Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Hysteria - the movie

Google the movie yourselves - can't get pics

I wasn't going to bother to see this movie about the invention of the vibrator in Victorian times (yawn - I mean I used to sell the things), but my favorite movie critic waxed so enthusiastic about the film, calling it classy, sophisticated, funny, satirical with marvellous acting and a clever script, absolutely based on fact and likely to win Oscars, that I gathered my bunch of friends and we saw it this week. If you intend to see this film and have access to it - DON'T READ ON!  I am going to relate some of the best bits. Maggie Gyllenhall plays a feisty, do-gooding pre-Suffragettes character - the film is set in 1880 - whose father has a very successful Harley street practice where he specialises in relieving the state of 'hysteria'  (read: sexual frustration) from which all society ladies seem to suffer.  This he does by manually manipulating them until they climax (or have a 'paroxyism', as he calls it).  It is quite comic to see these ladies in their street clothes (still with elaborate hats on), lying back on a table with their feet up in stirrups and a red velvet curtain modestly concealing their 'delicate parts'.  Apparently, they all arrive without knickers, as we don't see these removed. Enter our young, idealistic but penniless doctor, as the new assistant.  He earnestly takes notes which watching a demonstration, preceded by the liberal oiling of the doctor's fingers and succeeded by a variety of reactions as the ladies noisily climax.  Both doctors sincerely believe that without penetration by a penis, no lady can experience sexual pleasure so the 'paroxyism' they experience is purely a nervous condition.  Understandably, most wives were thought to be frigid owing to their husbands' lamentable lack of knowledge.  The young doctor commences his work: it is not long before his right hand suffers painful cramps and he end up being fired because he can no longer 'perform' as his arm up to the elbow is in a brace. Disgraced, he explains his dilemma to a friend, whose hobby is electronics and voila!  - the invention of the vibrator and fame and fortune for our young hero. This part is hilarious and we nearly fell off our chairs laughing.  As the credits roll at the end of the film - stay in your seat!  The director has some fun:  liveried valets are seen carrying beautiful wooden boxes on velvet cushions into Queen Victoria's bedroom, there are photos of vibrators as they have developed until the 1980s and there is one delightful scene, where a dowager duchess in her nightcap is depicted sitting up in bed observing a lot of action under the blankets down near her feet.  "Are you alright, Henry?" she asks.  "Yes, dear. Don't worry. Rome wasn't built in a day", he replies - then the sound of a tiny motor starting up.  Ecstasy on the lady's face.  .....   Unbelievably, relates the film, the condition of 'hysteria' wasn't wiped off the medical dictionary until 1952.  Well, well, well!  I"m afraid that what with this film, Fifty Shades of Grey and its copies, life is getting very hard for the men these days.  About time too.



  1. Spoiler Alert! Don't read if you are going to see the movie.

    There is quite interesting book which you as a previous sales person would appreciate that parallels this movie.

    The Technology of Orgasm: "Hysteria," the Vibrator, and Women's Sexual Satisfaction (Johns Hopkins Studies in the History of Technology) by Rachel Maines.

    It is available at Amazon:

    I read it probably 7 or 8 years ago and it is fascinating. Just like the movie, hysteria was thought to be caused by thickened ethers, humors, and blood collecting in the womb. Doctors employed exterior vulva massages to relieve women of the hysteria by inducing the "paroxysm" which caused rhythmic contractions of the womb and removed these congested humors. The manipulations were often performed by midwives.

    As you mentioned as long as no penetration even by fingers took place this external vulval massage was regarded as medical therapy performed to alleviate a psycho-somatic illness. It was completely viewed as non-sexual. What in fact was happening was that the midwife or doctor induced a clitoral orgasm in the patient and then charged her a fee. It was quite a cottage industry. With the advent of electricity, the vibrator could do in less than 5 minutes what it took a doctor or mid wife generally 20 minutes to hour to perform. A sad day for the midwives, the doctors didn't need them any longer.

    The cause of hysteria was not generally understood at the time but frigidness was often blamed. Again what the actual cause was that the lovemaking at the time was done in an embarrassed rush by a clueless husband. No foreplay, a crude and traumatizing penetration before the woman was aroused, rushed and brutal thrusting until the man ejaculated and he quickly withdrew and fell asleep. A proper lady did not enjoy sex, good God how could she? It was a wife's duty to relieve her husband's base animal needs. Men had no idea of what they doing but they did know that they had the right to do it. Good lord what an unfortunate way of life....

    1912 Lady Allice Hiddington (1857 - 1940) Journal "I am happy now that Charles calls on my bed chamber less frequently than of old. As it is I now endure but two calls a week and when I hear his steps outside my door, I lie down on my bed, close my eyes, open my legs and think of England."

