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On HysteriaThe Invention of a Medical Category between 1670 and 1820$
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Sabine Arnaud

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780226275543

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226275680.001.0001

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Code, Truth, or Ruse? The Vapors in the Republic of Letters

Code, Truth, or Ruse? The Vapors in the Republic of Letters

Chapter:
(p.136) 4 Code, Truth, or Ruse? The Vapors in the Republic of Letters
Source:
On Hysteria
Author(s):

Sabine Arnaud

Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226275680.003.0005

Men and women of letters used the description of vaporous fits to exemplify the relationship between body and mind irrespective of medical concerns. This chapter examines how the Republic of Letters itself adopted and challenged the theme of vapors. In works by Diderot, La Mettrie, C.J. de B. de Paumerelle, Le Camus, and Chassaignon, vapors and hysteric affections were called upon to name inner turmoil, distress, embarrassment, and physiological disorders. These terms were also ways to consider modernity, the human species, women, or even literary creation. Because of their spectacular symptoms, the vapors are repeatedly invoked in these texts as an ideal tool to manipulate either the sufferer’s entourage or his or her own faculties, which are pushed into unexplored domains. The force of the vapors is made to exemplify or stimulate the role of the body in sensibility and creativity. Using these notions, men and women of letters were participating in a move to fashion sensibility and acknowledge contradictory conceptions of physiological phenomena.

Keywords:   epistolary work, women, womb, history of emotions, imagination, genius, rhetoric, Denis Diderot, Republic of Letters

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