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In this informative, timely and often harrowing study, Elaine Showalter demonstrates how cultural ideas about ‘proper’ feminine behaviour have shaped the definition and treatment of female insanity for 150 years, and given mental disorder in women specifically sexual connotations. Along with vivid portraits of the men who dominated psychiatry, and descriptions of the therapeutic practices that were used to bring women ‘to their senses’, she draws on diaries and narratives by inmates, and fiction from Mary Wollstonecraft to Doris Lessing, to supply a cultural perspective usually missing from studies of mental illness.

Highly original and beautifully written, The Female Malady is a vital counter-interpretation of madness in women, showing how it is a consequence of, rather than a deviation from, the traditional female role.

Reviews

She writes with penetration, precision and passion. This book is essential reading for all those concerned with what psychiatry has done to women, and what new psychiatry could do for them
ROY PORTER, WELLCOME INSTITUTE FOR THE HISTORY OF MEDICINE