The Madwomen of Paris

When Josephine arrives at the Salpêtrière asylum, she’s covered in blood and suffering from amnesia. She’s soon diagnosed with what the 19th-century Parisian press has dubbed “the epidemic of the age”: hysteria. It’s a disease so uniquely baffling that the Salpêtrière’s famous director, Jean-Martin Charcot, devotes popular public lectures to it, using hypnosis to prompt fantastical symptoms in “hysterical” patients. Young, charismatic, and highly susceptible to entrancement, Josephine quickly becomes the powerful doctor’s favorite subject, regularly mesmerized into fits and delusions before enraptured Parisian audiences. But her true ally at the Salpêtrière is Laure, a lonely ward attendant who saves Josephine from the dreaded Lunacy ward. As their friendship blossoms, the two women find comfort—and even happiness—together despite their bleak surroundings. Soon, though, Josephine’s memory returns, and with it images of a gruesome crime she’s convinced she’s committed. Ensnared in Charcot’s hypnotic web, she starts spiraling so convincingly into true insanity that Laure begins plotting their escape. First, though, she must solve a grim mystery: who, really, is the girl she’s grown to love? Is Josephine a madwoman…or a murderer? Meticulously researched and masterfully written, The Madwomen of Paris is a true Gothic saga with themes that remain chillingly resonant today. 

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2024 Edgar Award Nominee for Best Novel

Praise for ‘The Madwomen of Paris’

“[A] haunting historical novel made all the more devastating by its basis in true events.”
“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.”
“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 (Wunderland) 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.”
“A haunting story of the cruel and misogynistic mental health system of late 19th-century Paris…[that] makes the gruesome details of what women had to endure at the infamous Salpêtrière all the more horrifying.”
Paste Magazine
“An emotional page-turner. Memorable characters, heartbreaking moments and intriguing details…this eye-opening novel has it all.”
Women’s Weekly
“[W]ell-written, thought-provoking, and immersive. A must-read for those interested in the treatment of women and the ethics of medicine. Highly recommended”
The Historical Novel Society
“Epstein’s page-turning historical novel—an indictment of the medical establishment’s manipulation of women—remains eerily relevant and timely. A brilliant read, highly recommended.”
Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author of The Spectacular
“A brainy and brave investigation into one of the strangest pockets of European history, The Madwomen of Paris takes readers on a twisted and turbulent journey through 19th Century Women’s Health and its accompanying misogyny. Gothic and impeccably researched, this novel will make readers question the very idea of sanity long after the last page is turned.”
Joanna Hershon, author of St. Ivo and A Dual Inheritance

Reading Group Guide (PDF)