starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, Hugh Dancy, Felicty Jones, Rupert Everett and Jonathan Pryce
written by Jonah Lisa Dyer, Stephen Dyer and Howard Gensler
directed by Tanya Wexler
I hesitated to rent this movie because I knew from pictures on the DVD case that it featured female masturbation. I finally rented it and I thought it was brilliant! Hysteria is a 2011 British period romantic comedy. The film, set in the Victorian era, shows how the medical management of hysteria led to the invention of the vibrator. The film's title refers to the once-common medical diagnosis and treatment of female hysteria, the wandering uterus. Many people today don’t know about it, but in olden days some women went to their (male) doctors to be masturbated to orgasm (or “paroxysm”) to relieve their … tension.
Manual genital massage of women had been a medical remedy since antiquity, and hysteria was a recognized malady until the American Psychiatric Association discontinued this term in 1952. Dr. Joseph Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) filed the first patent for an electromechanical vibrator termed Granville's Hammer in about 1883. Granville, however, did not apply his invention in the treatment of hysteria; rather, he used it to treat muscular disorders. Other physicians started to apply the vibrator for the treatment of hysteria. In those days, of course, proper women did not touch themselves like that. In those days women were not supposed to have any sexual desire. They were passive vehicles. Think of England, lie still and take it. The concept of female orgasm wasn’t even established until the Kinsey Reports (Sexual Behavior in the Human Male  and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female ).
I was very entertained to see other historical oddities portrayed in the movie. People don’t think of it, or don’t know it today, but the germ theory of infection and disease was as new and revolutionary as the heliocentric model of the solar system. British Dr. Joseph Lister proved the germ theory of disease in 1867. But old ideas of bleeding people to treat disease only slowly died out as that generation expired (exactly the same way that that the heliocentric model slowly supplanted the geocentric model). Before the invention of the automobile cities were filthy with horse manure, which had to be scraped from shoes by a shoe ‘boot’ at the door, so the environment - even a hospital environment - was ripe with germs.
When I was at Queen’s University (1983-85) I took a class in medical history, so I was already aware of the historical medical oddities in Hysteria.