The Strange Case of Madeleine Seguin
William Rose’s novel focuses on a patient at the famous Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris as the 19th century draws to a close. The author presents us with a series of reports, case notes and letters written by the various characters who, each for their own reason, have a particular interest in Madeleine and her development. Through the letters, we are given a glimpse into the decadent world of the fin de siècle and the various groups and salons; the experimental young artists and poets, those dabbling in magic and the occult and the scientists and psychiatrists who both help and experiment on the people they treat. There is a gothic undercurrent to the narrative which makes it darkly compelling and sinister. There is a sense of hedonism and thrill-seeking amongst a number of the protagonists, which intensifies the decadent and gothic atmosphere of the story.
The book places the mad girl at the centre of the story but as in life, it is not her voice we hear; instead we only learn about her through others. The author presents a fascinating insight into a particular place and time; the Countess fascinated by the devil, the young artist seeking an introduction into society, the young doctor and his rejection of religion in favour of science, and the professor as a kind of impresario using his patients as props to impress. The author’s interest in psychoanalysis and art is apparent and makes for an intriguing combination. A recommended read for fans of Diana Bretherick.