Mesmerized: Who Was Franz Mesmer?
Mesmerized is the title of the English translation of German author Alissa Walser’s first novel, Am Anfang war die Nacht Musik. Why did we change the title, rather than translating it straight as something like In the Beginning the Night Music? Well, it’s a bit more catchy. And also, the word “Mesmerized” is derived from the real life protagonist of the novel. Don’t worry though — we did ask the author first!
The handy Online Etymology Dictionary tells us that “mesmerized” comes from the word “mesmerism”, which comes from the French word “mesmérisme“. This in turn was derived from the name of Franz Anton Mesmer, an Austrian physician who lived in the age of Mozart and who developed a theory about animal magnetism and believed in a mysterious bodily fluid that allowed people to hypnotise one another. The word now exists in German, too, as “mesmerisieren“, which has synonyms in “faszinieren” and “hypnotisieren“, but Mesmer’s theories haven’t really stood the test of time.
And yet, in Mesmerized, Alissa Walser plays with the tantalising prospect that there was something to them (but not in a sci-fi way). At the beginning of the novel, Mesmer runs his own private hospital in Vienna, where he practises his theories on a wide range of variously deranged patients. He has enemies everywhere: fellow scientists, doctors and physicians are afraid that his methods may bring him to prominence, and hide their fear through ridicule and scorn.
When he is asked to help restore the sight of a blind musical prodigy favoured by the Empress herself, he senses that fame, and even immortality, is within his grasp. Mesmer knows that he will have to gain her trust if he is to open her eyes, but at what cost to her fragile talent? And, with his methods already open to salacious interpretation, will their intimacy result in scandal?
Mesmerized is available in hardback at £14.99