Devonshire Place, London — When Sir George Henry Savage’s life ended on July 5th, 1921, his obituary declared that his death “remove[d] another outstanding figure from British psychiatry” (“Obituary” 98). Yet many of his patients—mainly women, including Virginia Woolf herself—would certainly disagree with that descriptor. Savage’s medical methodology drew heavily on the practices first championed by Silas Weir Mitchell, who sought to treat “hysteria” in women by subjecting them to what he called the rest cure. Diagnoses illustrated many patriarchal opinions that were commonly held towards women, basing treatments off the assumption that women were inferior to men in a variety of ways (Poirier 19). The main goal of the procedure was to alleviate stress through complete immobilization. Women were typically ordered to remain in bed for up to two months, where they were unable to partake in any “strenuous” activities, physical or intellectual, including reading, writing, or even sitting up (20). As an avid writer, Woolf in particular found this treatment barbaric, labeling Savage “tyrannical” and “shortsighted” (qtd. in Banks 1124). Woolf would later represent her own experiences with Savage and other physicians through her portrayal of Septimus Smith and Sir William Bradshaw in Mrs. Dalloway. Although many praised Savage for being a “shrewd and careful observer, who made the best use of ample opportunities” (“Obituary” 99), Woolf’s views ultimately voiced the opinions of those treated: “I resent being kept with my head on a platter, like some gigantic sow” (qtd. in Banks 1124).
Posted by: Terry Adams
Banks, Joanne Trautmann. “Mrs Woolf in Harley Street.” The Lancet 351.9109 (1998): 1124-126. Print.
“Obituary: Sir Geoge Savage, M.D., F.R.C.P.” The BMJ 2.98 (1921): 98-99. Print.
Poirier, Suzanne. “The Weir Mitchell Rest Cure: Doctor and Patients.” Women’s Studies 10.1 (1983): 15-40. Print.
Lang, Louis. The Invalid. Digital image. Brooklyn Museum. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Sept. 2016.
Ray. Mens Sana. Digital image. Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco. Vanity Fair, n.d. Web. 29 Sept. 2016.