Perilous Chastity: Women and Illness in Pre-Enlightenment Art and Medicine

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"Wonderfully engaging, this unique study shows how art reveals a misogynistic medical establishment's attitudes toward women. Dixon traces the origins of 'hysteria,' richly illustrating her analysis with more than 100 paintings from the 13th through the 18th centuries, focusing primarily on 17th-century Dutch works."—Publishers Weekly
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Dixon presents her arguments clearly and forcefully, and her volume is well written, as well as a feast for the eyes. . . . Dixon's study is an important one for scholars in medical history, art history, and women's studies because of its ambitious attempts to mold medical theory about female bodies and artists' representations of women and girls into a comprehensive picture of women's lives."—Ann Ellis Hanson, International Journal of the Classical Tradition

"This impeccably researched work traces 'hysteria' . . . into the modern period. . . . Dixon's work will be of great interest to scholars in the fields of medical history, art history, and women's studies."—Katherine Dauge-Roth, Journal of the History of Medicine

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Until the late 17th century, the womb was regarded as discrete and animate. Hungry for male seed, if unsatisfied it wandered the body, causing illness and bodily distress. Known as hysteria or uterine furies, the idea of the denied womb had its origins in the Hippocratic belief in the dangers of sexual abstinence. Women were considered frail from birth, their anatomy predisposing them to weakness and instability. Their healthat times their very livescould be endangered by virginity. Wonderfully engaging, this unique study shows how art reveals a misogynistic medical establishment's attitudes toward women. Dixon traces the origins of ``hysteria,'' richly illustrating her analysis with more than 100 paintings from the 13th through the 18th centuries, focusing primarily on 17th-century Dutch works. The paintings are filled with metaphors for and erotic references to the denied womb. The lovesick maiden; the pale, languishing patient; the doctor's visit; the chamber pot in the maiden's sickroom; all reveal the ancient link between sex and illness. By examining these paintings as documents with references to the medical discourse of the time, Dixon looks at art in light of history and the strong influence of scientific dogma on our cultural heritage. Photos. (Apr.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801430268
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 8/1/1995
  • Pages: 320
  • Lexile: 1500L (what's this?)

Table of Contents

List of Colorplates and Illustrations
Introduction 1
I Hysteria as a Uterine Disorder: A Brief History 11
II "Outward Manifestations": Symptoms and Diagnosis 59
III The Womb Inflamed, Threatened, and Denied: Instigators of Disease 93
IV The Womb Occupied, Restored, and Satiated: Corporeal Cures 131
V Mind and Body Reconciled: "Psychological" Cures 169
VI Melancholic Men and Hysterical Women: The Sexual Politics of Illness 197
VII Epilogue: Exit the Wandering Womb 221
Appendix: Medical Dissertations on the Subject of Female Hysteria Written between 1575 and 1740 249
Bibliography 257
Index 293
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