Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Witch & the Hysteric: Mini-Review

The Witch & the Hysteric: the Monstrous Medieval in Benjamin Christensen's Häxan by Alexander Doty and Patricia Clare Ingham is an academic chapbook by two outstanding scholars which examines Christensen's 1922 film and the representations of women as both witches and hysterics (and, ultimately, as the monstrous) in medieval times and in the early 20th C. The accusers may change from religious conservatives on witch hunts to early psychiatrists diagnosing the causes of women's mental illnesses, but the stigma of the monstrous remains. Christensen's film would seem to make the claim that the modern--scientific--viewpoint is better than the religious fanaticism of the medieval period, but Doty and Ingham point out that the juxtaposition of images in Häxan encourage the viewer to believe that very little has changed.

The appeal of this book was, I must admit, primarily due to my friendship with one of the authors--Patty Ingham. I was most curious to read one of her works and (sorry, Patty) not likely to read one her longer books more heavily anchored in the medieval period. I'm just not that into medieval. This chapbook was an ideal chance to sample her work (as well as that of the late Alexander Doty). Well-written, as expected, it was accessible to me as a non-scholar. And it has made me very curious to see Christensen's film. For someone more well-versed in medieval or film studies, I'm sure it will be even more accessible. ★★ and a half.

[Patty Ingham is not only a friend--she also shares my birthday, July 1. This allows me to count this book for the I Dare You Challenge and Birthday Month Challenge--both which call for an author born in July.]

1 comment:

fredamans said...

Sounds fascinating if you are into witches and paganism. Have to pass this one along to a friend of mine who is studying early witches. Great review!