“Great neurosis” at the Osler Library: A noteworthy acquisition in the field of 19th century psychiatry

“Attitudes passionnelles” – “extase.” Plate 23. This image depicts the “impassioned” stage of hysteric attack, which Charcot defined as the presence of ardent gestures, visible ecstasy, or withdrawal into contemplative or even beatific states.

“Attitudes passionnelles” – “extase.” Plate 23. This image depicts the “impassioned” stage of hysteric attack, which Charcot defined as the presence of ardent gestures, visible ecstasy, or withdrawal into contemplative or even beatific states.

The Osler Library recently acquired the work Iconographie photographique de la Salpêtrière. Service de M. Charcot. Published in Paris by Les Bureaux du progrès medical between 1876-1880, this three-volume book is by Desiré Magloire Bourneville (1840-1909) and Paul-Marie-Léon Regnard (1850-1927), students of the titular Monsieur Charcot, known as “the father of neurology” and whose work on hysteria, the “great neurosis,” fills these pages.

Charcot became famous for his work in neuropathology through a series of lectures on hysteria given at the psychiatric hospital La Salpêtrière in Paris. The Iconographie photographique was intended to provide an objective account of hysteria and epilepsy, believed to be a related nervous disease, through the still relatively new technology of photography. 119 black and white images, mostly photolithographs, depict young female patients in various stages of hysteric “attacks” and are accompanied by detailed case histories of the patients, including clinical findings such as rates of respiration and pulse, extremely precise physical descriptions such as measurements of head and limb circumference, and even transcripts of patients’ delirious ramblings.

The Osler copy is also accompanied by an additional volume, the original set of 40 albumen silver prints of photographs taken by Paul Regnard, issued in a cloth-backed printed portfolio. It is the only copy of this work in Canada.

To find out more, see our blog post!

 

By Anna Dysert, Osler Library of the History of Medicine

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