The most empowering gothic historical fiction on hysteria

Who am I?

I hold degrees in history and social science with a focus on women’s history at the turn of the century. I’ve studied the hysteria pandemic and its lasting results for over a decade. As someone who struggles with depression, anxiety, and the effects of psychological abuse, I find I know these women all too well. As a writer, I’ve been inspired by other classic gothic novels like Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, and The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. In addition to writing novels, I’m also a blogger and marketing consultant in southern California where I live with my blind dog, Mr. Magoo.

I wrote...

A White Room

By Stephanie Carroll,

Book cover of A White Room

What is my book about?

At the close of the 19th century, Emeline Evans dreams of training as a nurse, but when her father unexpectedly dies, she must sacrifice her ambitions to marry a reserved lawyer who can provide for her family. He moves her to an unusual Gothic house where her sorrow edges toward madness. Furniture twists and turns before her eyes, ghosts peer out from empty rooms, and the house itself conspires against her. The doctor diagnoses hysteria and prescribes the rest cure, which only drives her deeper into madness. Her salvation arrives only after she pursues an opportunity to nurse the poor and help women in dire circumstances. Unfortunately, to help the needy, she must secretly defy her new husband, who hunts down and prosecutes unlicensed medical practitioners. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories

Stephanie Carroll Why did I love this book?

The Yellow Wallpaper inspired my book and brand. Gilman not only defined the madwoman of Gothic literature by writing one of the most haunting and empowering stories of the 19th century, but she also lived it. Her experience inspired her story and exposed the horror of hysteria treatments. This story inspired me because I could relate to Gilman and her main character. Though hysteria is no longer a recognized condition and women have gained many more rights, ideologies left over from the hysteria panic still creep in our culture and generational memory. Women are still called crazy. The assumption that women are emotionally unstable is still used to discredit, invalidate and control women. In an era where women couldn’t fight for their rights as we do, Gilman found her power by embracing madness, and so do I.

By Charlotte Perkins Gilman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Best known for the 1892 title story of this collection, a harrowing tale of a woman's descent into madness, Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote more than 200 other short stories. Seven of her finest are reprinted here.
Written from a feminist perspective, often focusing on the inferior status accorded to women by society, the tales include "Turned," an ironic story with a startling twist, in which a husband seduces and impregnates a naïve servant; "Cottagette," concerning the romance of a young artist and a man who's apparently too good to be true; "Mr. Peebles' Heart," a liberating tale of a fiftyish…

Book cover of The Mad Women's Ball

Stephanie Carroll Why did I love this book?

Mas’ work is less about embracing what we think is our weakness and more about embracing our true strengths even when others consider them nonexistent and thus crazy. I particularly enjoyed this novel because it involves magical realism, as the main character can see and hear spirits. I am a huge fan of blending the fantastical with reality because our lives are magical in ways we often mistake as ordinary. Another thing Mas did well was show how even moderate treatments for hysteria, like hydrotherapy and hypnosis, went too far. 

By Victoria Mas, Frank Wynne (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Mad Women's Ball as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A darkly sumptuous tale of wicked spectacle, wild injustice and the insuppressible strength of women' EMMA STONEX, author of THE LAMPLIGHTERS

'In this darkly delightful Gothic treasure, Mas explores grief, trauma and sisterhood behind the walls of Paris' infamous Salpetriere hospital' PAULA HAWKINS, author of A SLOW FIRE BURNING

'A beautifully written debut...I have absolutely no doubt it will be one of my favourite novels of 2021.' AJ PEARCE, author of DEAR MRS BIRD

The Salpetriere asylum, 1885. All of Paris is in thrall to Doctor Charcot and his displays of hypnotism on women who have been deemed mad or…

Book cover of Alias Grace

Stephanie Carroll Why did I love this book?

