The Salpêtrière asylum, 1885. All of Paris is in thrall to Doctor Charcot and his displays of hypnotism on women who have been deemed mad or hysterical, outcasts from society. But the truth is much more complicated – for these women are often simply inconvenient, unwanted wives or strong-willed daughters. Once a year a grand ball is held at the hospital. For the Parisian elite, the Mad Women’s Ball is the highlight of the social season; for the women themselves, it is a rare moment of hope.
Geneviève is a senior nurse. After the childhood death of her sister, she has shunned religion and placed her faith in Doctor Charcot and his new science. But everything begins to change when she meets Eugénie, the 19-year-old daughter of a bourgeois family. Because Eugénie has a secret, and she needs Geneviève’s help. Their fates will collide on the night of the Mad Women’s Ball…
My reading experience:
An award winning novella, this story revolves around the Salpêtrière asylum in 1885, a fearful hospital for the insane. With a cast of colourful patients, the two protagonists converge and their worlds are changed forever.
Genevieve has been a long employed nurse of the asylum, used to bringing order and holding the fragile balance of her ward by her actions and attitude. She considers herself a scientist with no room for grey areas that cannot be proved by empirical scientific evidence. She spends long days on the ward and returns to her room in the evenings for a bowl of soup, a routine she has kept for twenty years. Does she have more freedom than her patients?
Eugenie is the daughter of a wealthy family where reputation teeters constantly on the edge of their ability to perform social etiquette and values. Eugenie is already imprisoned.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book however as a short story there was little time to develop characters and make more of what is already known or assumed about life within asylums in the late ninety century.
This is now a Prime movie and I look forward to seeing if this becomes a richer story by it.
I recommend this book by Victoria Mas.