A Fever in Salem: A New Interpretation of the New England Witch Trials

Laurie Winn Carlson, Author Ivan R. Dee Publisher $24.95 (215p) ISBN 978-1-56663-253-9
Members of nearly every major school of historical analysis have taken a crack at explaining the Salem witch trials, from Freudian scholars (who posit mass hysteria) to Marxists (class conflict over property), from feminists (hatred of women) to more ecologically minded historians (a hallucinogenic ergot fungus on grain). In this innovative new study, an independent scholar focuses on the physical symptoms of ""possession""--convulsions, hallucinations, distorted language, paralysis--which are precisely congruent with those of encephalitis lethargica. Carlson (On Sidesaddles to Heaven) supports her case with an impressive array of sources, including legal records of the trials, accounts of Puritan religious and medical beliefs, histories of witchcraft and of mental illness, scientific studies of plagues and Oliver Sacks's Awakenings (which dealt with the victims of the encephalitis epidemic of 1916-30). She never ""explains"" the event in its entirety, leaving open the possibility of further analysis of the public, religious and legal response to these phenomena. Discussing other possible historical and cultural ramifications of encephalitis symptoms, Carlson provocatively suggests that the disease may have inspired the Sleeping Beauty folk tale and been at the root of some Christian mystical experiences. While her use of radical psychiatrist Thomas Szasz's work to analyze cross-cultural ""epidemics of mental illness"" and her superficial reading of feminist analyses are not up to the high standard of the rest of the book, her theory, though ultimately impossible to prove, is persuasive. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 06/28/1999
Release date: 07/01/1999
Show other formats
Paperback - 197 pages - 978-1-56663-309-3
Open Ebook - 215 pages - 978-1-56663-339-0
Open Ebook - 228 pages - 978-1-299-77869-6
Stay ahead with
Tip Sheet!
Free newsletter: the hottest new books, features and more
Only $18.95/month for Digital Access
or $20.95 for Print+Digital Access!
Only $18.95/month for Digital Access
or $20.95 for Print+Digital Access!
Email Address


Log In Lost Password

PW has integrated its print and digital subscriptions, offering exciting new benefits to subscribers, who are now entitled to both the print edition and the digital editions of PW (online or via our app). For instructions on how to set up your accout for digital access, click here. For more information, click here.

The part of the site you are trying to access is now available to subscribers only. Subscribers: to set up your digital subscription with the new system (if you have not done so already), click here. To subscribe, click here.

Email pw@pubservice.com with questions.

Not Registered? Click here.