Alias Grace is a suspenseful and fascinating read, especially since it is based on a real person and her true story. Atwood’s book takes you on the journey of both accused and accuser and doesn’t let you get away with an easy answer. It gets complicated when you consider that while early psychologists subjected many women to discriminatory misdiagnoses, other women actually lost their sanity from the abuse of a discriminatory world. Still, others were trapped in situations where insane choices were the only way to survive. That’s when the line between innocence and guilt becomes so thin, only the reader can decide. 

By Margaret Atwood,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Alias Grace as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

By the author of The Handmaid's Tale

Now a major NETFLIX series

Sometimes I whisper it over to myself: Murderess. Murderess. It rustles, like a taffeta skirt along the floor.' Grace Marks. Female fiend? Femme fatale? Or weak and unwilling victim? Around the true story of one of the most enigmatic and notorious women of the 1840s, Margaret Atwood has created an extraordinarily potent tale of sexuality, cruelty and mystery.

'Brilliant... Atwood's prose is searching. So intimate it seems to be written on the skin' Hilary Mantel

'The outstanding novelist of our age' Sunday Times

'A sensuous, perplexing book, at…

Book cover of A Madness So Discreet

Stephanie Carroll Why did I love this book?

Similar to Mas’ work, McGinnis paints a disturbing picture of how medicine treated “hysterical” women in unregulated asylums. The main character in this crime drama is remarkably sane considering the tortures she escapes when a detective recognizes how she can assist his search for a true madman. I especially enjoyed the juxtaposition of criminal psychology with the nonsense used to diagnose the women in the asylum. The delicious suspense and mysteries that follow keep you turning the pages for hours. 

By Mindy McGinnis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Madness So Discreet as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

Edgar Award for Best Young Adult Mystery

Mindy McGinnis, the acclaimed author of Not a Drop to Drink and In a Handful of Dust, combines murder, madness, and mystery in a beautifully twisted gothic historical thriller perfect for fans of novels such as Asylum and The Diviners as well as television’s True Detective and American Horror Story.

Grace Mae is already familiar with madness when family secrets and the bulge in her belly send her to an insane asylum—but it is in the darkness that she finds a new lease on life. When a visiting doctor interested in criminal psychology…

Book cover of An Inconvenient Wife

Stephanie Carroll Why did I love this book?

Chance’s novel is a subtler take on hysteria, which I liked because not all horror, or abuse, is outright horrific. It’s often subtle and subversive, so much so, that victims often believe they are the problem, and most women diagnosed with neurasthenia (neuroticism) or hysteria believed they were broken. In fact, the term “gaslighting” comes from a film set during this historical period. Chance’s novel gives a look into how fathers, husbands, and fiancés used hysteria as a method to “fix” or get rid of inconvenient women. It also highlights that hysteria was not only tied to mental health but also to women’s sexuality and reproductive system. Any undesirable sexual or reproductive issue could lead to a diagnosis of mental illness. What is unique about Chance’s approach is that she tells the story from the point of view of both her female heroine and the heroine’s doctor. 

By Megan Chance,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked An Inconvenient Wife as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

- Literary historical fiction is an extremely popular genre, as demonstrated by such bestsellers as Matthew Pearl's The Dante Club (Random House, 2/03) and Michael Faber's The Crimson Petal and the White (Harcourt, 9/02).- Megan Chance is the author of

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The Secret Order of the Scepter & Gavel

By Nicholas Ponticello,

Book cover of The Secret Order of the Scepter & Gavel

Nicholas Ponticello Author Of The Secret Order of the Scepter & Gavel

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What is my book about?

Vanderough University prepares its graduates for life on Mars. Herbert Hoover Palminteri enrolls at VU with the hope of joining the Martian colony in 2044 as a member of its esteemed engineer corps. But then Herbert is tapped to join a notorious secret society: the Order of the Scepter and Gavel. As a new pledge, Herbert has to prove himself in a series of dangerous initiation rites, even if it means risking his life and the lives of his friends.

Many years later, when Herbert thinks the scandals of his youth are finally dead and buried, a murder occurs in the Martian colony, and Herbert starts to suspect it is linked to the secret Order of the Scepter and Gavel of his past.

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