05/25/2012 09:00 am ET | Updated Jul 25, 2012
  • Maria Rodale CEO and Chairman of Rodale, Inc. and book author

The movie Hysteria is an absolute gem. It's about the invention of the vibrator. It's also about women's rights in 19th-century England. Oh, and it's a love story. And a comedy. It's historical romance at its best: an entertaining romp that informs in a funny and charming way.

Our hero is the young upstart Doctor Mortimer Granville, whose attempts to practice modern medicine put him at odds with the medical establishment. The only gig he can get is practicing with Dr. Dalrymple, who has developed a treatment for hysteria.

Hysteria was a "catch-all" term for whatever ailed women. The symptoms were vast: anxiety, depression, Certain Feelings, know, the way you feel if you're bored with life and/or haven't had an orgasm in a while.

Historically, the treatments ranged from horseback riding to hysterectomy. That is, until it was discovered that manual stimulation helped women achieve a paroxysm that relieved their symptoms. You can just imagine how the appointment book filled up once the cute young doctor joined the practice.

Dr. Granville suffers a repetitive strain injury (surprise) and just so happens to be friends with a wealthy bachelor who is constantly experimenting with electricity. You can see where this is going....

(I haven't fact-checked this movie, but I have read the AMAZING book The Technology of Orgasm, which basically verifies that 1) manual masturbation was a very lucrative practice for doctors, 2) their hands got tired, and 3) electrical devices offered a respite for doctors and patients.)

But let's not forget the love story: Charlotte is a scandalous woman who wants her dowry to fund the settlement house she runs in the slums. She is a headstrong, passionate, tireless advocate for women's rights. (If you read romance novels, you will recognize her as the sharp-tongued spinster/hoyden/bluestocking). While Granville is at first entranced with Charlotte's sister--the embodiment of a perfect and proper English maiden--he soon starts to fall for Charlotte.

There's a beautiful moment midway through the movie when it becomes clear that the hero and the heroine--who presume they are at odds--are in fact working toward the same goal via different avenues.

Their shared goal is a happy, satisfying life for women.

For Charlotte, it's about busting boundaries so that women have an education, opportunities, and choice. For Granville, it's about relieving the malaise and, with the invention of the vibrator, enabling them to cure themselves at their own convenience.

Bottom line: A life without options makes women sick.

In conclusion: Go see the movie Hysteria. It's phenomenal.

And then go to Don't be shy!

PS: Watch the trailer! It's delightful.


Maya Rodale is the author of multiple historical romance novels, as well as the nonfiction book Dangerous Books for Girls: The Bad Reputation of Romance Novels,Explained. She has a Master's degree from New York University and lives in Manhattan with her darling dog and a rogue of her own.Her latest book is The Tattooed Duke. Learn more at

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