8th June, 2022
Review: The Mad women's Ball by Victoria Mas (Penguin)
The Mad Women‘s Ball is a relatively short but extremely well-written story, showing how horribly unfair women were treated in the late 19th century. However, it never turns polemic and instead invites us to get to know the women institutionalised at the Paris Salpêtrière.
The book has a rather simple plot that isn’t overly sensational but that is exactly what makes it such a great story. Mas’ novel shows the reader how women were punished for having an opinion: It was an easy time to get rid of uncomfortable women by declaring them hysterical and locking them away.
Although the novel’s protagonist is horrified at the idea of being held within the confines of the asylum, for many of the women, the poorer ones in particular, the asylum offers a certain safety. It is the only place where anyone has ever shown concern for their well-being and it is a place of liberation from the subjugation to the oppression and sexual violence of men that they suffered on the outside. For them, the asylum has become a sanctuary. Still, the women are obviously subject to the control and exploitation of the doctors (who are all male, of course) who treat the patients as fascinating medical cases rather than real human beings with feelings and wishes.
The ball itself then brings up highly conflicting emotions. For the reader it seems appalling to see these poor women shown off as a sort of freak show for the Paris elite, but the women themselves look forward to the ball and spend weeks preparing for it, picking and altering dresses and chatting about the possible illustruous guests.
The Mad Women‘s Ball is a great insight into a time when women were far from having the rights we have today. At the same time, it’s a book that makes you think about different perspectives and about how things don’t always come in black and white categories. Highly recommended.
Rating: 5/5 stars
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