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. 

The books I picked & why

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The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories

By Charlotte Perkins Gilman,

Book cover of The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories

Why 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.

The Mad Women's Ball

By Victoria Mas, Frank Wynne (translator),

Book cover of The Mad Women's Ball

Why 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. 

Alias Grace

By Margaret Atwood,

Book cover of Alias Grace

Why 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. 

A Madness So Discreet

By Mindy McGinnis,

Book cover of A Madness So Discreet

Why 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. 

An Inconvenient Wife

By Megan Chance,

Book cover of An Inconvenient Wife

Why 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. 

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