The physical shape of Mollies paralyses and contortions fit the pattern of late-nineteenth-century hysteria as well — in particular the phases of grand hysteria described by Jean-Martin Charcot, a French physician who became world-famous in the 1870s and 1880s for his studies of hysterics...The hooplike spasm Mollie experienced sounds uncannily like what Charcot considered the ultimate grand movement, the arc de de cercle (also called arc-en-ciel), in which the patient arched her back, balancing on her heels and the top of her head...One of his star patients, known to her audiences only as Louise, was a specialist in the arc de cercle — and had a background and hysterical manifestations quite similar to Mollie's. A small-town girl who made her way to Paris in her teens, Louise had had a disrupted childhood, replete with abandonment and sexual abuse.She entered Salpetriere in 1875, where while under Charcot's care she experienced partial paralysis and complete loss of sensation over the right side of her body, as well as a decrease in hearing, smell, taste and vision. She had frequent violent, dramatic hysterical fits, alternating with hallucinations and trancelike phases during which she would see her mother and other people she knew standing before her (this symptom would manifest itself in Mollie). Although critics, at the time and since, have decried the sometime circus atmosphere of Charcot's lectures and claimed that he, inadvertently or not, trained his patients how to be hysterical, he remains a key figure in understanding nineteenth-century hysteria.
Michelle Stacey