Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Case of the Pederast's Wife by Clare Elfman



The year is 1895, the place is Victorian London. Famed wit and playwright Oscar Wilde is quite the scandal. His dalliance with Lord Alfred Douglas is poised to destroy all that he has achieved, change his fame to infamy, and lead to criminal charges and a prison term. No wonder his wife, Constance, is falling apart.

Enter Martin Frame, an ambitious young gynecologist fascinated by the burgeoning science of psychology, but burdened by an old-fashioned father who thinks hysteria is best treated with ice water, morphine, or, as a last resort, a hysterectomy. Martin, however, prefers to take a gentler approach with his patients; he talks to them, and, more importantly, he listens, trying to discover what distress is presenting itself in the form of physical symptoms.

When a mutual friend, Robbie Ross, asks him to see what he can do for Constance Wilde, Martin agrees to see her. He becomes convinced that the terrible back and leg pains Constance insists are the result of an accidental fall are in fact symptomatic of her emotional turmoil and denial of her husband’s homosexuality. But the clock is ticking, a quack surgeon, more butcher than healer, is trying to convince Constance that a simple operation to remove a troublesome bone that is pressing against a nerve in her back will cure her completely.


This was a very interesting little novel, I loved the way it used a well-known subject, Constance Wilde, and her situation, as a case study to illustrate the nascent practice of psychotherapy and what it might accomplish against the often barbaric and unfeeling horrors of Victorian surgery and gynecology, a world where doctors believed operating on a woman was no worse than a farmer neutering a pig and that women would flock to a handsome young doctor for the sheer pleasure of the pelvic exam. If you have an interest in Oscar Wilde and his wife or the evolution of medicine I highly recommend this novel.

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zunaira mehar said...
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