A Smart Madman Sentenced To Incarceration
The Mad Woman's Ball, by Victoria Mas, translated by Frank Wynne, is a critical and reader-acclaimed French historical fiction novel about the abuse and dehumanization of women deemed "insane" and forced into confinement in a women's asylum. Both the hospital, its famous doctor, and one of the novel's more famous patients have a history documented in the footnotes that will pique the interest of White Rain Book House readers and urge further investigation.
For those on the outside looking in, the Salpêtrière Asylum of 1885, Dr. It is a utopia in which Charcot uses hypnosis to treat hysteria and other elements of feminine lunacy in women. For its inhabitants, the place is either a sanctuary or a prison. "Salpêtrière is a dump for ladies who cause trouble." On the other hand, it is a refuge for women whose sensitivities differ from what is expected of them. It is a prison for women who have ideas. They claim that the Salpêtrière has changed since Professor Charcot's entrance twenty years ago, with only true hysterics remaining.Despite such promises, though, there is always room for uncertainty. Eugenie Cléry is an assertive young woman with her own point of view. This irritates her father, but it has no effect because her father is still semi-submissive. Only after Eugénie makes the mistake of telling her grandmother she can communicate with spirits does she find herself dragged into the Salpêtrière. Théophile, Eugénie's brother, who later joins her father on this heinous voyage, curses himself as a coward for failing to save his sister.
Geneviéve, a matron in Salpêtrière, knows instantly that Eugénie should not have been there, especially since she informed him that the deceased had died. Genevieve confronts the girl's father after bringing a message from her beloved sister."'What do you expect us to do for your daughter?'"'To be honest, I have no hope that she will recover. She is perfectly normal, but as I have stated, she claims to have seen the dead."'If you don't expect your daughter to recover, why put her in a mental institution? This isn't a prison; we're here to help our patients."'Unless they have the devil in them, no one talks to the dead.' Such things will not occur under my roof. From my perspective. I no longer have a daughter.'Geneviéve decides that Eugenie cannot be retained in the hospital after this useless conversation. The Salpêtrière hosts the annual Lenten Ball, which "gives the sufferers some fun and gives them a normal look." In actuality, the sufferers are paraded in front of strangers who come to ogle and possibly have some fun. During the Ball, Geneviéve determines Eugenie will vanish. But things don't go as planned for Geneviéve.
This intriguing story, translated from French by Frank Wynne, provides an overview of characteristics of women's treatment in nineteenth-century France, when a woman was ruled insane simply because she was strong-willed and attached to a facility. The usual horror stories about mental illness treatment that other novels and films have depicted detail the horrors faced by a surprising institutionalized women in the relationship between matrons and patients. One of the gems you should not miss is Mad Woman's Ball, which we reviewed for White Rain Book House.