Remind me how we loved our mother’s body
our mouths drawing the first
thin sweetness from her nipples
our faces dreaming hour on hour
in the salt smell of her lap…
and how we thought she loved
the strange male body first
that took, that took, whose taking seemed the law
and how she sent us weeping
into the law…
(Adrienne Rich, quoted in “Freud’s Dora, Dora’s Hysteria“)
“Hysteria is not a pathalogical phenomenon, and can, in all respects, be considered as a supreme means of expression”
(Louis Aragon and Andre Breton, quoted in “Hysteria, Psychoanalysis, and Feminism“).
Women and hysteria have long been topics of tense discussion in feminist and psychoanalytic circles, and was a popular approach for quite some time among literary critics. “Hysteria”: (1) exaggerated or uncontrollable emotion or excitement, (2) a psychological disorder…whose symptoms include the conversion of psychological stress into physical symptoms…The term has a controversial history as it was formerly regarded as a disease specific to women. Hysteria was once a phenomenon tied solely to women, and any male exhibitions of the same symptoms often resulted in assumed feminine tendencies. But are these women truly crazy? Is this a disease passed down from woman to woman, or are there reasons for why their extreme behaviors and actions manifest later on in life?
Miss Estelle Lilburn, heiress to the Lilburn manor and fortune, publicly displays the perfect housewife demeanor, quietly graceful and eager to please. Hospitality dissolves into desperation, as she begins to cling to Huey, begging him to call her by first name and to never leave. The first hint of serious psychological stress appears at the murder of her guardian, Mr. Geese. Instead of distress, she acts detached from the scene, and even smiles briefly through her blood-spattered face. The Lilburn family’s history reveals a shocking number of mysterious murders and disappearances, all centering around the women of the household. Most recently, the murders occurred in Estelle’s grandmother’s lifetime, then again during Estelle’s own adulthood. Known for their tendencies to madness, her grandfather installed measures for protection and concealment of his family’s dark inclinations.
Through a good majority of the episode, it appears that the show promotes the idea of female hysteria, as all fingers point to Estelle and her female ancestors as the sources of the Lilburn curse. However, Dalian gives an alternate reasoning near the end, attributing the accursed actions instead to overly strict female training of obedience and servility. The strain of such an upbringing and its expectations could have very well resulted in the later abnormal psychologies. Instead of pinning the homicides on an elusive curse, she instead suggests that the curse is a result of the humans themselves. The same could be applied to the “disease” of women, as well. Estelle’s surprising death, while befitting and releasing in a way, also serves as an accurate representation of the disregard others of her time period gave to women in similar situations. Either way spells death, in will, or in body.
And Dalian’s super cute moment? An imitation up-do of Miss Lilburn’s hairstyle!