Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Cure For Dreaming by Cat Winters

This strange novel has the odd premise of a frustrated father attempting to hypnotize the free-thinking thoughts of women's rights out of his daughter's head so she will want to live her life as women are meant to - getting married and having children.


Olivia Mead is at the Metropolitan Theater in Portland, Oregon to celebrate her birthday, which happens to be on Halloween. She and her dearest friend Frannie Harrison, another friend Kate and their chaperone, Agnes are there to see The Mesmerizing Henri Reverie, a hypnotist. When Henri Reverie asks for a volunteer who is celebrating a birthday, Kate volunteers Olivia. Reluctantly Olivia takes the stage and is hypnotized by Henri who makes her body go so rigid that he is able to balance her between two chair and stand on her stomach.Olivia awakes from the trance but remembers nothing of what happened on stage.

After the show, Percy Acklen, son of Judge Acklen, whom Olivia has a crush on, asks to drive her home. Against the advice of Frannie, Olivia takes him up on his offer. Percy tells her that she is beautiful and that his father believes her to be "womanhood perfected....Silent. Alluring. Submissive." Shocked  Olivia questions Percy why he suddenly has shown an interest in her, especially since her father, Dr. Mead is a dentist with a reputation for enjoying seeing his patients suffer.  Olivia's father is happy to see Percy's interest in his daughter and tells Percy he's a fan of Judge Acklen's opinion pieces in the newspaper. Percy indicates that is father will be writing a new piece about the suffragettes protesting outside courthouse about their having no right to vote in next Tuesday's presidential election. Dr. Mead expresses his horror over the protest but is quite interested when Percy tells him that Olivia was hypnotized by Henri Reverie and that she did everything he asked of her.

After Percy leaves, Dr. Mead confronts his daughter, telling her that Mr. Underhill, the owner of  one of Portland's largest shipping firms, saw her yelling with the suffragettes outside the court building. Olivia tells her father that "...I would like to vote for president when I'm older." However, her father is not supportive, stating that it was his hope that she would "grow up to be a rational, respectable, dignified young woman who understands her place in the world." As a result of her participation, Mr. Underhill is no longer a patient of Dr. Mead's. But when a picture showing Olivia hypnotized  appears in the Oregonian, her father decides to hire Henri Reverie to cure her of her rebelliousness and her "unladylike dreams" of going to school. Olivia is horrified that her father believes her "future is to become a respectable housewife and mother." He tells her that "Women belong in the home, and inside some man's home you'll stay."

Olivia has been a good student and has been attending a progressive, coeducational high school with electric lighting, a library and a laboratory. At school Frannie warns her against being with Percy saying he's a "grabber". During choral practice, Olivia receives a note from her father telling her to come to his dental office after school. Olivia arrives at her father's office only to meet Henri Reverie whom her father has hired to help her accept the world the way it is." Fearing Olivia will be like her mother who abandoned the family and who also supports the right of women to vote, Dr. Mead decides to have Olivia hypnotized.

Henri hypnotizes Olivia against her will and tells her that she will say 'All is well' instead of arguing whenever she is angry. He also tells her that "she will see the world the way it truly is. The roles of men and women will be clearer than they have ever been before. You will know whom to avoid." When she awakens Olivia is shocked at what she sees; Henri looks incredibly delightful and someone she can trust but her father looks like a red-eyed fiend. As Henri instructed, when Olivia wants to scream at her father, all she can say is "All is well."

The hypnosis leaves Olivia seeing disturbing visions of people as they truly are. For example, the women opposed to women's suffrage are seen as caged and Frannie's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Harrison, appear as perfect. Olivia flees to Frannie's home where she tells her friend what happened to her and what she's been seeing. At first Frannie believes this is because her friend has read Dracula too many times. However, Olivia tells her the disturbing visions began only after Henri's hypnotism at her home. When she returns home Olivia gives her father the answers he wants to hear so he is not suspicious that her suffragette thoughts have not be removed. In fact, Olivia is more determined than ever to work for the right to vote especially when she sees a letter in the paper, written by Judge Percival R. Acklen, who is Percy's father. Judge Acklen claims that scientific evidence supports the notion that women are not capable of higher thinking and belong in the home, and that should they become involved in politics, they will abandon their roles as wives and mothers and destroy American family life. This motivates Olivia to write a letter in response which she signs as "A Responsible Woman" and which she takes the next day to the offices of the Oregonian.

