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Brand: Wendy Moore

The Mesmirist

by Wendy Moore

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The Mesmerist : The Extraordinary Story of the Society Doctor who held Victorian London Spellbound

Medicine, in the early 1800s, was a brutal business. Operations were performed without anaesthesia while conventional treatment relied on leeches, cupping and toxic potions. The most surgeons could offer by way of pain relief was a large swig of brandy.

Onto this scene came John Elliotson, the dazzling new hope of the medical world. Charismatic and ambitious, Elliotson was determined to transform medicine from a hodge-podge of archaic remedies into a practice informed by the latest science. In this aim he was backed by Thomas Wakley, founder of the new magazine, the Lancet, and a campaigner against corruption and malpractice.

Then, in the summer of 1837, a French visitor - the self-styled Baron Jules Denis Dupotet - arrived in London to promote an exotic new idea: mesmerism. The mesmerism mania would take the nation by storm but would ultimately split the two friends, and the medical world, asunder - throwing into focus fundamental questions about the fine line between medicine and quackery, between science and superstition.

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