Charles Dickens and Hypnosis

Did you know that Charles Dickens was a practitioner of a form of hypnosis?

Charles Dickens and Hypnosis

The author of ‘Great Expectations’ and ‘Oliver Twist’ among many other great works was fascinated by the practice of ‘mesmerism’ in the 1800s. Dickens attended public displays of mesmerism presented by John Elliotson, who was a professor of medicine and the man who introduced the stethoscope to England. The men became friends and eventually Elliotson showed Dickens how to carry out mesmerism himself.

‘Mesmerism’ was named after Franz Anton Mesmer, who, among other things, believed that the human mind could be healed while in a state of trance. It was a controversial treatment. In fact, Elliotson left formal medicine, due to the disapproval of his peers and after a scandal, which threw some of his results in doubt.

Despite this, Elliotson remained a firm believer in the power of mesmerism, as did Dickens. Elliotson went on to found the Mesmeric Hospital in London, and Dickens also continued to practice.

Dickens used mesmerism to try and help family and friends with minor illnesses – and for fun! While on a tour of America in 1842, he mesmerized his wife, Catherine in public while in Pittsburgh. Within a couple of minutes, Catherine was in a ‘mesmeric sleep’. Dickens then induced hysterics in her, and then put her back to sleep.

More seriously, when one of Dickens’ friends, the illustrator John Leech, suffered a bad concussion and was slow to recover, Dickens offered to treat him with mesmerism. The treatment was a success and Leech recovered.

In 1844, while travelling overseas, he was asked to help a Madame de la Rue, who apparently suffered from such bad anxiety that she had severe facial spasms and couldn’t sleep. Dickens treated her over a period of time with some success. Madame de la Rue slept better and was said to appear more relaxed. Dickens continued to treat her, attempting now to explore the underlying causes of Madame de la Rue’s problems––something that we might recognize now as a therapeutic approach. However, Dickens wife, Catherine, became jealous of the close relationship he was developing with Madame La Rue––and the night-time appointments that were apparently necessary for her treatment––and the treatment was cut short when the Dickens started travelling again.

While some of Mesmer’s wilder claims have been discredited, healing the mind while in a state of trance, as Dickens attempted to do, is still with us. Nowadays, we call it hypnotherapy.

So whilst Charles Dickens and Hypnosis may not be synonymous it is clear that the great author was an expert in this too.

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