Meanwhile Olivia seeks out Henri Reverie and learns that his name is really Henry Rhodes and that his sister, fifteen year old Genevieve is sick with breast cancer.  At this time Olivia receives a birthday note from her mother who lives in New York, working as an actress. She sends Olivia a one-way ticket to the city and invites her to come stay with her. But before Olivia can leave Portland she needs to repair the damage done to her by Henri's hypnotism. Olivia wants to be free to speak her own mind and wants Henri to reverse what he did to her. She writes him a letter begging him to do this, asking him how he would feel if his sister were unable to cry out to protect herself or to protest when something harmful was being done to her.

When she meets Henri and his sister Genevieve, Henri reveals that her father has requested more hypnotism and he wants to demonstrate the ability of hypnotism in removing the desire for emancipation of women. He plans to show how Olivia becomes ill at the mention of suffragettes at a meeting of an organization opposed to women's suffragette, The Oregon Association Opposed To The Extension Of Suffrage To Women. He tells Olivia that in order to afford her treatments he needs the money her father will pay him for the second hypnotism. At this point Olivia explains how because of the hypnotism, she was unable to defend herself against the advances of Percy Acklen. Henri, now realizing the harm he has done to Olivia, promises her that he will help her. Can Olivia and Henri outwit her father, Mead the Mad, to restore Olivia's ability to make her own choices and to recover her ability to speak her own mind?


The Cure For Dreaming is a very original treatment of the early women's suffragette movement in the United States when women were fighting for the right to vote and to participate more fully in society. It is set in 1900 Oregon, in the very middle of what was the suffragette movement that began in the mid 1870s and continued with the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution, which granted female citizens who were twenty-one years of age and older the right to vote in all states, in 1920. At this time a woman's place, as so eloquently expressed by the educated upperclass such as Dr. Mead and Judge Acklen, was as a wife and mother, in the home. Her speech was supposed to be saved for supporting her husband and singing sweet lullabies to her children, not out on the street protesting.

However, Olivia has dreams and she wants to express those dreams and pursue them - something her father and his generation consider to be unladylike.  In the novel, Winters uses Olivia's hypnosis supposedly to demonstrate the world as it truly is. The women opposed to emancipation are seen as ghosts in cages, shadows of who they could be - the implication being that an unemancipated woman is not fulfilling her potential as a person. In contrast, the suffragettes are seen by Olivia as women illuminated by bright lights from within - women who believe they are equal are strong and vibrant people.

This sort of caricature continues with the male characters too. Those men who are more open minded and kindly towards women are seen by Olivia as beautiful and perfect. With the exception of Henri Reverie, most of the young men are portrayed as cads. Olivia's father is somewhat of a caricature of the men during this time period - many of whom were opposed to the emancipation of women. They felt it would upset the natural order of things and that women biologically were incapable of rational thought. Dr. Mead is immediately portrayed as a rather cruel, crazy man who seemed to delight in his patient's suffering. This sets the stage for his crazy idea that he will cure his daughter of her dreams which do not match his ideal of womanhood through the use of hypnosis. He hopes this "cure" can be used to stop the suffragettes. Because of this Olivia often sees her father as a vampire, even a fiend with red eyes.

Olivia is a strong protagonist, determined to forge her own path. She wants a career but also to be married. To do that she needs to outwit her father and with the help of Henri Reverie, who Olivia's "second sight" has shown to be a sympathetic man, she is able to prevent her imagination from being stolen from her. She never wavers from her goal, which is regain control over her mind and her dreams.

Winters succeeds in engaging her reader from the very beginning with an exciting opening chapter set in a theatre on Halloween night. She enhances her story by including interesting black and white photographs throughout the novel. For example, the cover and the opening picture are of a girl prone across two chairs. There are several images of dentistry in the early 20th century which fills in details on Dr. Mead and how he would have practiced his profession during this era. There are also pictures of suffragettes and women riding bicycles (considered a step towards emancipation by the suffragettes) which gives the reader some understanding of the women who were involved in the movement at this time.

The Cure For Dreaming is historical fiction with a paranormal twist, taking a genre that sometimes has a reputation for being boring, and making it more exciting.Overall this novel is an interesting story with a cover that makes the reader want to explore the story inside.

Book Details:
The Cure For Dreaming by Cat Winters
New York: Amulet Books      2014
352 pp.

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