    What a remarkable time. In the US, one could be imprisoned for sending information on menstruation through the mail which was a violation of the Comstock Laws against distributing pornography through the mail, yet it was fine to run off to a doctor and get diddled and have a orgasm! We look at this from our sexually enlightened time and think surely somebody had to know what the hell was really going on.

    Here is review of Maine's book by Natalie Angier who wrote the excellent owners manual, Woman, An Intimate Geography.

    For those men who find life getting hard, may I recommend:

    This wonderful book has a great philosophy and teaches a valuable skill set. The only thing I would recommend is not getting too terribly lost into the detailed methodology outlined in this book. Follow the general principles rather than the specific in depth instructions to the last lick.

  2. The amazing thing to me about Victorian ladies - so prim and proper - is that they believed the popular myth as well, so that they were not embarrassed to spread their legs for the doctor, thinking only that they were being relieved of their 'hysteria'. Imagine if they had thought it had something to do with sex.

    1. Some times I wonder, they may have been dumb like foxes. The degree of forced ignorance was high, there were little scientific resources on it, religions kept a firm lid on sex, and masturbation was an illness. Women who showed excessive libido were likely to be regarded as mentally ill and clitoridectomies or the application of acid to the clitoris was a treatment for excessive interest.

      Another problem endured by Victorian women were sexual transmitted diseases. Visits to prostitutes by husbands were common. Many men needed a level of sexual activity that they were ashamed of and not willing to subject their wives. Well, that was the kinder explanation. Condoms of course were extremely hard to find.

      Any smart Victorian woman who figured out what the hell was going on was probably wise to keep her mouth shut, get her weekly paroxysm, and play the system. Far less chance of disease, it was respectable, no chance of getting pregnant, and she wasn't being brutally raped by a clueless husband. Of course we are talking the upper and mercantile classes here. Working class women were probably too busy keeping their children's belly's full and a shabby roof over their head to be concerned about sex.

      Prim, proper, respectability has a lot going for it, now does it not? It is much better for a husband to expend his base animal energies on a prostitute than with his respectable lady, and she can go get her paroxysm and live within the fiction that she has no sexual needs as a proper lady should not. A lot of money is exchanged in the process.

      My pontificating has exceeded 4096 characters. Continued below.

    2. Continued from above.

      There is a book that I have and been meaning to read. It is on the subversive nature of marriage. Marriage has always been feared by social power structures...governments, religions, and royalty. These institutions have sought to control and limit its power. A great way is to make sex bad. Sex is nurtures a bonding mechanism for human beings. As such it is in the power structure's best interest to limit it to a machine for the production future subjects or adherents, but keep it dirty and nasty. Something that nice people do not do, other than the unfortunate need for reproduction.

      Our generation has enjoyed a level of knowledge, an absence of guilt, and a willingness to discuss sexual issues that never existed before. Yet look at the silly bullshit that goes in US politics over sexual issues. Many people are still terrified of sex and marriage and clever politicians are willing to trade on that. How does gay marriage in any way make society something less? How many contraceptives can be purchased by a health care system for the cost of one pregnancy? In a world of 7 billion people and climate change, is it not in our interest to make good contraceptives widely available at little or no cost? How is it that a radio host who calls a woman a slut and a whore because she testified to congress regarding the cost of contraceptives is still on the air? The power structure still regards sex and marriage with a jaded eye. And religions? If people can find God in each other's arms what the hell do they need a church for?

      Long term committed relationships are one of my fascinations and the role of sex and love within that relationship I find intriguing. Think about this, half the people that got married at the same time that you married your husband and I married my wife are now divorced, most of them for better than two decades. I used to think this was tragedy. But reading about history of marriage, I came to the conclusion that a high divorce rate equates to happier people. That is not to say that there is joy in divorce, but it is a positive thing that people are not required to stay in loveless and abusive marriages.

      Each marriage is a laboratory on human relations that I find enthralling. I regard sex as the glue adheres us to our mates and the oil that lubricates the gears and mechanism of a good marriage. Such a simple thing. Good God, how did it get so complicated?

    3. You have evidently done a huge amount of research. I agree that people should divorce rather than stay together for lifetimes. My mother never made a secret of the fact that she felt she had missed out on something (ie sexual thrills, I think). My dad was devoted to her - but she was his only girlfriend.

    4. Yeah my parents should have got divorced, yet in a strange way that I have never been able to quite figure out, they loved each other as well. Even children are not privy to all the secrets of a marriage. I saw the mean shrew battling the drunken husband, but I was not witness to their tender moments. It seemed they were hell bent on driving each other away, but they stayed together for some reason.

