Praise for City of Incurable Women
“[City of Incurable Women] is poetic rather than polemic, elegantly written and filled with resonant imagery. . . . Affirmative and inspiring, a powerful demonstration of Maud Casey’s artistry.” —Boston Globe
“Casey’s dedication reads ‘for my fellow incurables’ and this short, enchantingly strange book feels animated by compassion.” —Star Tribune
“Investigational and piercing. . . . [Casey] dismantles the facade of cold, medical logic and its dehumanization of women while also creating beautiful poetry.” —San Francisco Book Review
“Casey’s subtle braiding of suffering and strength is the beating heart of this extraordinary work of imagination. . . . These ‘incurable women’ create complex selves always in motion—full of pain but also power, pleasure, and above all mystery.” —On the Seawall
“An evocative blend of fiction and nonfiction spirited with emotional power and historic significance. . . . Casey has written a triumphant homage to the women of Paris’s Salpêtrière asylum, and her fellow incurables everywhere.” —Longest Chapter
“Enlightening. . . . [City of Incurable Women] defies convention and revels in searing, gorgeous language.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“With acute empathy . . . Casey masterfully magnifies the stories of ‘incurable’ women in Paris’s 19th-century Salpêtrière hospital.” —Shelf Awareness (starred review)
“Lyrical. . . . Through thorough research and a cutting pen, Casey elevates these women back to their deserved place in history, bringing to life those who were reduced to mere photographs.” —Booklist
“An innovative novel. . . . Soaringly lyrical” —Kirkus Reviews
“In exquisite prose, Maud Casey has built a city inside a book, a city that is a hospital, a museum, a dance, a body in ecstasy just outside the frame. On every page of this achingly beautiful book, Casey brings a wise and feral attention to the so-called incurables of the ‘era of soul science’—Augustine, Louise, Marie, Geneviève, and a chorus of nameless others singing their private beginnings and public ends.” —Danielle Dutton, author of SPRAWL and Margaret the First
“City of Incurable Women is a brilliant exploration of the type of female bodily and psychic pain once commonly diagnosed as hysteria—and the curiously hysterical response to it commonly exhibited by medical men. It is a novel of powerful originality, riveting historical interest, and haunting lyrical beauty.” —Sigrid Nunez, author of The Friend and What Are You Going Through
“I would follow Maud Casey anywhere. In City of Incurable Women, she has given us her best work yet. This is a song for the forgotten, full of voices that will stay with you and guide you—an astonishing portrayal of rage and hope. What a glorious work of art and what a true gift to us.” —Paul Yoon, author of Snow Hunters and Run Me to Earth
Select Praise for Maud Casey
“Casey is a consummate stylist. . . . This is a writer who pays deep, sensual attention to the world.” ―Geraldine Brooks, New York Times Book Review
“Brilliant.” —Lauren Groff, author of Fates and Furies and Florida
“Wildly original.” —Joan Silber, author of Ideas of Heaven and Improvement
“[A] compassionate, joyful, lyrical voice.” —George Saunders, author of Lincoln In the Bardo and Fox 8
“Listen. It’s a command that Maud Casey’s quick to utter. . . . With good reason: If you’re listening closely enough, you might just hear her pull off a feat as graceful as it is clever. Out of the clanging of church bells, the ticking of watches, the snatches of overheard phrases . . . out of this hectic mess of sounds, she manages to create a delicate harmony.” —NPR
“Casey evokes—with no shortage of verve and gusto—the romance of 19th-century Europe, when madness plagued more than asylums . . . bringing each internee, each insanity alive with such tenderness.” —Washington Post
An innovative novel examining the experiences of the female “hysterics” at the infamous Salpêtrière Hospital in 19th-century Paris.
The photographs of the women of Salpêtrière range from pity-inducing to horrific. In black and white, the portraits show women in “passionate attitudes,” the phrase used for the phases of hysteria. The women in the photos suffer from a multitude of issues: anorexia, religious fervor, epilepsy, and other conditions, some of which were little more than moodiness. In Casey’s unusual collection of short pieces that blur lines among fiction, poetry, and essay, these photos and other historical records, such as manuals and case notes, are used as the basis of poetic meditations on the collective and individual lives of these “incurables.” Some of the women have names: “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” tells the story of Augustine, who escaped from the asylum by dressing as a man. “Father, Ether, Sea” illuminates the life of Blanche, who falls into the category of “best girls,” women who were exploited into performances in the asylum amphitheater to show off their ailments and the doctors' “cures,” which often cross the line into abuses of all kinds. Some of the chapters are about the women as an anonymous group, such as “In the Before,” told in the first-person plural about the types of lives the women had before they came to Salpêtrière: They were orphans or children of manual laborers, impoverished, hyperactive, or melancholy. These stories belong most closely to the tradition of ekphrastic poetry, poems written based on visual art and often written in the voice of a figure from the image. The results are most successful when the soaringly lyrical language illuminates, rather than overshadows, the women’s compelling experiences.
A strongly conceived, though inconsistently rendered, scrapbook from a dark chapter of the belle epoque.