The Condenser

Monday, November 22, 2010

Folie en Famille: A Case Study

The phenomenon of folie en famille is a form of group psychosis that can be categorized somewhere between the more famous folie a deux, a delusion shared between two people (exhibited famously in the bizarre case of Sabina and Ursula Eriksson), and what is commonly called mass hysteria. Below is a disappointingly curt summary of an instance of family hysteria from Brain: A Journal of Neurology, Volume 10 (1888):

Last year, in France, a whole family, consisting of six persons— the father, mother, two sons, and two daughters—were simultaneously attacked with demonomania. Dr. Lapointe, who reports the circumstance, states that they were orderly people, economical, temperate, and were generally esteemed. They were, however, hypochondriacal, and possessed of mystical ideas. They gradually came to believe that they were poisoned by sorcerers; the devil was in their clothes; they constantly saw him. They desired to be freed from his presence by exorcism; they regarded themselves as lost, and gave themselves up to many eccentric practices. At last they became dangerous, wandered about, and attacked the peasants, so that it became necessary to place them in an asylum. At the end of a fortnight they were discharged from the asylum, apparently recovered. During two years they resided on the farm which they cultivated. Then, suddenly, the mother gave the signal of an attack, and the same ideas were reproduced in all the members of the family. It became necessary to place them once more in an asylum. It may be added that another member of the family, a son, being from home, was by this means saved from an attack of insanity.

The accompanying image is William Hogarth's The Rake's Progress, found on the Tate website.

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