Jennifer Cody Epstein

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Verk av Jennifer Cody Epstein


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Vedertaget namn
Epstein, Jennifer Cody
c. 1966
New York, New York, USA
Bologna, Italy
Bangkok, Thailand
Hong Kong
Amherst College (BA)
Johns Hopkins University (MA)
Columbia University (MFA)
Kort biografi
Jennifer Cody Epstein has worked in Japan, China, Hong Kong, Thailand and the U.S. for publications including The Wall Street Journal, The Asian Wall Street Journal, Mademoiselle, Self and Parents, as well as for the NBC and HBO networks. She has a Masters degree in International Affairs from Johns Hopkins SAIS, and an MFA from Columbia. She lives in Brooklyn, New York with her husband, filmmaker Michael Epstein, and their two daughters.



Based in fact, this story about the dark and often diabolical happenings in the French women’s asylum of the 1800s is more than the mind can imagine. A women deemed “hysterical” could literally be thrown away forever into this monstrous system. La Salpetriere la Vieillesse (Femmes) was an institution founded in the 1600s which housed over three thousand women “in various states of mental distress. “It was effectively a small mad city…”

It should never be forgotten that a man had the final word, a woman had no standing, no power unless she had extraordinary wealth of her own. These men, who we now call or recognize as brilliant, the forefathers of our understanding of the mind, were one short step from being worse than charlatans. Hypnotizing the more glamorous inmates for public consumption to bolster their power, and ego with little or no concern for the ramifications of their actions upon the victim. So enamored of their self-importance and intelligence their positions remained solid, unshakable. With a word a woman could be reduced to less than nothing. As “any woman in Hysteria could have told you…..The men always get away with it. It was a central tenet of our time, unwritten and undisclosed, but as incontrovertible as any upheld in an actual court of law.” Even the doctors who recognized the madness of certain attitudes and procedures were helpless to effect change.

Cody Epstein manages to explore many of the societal issues of the time including an explanation of the Orphan Labor by les petites de Paris which kept the farms outside the cities in business by paying a stipend for these poor working bodies until they were twelve and the public assistance stopped. Without going off track, France was not the only country to adopt this mean spirited program in the guise of helping and protecting the orphan children.

As far as historical fiction goes, there is none better than this exploration and exposition of the horrific treatment of many women who may or may not have been mentally challenged. This was not a fast nor an easy read for me but it was so well researched and meticulously plotted that it was worth every minute. A solid 4-1/2 stars which I am rounding up for effort and importance. Thanks to Ballantine Books and NetGalley for a copy.
… (mer)
kimkimkim | 4 andra recensioner | Nov 5, 2023 |

Set in the Salpêtrière, a women’s asylum in 1800s France, author Jennifer Cody Epstein combines fact and fiction to give us a heartbreaking story that revolves around the plight of women being treated for “hysteria” under the care of renowned neurologist Dr. Jean-Martine Charcot and his team of interns and in the expansive facility, a "small, mad city" that housed “three thousand women in various states of mental distress; two hundred children in its reformatory schools; six hundred doctors, surgeons, internes and externes, nurses, and various other assistants; and over a dozen on-site workshops making everything from copper tools to iron horseshoes to wooden clogs for its patients.

Dr. Charcot’s research into the treatment of hysteria is highly publicized, complete with his famous Friday lecture series wherein he presents the symptoms he treats with hypnosis in a live demonstration with his subject (patient) which is attended by the public. The author references the famous group tableau portrait of 1887 A Clinical Lesson at the Salpêtrière (Une leçon clinique à la Salpêtrière) which depicts a clinical demonstration of the symptoms of hysteria, attended by Dr. Charcot’s students.

The narrative is presented from the perspective of nineteen-year-old Laure Bissonet, a former patient who is presently employed as an attendant. The daughter of a physician, she was institutionalized after an emotional breakdown following the death of her father. Laure hopes to eventually leave the asylum and search for her younger sister with whom she separated when she entered Salpêtrière. The narrative follows Laure as she meets and attends to a newly arrived patient, seventeen-year-old Josephine Garreau, who is institutionalized in with visible injuries, following a failed suicide attempt. She suffers from amnesia, unable to recount the events that led to her attempted suicide. Josephine, apparently highly susceptible to hypnosis soon becomes the star of Dr. Charcot’s Friday lectures and slowly begins to regain her memories which she shares with Laure. Laure and Josephine become close and Laure hopes to leave with Josephine but as the day to their planned escape draws close, Laure notices a behavioral shift in Josephine. Are Dr. Charcot’s methods healing Josephine or intensifying her emotional distress? Is she truly unwell or is she putting on an act and if so, to what end?

The Madwomen of Paris by Jennifer Cody Epstein is a meticulously researched, dark and disturbing yet compelling work of historical fiction that paints a bleak but realistic picture of the workings of the most famous asylum for women in Europe in an era where women had no rights or agency. From what Laure observes and we can make out that many of those termed "hysterics’” were suffering from emotional distress brought on by abuse and traumatic events in their lives or were simply institutionalized by their families for defying societal norms and control.

“The men always get away with it. It was a central tenet of our time, unwritten and undiscussed, but as incontrovertible as any upheld in an actual court of law.”

I truly appreciated the Author’s Note that details the historical context of the story as well as the people and events that inspired the same. The author also sheds light on how the study of mental illness and how the treatment of what was once termed “hysteria” has evolved over time.

This is not an easy read. The author paints a vivid picture of the living conditions (worse for those in the “Lunacy” section of the asylum), the utter disregard for the women under Dr. Charcot’s care, the humiliation of public display and the methods employed in treatment, with other instances of abuse alluded to (thankfully we don’t have to read about such in detail). The characterizations are superb and the narrative flows at an even pace, making for a compelling read.

Many thanks to Random House Publishing Group-Ballantine and NetGalley for the much-appreciated digital review copy. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.
… (mer)
srms.reads | 4 andra recensioner | Sep 4, 2023 |
Women at the Salpetriere asylum, are hypnotized and labeled with hysteria. Dr. Charcot, the hospital's famous director, exhibits his hysteria patients on stage as he hypnotizes them and performs a variety of experiments. Laure, a former patient, is now working in the wards. When new patient Josephine arrives, they develop a relationship and grow close to one another.

Wow! This book was just fascinating. The author created interesting characters with compelling and heartbreaking back stories. I didn't know about the Dr. Charcot hysteria phenomena before picking up this novel. Once I put it down, I found myself researching the time period. Overall, well worth picking up!… (mer)
JanaRose1 | 4 andra recensioner | Aug 3, 2023 |
Amazing how one person and one thing can affect many others, and if you are in the right place at the wrong time, that does the trick too. I felt as if I were in wartime America and Japan, and the way it all came together was wonderful. Heart wrenching and well written.
kwskultety | 19 andra recensioner | Jul 4, 2023 |



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