The Strange Case of Mademoiselle P.

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The strange case to which the title of this impressive fictional debut refers is that of Marie Therese Paradies. The musically gifted daughter of a minor courtier in the service of the Empress of Austria Hungary—the young Mozart is among her acquaintances—she manifests the symptoms and effects of blindness from an early age. Under Mesmer’s treatment, the condition is relieved, and recurs only due to parental pressure.

What makes THE STRANGE CASE OF MADEMOISELLE P. so impressive, however, is less its subject matter than the manner in which it is handled. Dealing as it does with the imponderables and intangibles of the psyche, this novel is the precise opposite to a costume drama. Historical context is kept to a minimum, despite the fact that both the action and Mesmer’s subsequent career in Paris takes place at the revolutionary end of the eighteenth century. Subjective response to the case is more to the fore than detailed reconstruction.

The author approaches his material from a number of different perspectives, including that of Marie Therese herself. By doing so, the work attains its explicitly inward quality. Refrain-like references are made to vision, perception, insight and various other tropes of sight, all gentle reminders that the overall context is that of the Enlightenment. These references are counterpointed with, and their nature substantiated by, frequent allusions to music, which is the form of expression to which Mesmer’s mystique of harmony most closely approximates. While the ultimate effect may be deficient in some of the traditional qualities of the novel, there is no denying the engrossing combination of intellectual polish and psychic flux which animates THE STRANGE CASE OF MADEMOISELLE P.