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On FlinchingTheatricality and Scientific Looking from Darwin to Shell Shock$
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Tiffany Watt Smith

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780198700937

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: June 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198700937.001.0001

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A Convalescent Recoils

A Convalescent Recoils

Chapter:
(p.164) 4 A Convalescent Recoils
Source:
On Flinching
Author(s):

Tiffany Watt Smith

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198700937.003.0005

Chapter Four addresses Arthur Hurst’s experimental treatment of shell-shocked soldiers at Netley Hospital in Hampshire, many suffering from exaggerated or inappropriate flinch-reflexes. Shunning both the physical punishments and talking therapy approaches used by his colleagues, Hurst’s approach relied on developing a theatrical ‘atmosphere of cure’ in the hospital, both recorded in and facilitated through his medical film War Neurosis (1918). Whilst the relationship between actresses and hysterical patients has been well documented, this chapter argues that in Hurst’s theatre both medical staff and patients were suggestible audience members, an idea which resonated with the period’s concerns about contagious emotions in theatrical crowds. The chapter ends with a discussion of the author’s winces whilst viewing Hurst’s film in the Wellcome Library, London. It argues that paying attention to our embodied encounters with ‘intolerable imagery’ of the last century may help us think about questions of participation and looking in the twenty-first.

Keywords:   Arthur Hurst, Netley, War-Neurosis, shell shock, hysteria, suggestibility, emotional contagion, medical films, horror, embarrassment

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