Two women fall under the influence of a powerful doctor in Paris’s notorious women’s asylum in this gripping historical novel inspired by true events, from the bestselling author of Wunderland.
“Beautifully crafted . . . Combining elegant prose, artfully chosen historical details, and convincing characterizations, this haunting narrative showcases Epstein at her best.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
When Josephine arrives at the Salpêtrière asylum, she is covered in blood, badly bruised, and suffering from amnesia. She is quickly diagnosed with what the Paris papers are calling “the epidemic of the age”: hysteria, a disease is so baffling and widespread that Doctor Jean-Martin Charcot, the asylum’s famous director, devotes many of his popular public lectures to the malady. Charcot often uses hypnosis to prompt his patients to reproduce their hysterical symptoms, and to his delight, Josephine proves extraordinarily susceptible to this unconscious manipulation. He is soon featuring the young woman on his stage, entrancing her into fantastical acts and hallucinatory fits before enraptured audiences and eager newsmen—many of whom feature her on their papers’ front pages.
Laure, a ward attendant assigned to care for Charcot’s new favorite, knows that Josephine’s diagnosis is a godsend. Life in the Salpêtrière’s Hysteria ward is far easier than in its dreaded Lunacy division, from which few inmates ever return. But as Josephine’s fame grows, her memory starts to return—and with it, images of a terrible crime she’s convinced she’s committed. Haunted by these visions, and ensnared in Charcot’s hypnotic web, she starts spiraling into seeming insanity. Desperate to save the girl she has grown to love, Laure begins to plot their escape from the Salpêtrière and its doctors. First, though, she must confirm whether Josephine is truly a madwoman, doomed to die in the asylum—or a murderer, destined for the guillotine.
Both are dark possibilities—but not nearly as dark as what Laure unearths when she sets out to discover the truth.
About the Author
Jennifer Cody Epstein is the internationally bestselling author of The Painter from Shanghai, Wunderland, and The Gods of Heavenly Punishment, which won the Asian/Pacific American Honor Award for Literature for Adult Fiction. She has written for The Wall Street Journal, Vogue, Self, Mademoiselle, and others. She has an MFA in fiction from Columbia University and an MA in international affairs from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Epstein lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two daughters.
Praise for The Madwomen of Paris
“Memorable characters, heartbreaking moments and intriguing details . . . this eye-opening novel has it all. [The novel] is a series of dramatic, dangerous events and shocking twists.”—Woman’s World
“This engrossing novel explores all the different ways that young women are exploited and told they should appreciate the attention. The novel is well-written, thought-provoking, and immersive. A must-read for those interested in the treatment of women and the ethics of medicine. Highly recommend.”—Historical Novel Society
“Epstein has achieved her goal of immersing readers in the ‘stranger-than-fiction’ universe of late-19th-century Paris. At a time when women’s reproductive rights are under threat and people with unexplained medical conditions are routinely gaslit, The Madwomen of Paris provides a fascinating look back at a condition with modern-day resonance.”—Science Magazine
“This beautifully crafted historical from Epstein evokes the cruel and misogynistic mental health system of late 19th-century Paris. . . . Combining elegant prose, artfully chosen historical details, and convincing characterizations, this haunting narrative showcases Epstein at her best.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Laure and Josephine’s story reflects the raging obsession that people had with hysteria. . . . It speaks to the dangers of treatments used on patients and the vulnerable positions in which they were placed. . . . A gripping historical novel that describes the treatment patients received from Dr. Charcot at Salpêtrière.”—Booklist
Praise for the novels of Jennifer Cody Epstein
“Searing . . . a heartbreaking page-turner.”—People
“An epic about friendship and family set against an inherently emotional, dramatic backdrop . . . a story that feels tragic and brutal and true.”—USA Today
“Engrossing . . . Moving between decades and continents, Epstein reveals the devastating choices these women make.”—Real Simple
“Both heartbreaking and hopeful, this story of a daughter searching for the truth about her mother’s secret past, tangled up in old secrets and terrible lies, kept me up late turning pages.”—Martha Hall Kelly, New York Times bestselling author of Lilac Girls
“A beautiful and haunting and utterly magnificent novel: a wrenching tale of friendship and betrayal . . . It’s also a page-turner that kept me reading util two in the morning one night and three in the morning the next. It’s that good.”—Chris Bohjalian, New York Times bestselling author of The Flight Attendant