson cleverly used the Lancet to tell the public about his investigations and achievements. The latter included using quinine to cure malaria and iodine to cure goitre. He discovered that hay fever was caused by pollen not hay.
He was almost obsessed with phrenology and mesmerism, named after Franz Mesmer a German in the 18 th century who had played to packed houses on a stage. He and his assistants had induced women to have convulsive fits. It was claimed that inducing trance like fits could cure neurological disorders, including epilepsy.
An attractive young housemaid became Elliotson's most famous patient. She kept having strange seizures. Elizabeth Okey was very shy and demure but once mesmerised she became wild and very amorous. She whistled and provoked the audience. The display understandably became very popular particularly when Elliotson put a needle into Okey's neck and gave her electric shocks whereupon she lifted weights that should have been impossible for her to lift. The experiments were increased in scope. His patient began to forecast the future. She gradually took over the show. Wags called her the prophetess of St Pancras.
Critics savaged what was going on. They said he was the ring master of a freak show. Public opinion remained divided on the merits of mesmerism. Dickens, a close friend, was entirely convinced. Thackeray was one of Elliotson's patients. Eventually, the Lancet denounced mesmerism and Elliotson had to resign. Outside the medical world mesmerism continued to flourish. One practitioner hypnotised animals including an elephant and a fish. Elliotson continued his shows at home to large gatherings. He demonstrates that his pet cockatoo could transmit mesmeric rays. He set up the London Mesmeric Infirmary where he claimed to have cured seizures. He performed a mastectomy under hypnosis. A former colleague amputated a farm labourer's leg under hypnosis. The use of ether as an anaesthetic from 1846 led to a sharp decline in the use of hypnosis.
Moore has written a thriller about the medical profession. She has assembled a fascinating cast of characters. She throws more light on the mysteries of our unconscious. we still do not understand the mind.She has discovered enough evidence to suggest that mesmerism was rooted in some form of truth. Elliotson died in 1868 aged 77. A the height of his career he was a very restless and innovative figure in the medical profession.
This is the story of medicine in the early part of the nineteenth century when there was no anaesthesia and surgeons earned their reputations on the basis of how quickly they could operate. Into this brutal world came three men. Thomas Wakley - who founded the Lancet and who campaigned against quacks, bad practice and so-called cures which were worse than the illness they were meant to treat.
The second man was John Elliotson who wanted to make medicine the best it could be on the basis of the latest scientific discoveries. The third was a Frenchman who was taking France by storm with his mesmerism - self styled Baron Jules Dupotet.
Mesmerism seemed to be the answer to pain during medical treatment and many spectacular operations were performed successfully and without pain. The medical establishment were suspicious and sceptical. The book paints a picture of in-fighting, riots, feuds between hospitals and between surgeons. It shows how many were reluctant to look critically at their own work and examine ways of improving their treatment of patients. What came over to me very strongly from this book was that patients didn't really matter.
This isn't a book for the squeamish but if you can get over the horrific descriptions it does paint a very interesting picture of medicine in the first half of the nineteenth century. Mesmerism (hypnotism) never really caught on though it has provided pain relief for many over the years. Unfortunately ethical considerations prevent it being tested in the twenty first century. Perhaps fortunately for people living in the nineteenth century chloroform was discovered and was subsequently used for operations. Though mesmerism also continued to be used.
A well written book with plenty of notes on the text and further books to read if you want to delve deeper into what medicine was like in the nineteenth century. It also shows how medicine only really progressed because of the work of mavericks such as the three men who feature so largely in this book.
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