      I found photos of my parents in their early marriage after my mother had died. My mother looks absolutely star struck in some of them. I don't think she was in need of any paroxysms! I deeply regret that I never knew the people in those photos. I believe my conception was a joyous event.

    5. My folks lost a baby (wartime, damp, rented flat), six years before I was born. I don't think my mother ever got over it. I think that's why I have a bit of a low self-image. My mother built dreams based on what this other daughter would have been like and I've always felt, that despite my best efforts, I disappointed her. However, I appreciate your kind words (earlier post), but I can't take any credit for building our second home. I was completely overwhelmed by the idea - it was all due to my husband's efforts that that it got so far. You are so right about children's interpretation of their parents' relationship. It's nice to think they were really happy in the beginning.

    6. Fiftyodd, I know you know objectively that you are in no way responsible for the first child's demise or for your mother's disappointment in you. But down deep I think children are very receptive to taking on blame that they can not be possibly even remotely responsible for. We can understand this as adults but not as children. So if you have low self image it may be very well your mother's expectations for you. But think about this, were you a disappointment to your mother because you did not live up to her expectations in beauty, grace, intelligence, and ability? You have those qualities now and judging from your childhood and teen photos that you have published here you had those qualities then. You were a beautiful and intelligent child and you are a beautiful and intelligent woman. So if you did not live up to your mother's expectations, it is because she had some rather unrealistic expectations for you. Truth be known I doubt that your mother was disappointed in you for those reasons. I bet your mother's expectation for you was that you would would relieve the pain and grief of the loss of the first child, and I bet that you did not. That is not your fault. That was your mother's shortcoming not yours, and if she had those dreams deeply embedded and she could not leave go, there is absolutely nothing that you could have done to live up to those expectations. You were being compared to a divine flawless being who never had a failing.

      OK so your second home was your husband's idea, but you helped, you supported him and the idea. Give me went to the university on your own, no one went for you. You traveled half way around the world, worked jobs, raised children, and have had a very good marriage. Give yourself some credit, you have done much in this life and you have done it well.

    7. I guess I have some bad inherited traits from my father, who, (brilliant man that he was), always regarded himself as a failure and as such, was depressing to talk to. I just had a conscience: whatever I did, I had to do it accordingly, so I wasn't a bad teacher. Marriage, yes, I take little credit for that. You have to remember I have been married twice - the first idiotic time - I tried to please my mother - lasted 12 months. When I was about 40, I gave up trying to please my mother. Since then I have been very happy.

    8. Ooops - read: "I take a little credit..." - a world of difference in the meaning!

    9. Sextant, how do you know if someone has commented on an old post? I would love to follow up.

    10. I didn't know you were married before. Marriage to please a parent is always a recipe for disaster. Its good that you parted company! I love long time good marriages, but also a firm believer in making bad marriages as short as possible. Life is too short to put up with bad marriages.

      We can not control what we inherit, but you don't have to wallow in it. You are a good person, not a failure in anything that I can see. Know that you may have a tendency to low self image and resist the urge--because it is not true! For you to love others, you must love yourself.

      Ha! What a single letter article can do! I hate that we can't edit our comments. Mine are always butchered and I proof read them at least thrice before posting, and they are still disasters.

      Mother and child relationships are often complicated. My mother treated my wife horribly. I could forgive her how she treated me at different times in my life, but not how she treated my wife. She hated, without good reason, the person I love. Why? Simply because I loved her. No mortal woman would be good enough for her son. What a crock of shit.

      The only way I know to see old comments without searching for them is to turn on your email notification for comments.

      Go to DESIGN

      Click SETTINGS


      At COMMENT NOTIFICATION EMAIL type in your email address in the box.

      Click the orange SAVE SETTINGS button at the top of the screen.

      This won't tell you about any comments that you already have, but will notifiy you for future comments. I don't know of any way to find recent comments on existing posts without just looking.

      If you know that there were no previous comments made on say very old posts, you can page down through the list of posts on the design screen and look at the comment count. For posts that previously had no comments, there wiil be now a comment count if a comment was made recently. For posts that had comments, well you would need a terrific memory to remember how many comments the post had. Not too good of a method, but at least with the email notification, you will catch all new comments in the future. It also good for pointing out spam.

      Wait Stop the presses. If you go to Design Comments, it lists all your comments and it looks like it does so in order of the date of the comment rather than the date of the post.

      I will pick an arbitrary old post of yours and make a comment. See if it shows up on the top of your comment list.

    11. OK I put in an experimental comment in this post:

      See if the comment is at the top of your comment list.

      Click DESIGN


    12. I just tried the same experiment on my blog. It worked on mine, so it should work on yours.

      BTW I love the photo that you included in this post. I guess that is etymology of the Pocket Rocket?