In 1897 four young ladies of London society are sent to a secluded institute, run by psychoanalyst Doctor Rhodes, to cure their female hysteria. Solitary confinement, bodily restraints, sensory deprivation, immaculately tailored uniforms and the liberal use of vaginal massagers are the strange and secretive methods employed by the doctor, who views the behavioural restrictions and the strict Victorian morality of his society as the root cause of his patients’ problems. The four ladies and the doctor are joined on their journey by a French Maitresse, from the famous Paris brothel Le Chabanais, and an English Pastor, and form an unlikely alliance in a tale that touches the gamut of human emotions. All participants find love and fulfilment during this London summer amidst the mysterious, fantastical environment they encounter at the Institute, after an adventurous, sometimes tearful, sometimes humorous but always entertaining journey.
The sound of the cheers after Samantha Taylor had vanquished her rivals at the university games still rang in her ears. She sat alone in the dressing rooms, showered, dried, and in her undergarments and corset. Suddenly an overwhelming feeling of sadness engulfed her, and she found herself crying uncontrollably.
This feeling of melancholy had been with her for several months. With no rhyme or reason for its appearance, its presence always manifesting after a prior moment of exaltation.
“I must do something about this wretchedness,” she said to herself as she wiped away her tears.
She was not by nature a sentimental person, but a feeling of incompleteness in her life had recently surfaced, silently eating away at her soul. There was no earthly reason why she should feel incomplete as for all intents and purposes she had everything a modern young lady could possibly desire. Samantha’s lifestyle of academia and athletics offered her a broader, more interesting world than most of her female counterparts. Her parents’ wealth, and especially her mother’s liberal outlook, had presented her with an opportunity to succeed in whatever field she chose whilst also affording her an opulent lifestyle. This opulence allowed Samantha to indulge in her favourite passion, her love of fashion. She adored the tight-fitting, tailored costumes and corsetry of her day for Samantha was an extremist by nature. Her ability to withstand pain on her long training runs served as an example of this intensity. For years this testing of both her academic and physical abilities had satisfied this innate extremism, but now, in her twenty-first year, she had become disillusioned, aware of an emptiness within but unable to identify its source.
She had told no one of her anguish and bore her burden with silence, well aware of the consequences that may ensue if she became diagnosed with female hysteria, a generic diagnosis for all types of maladies amongst both her gender and her class. She had seen the harrowing results of such a determination first hand. Her neighbor, Eloise Thomson’s anxiety had been thus diagnosed, and her tragic fate was still fresh in Samantha's mind.
Eloise had initially been subjected to several types of brutal hydrotherapy in an attempt to cure her so-called hysteria, from ice cold baths to high pressure hosing. In the end, she had faked her recovery so that she no longer needed to endure the continued torture. Unfortunately this burying of her emotions had led to a complete nervous breakdown, and her family, upon the recommendation of their physician, had no option but to place her in an asylum.
Samantha had visited Eloise on only the one occasion and was visibly shocked by the appearance of the once vibrant, young woman. Eloise could barely converse and had looked tired and worn, lacking all confidence, her haggard eyes darting all over the place as she’d sat there in her grey asylum dress. She had informed Samantha that she was soon to undergo a procedure called trepanation, a drilling into her skull that would hopefully relieve her of her anxiety, and she entreated Samantha to pray for her soul that night.
Samantha was deeply affected by her meeting with Eloise, and she vowed never to subject herself to any such treatment if ever hysteria were to befall her. Consequently when she experienced her own melancholy, she kept it to herself.
However, after her latest attack, she finally realized she needed some form of assistance, and with the thought of Eloise Thomson’s fate still firmly etched on her brain, she knew assistance must never come from the medical profession.
Consequently, Samantha decided to share her problem with the one person she knew she could trust unreservedly, her lifelong friend and mentor, Pastor Miller. After buttoning herself into her latest outfit, she left the pavilion, parasol in hand, and walked the short distance to the pastor’s manse. As it was a Saturday afternoon, she knew he would be hard at work, preparing his sermon for tomorrow’s service