chapter  3
21 Pages

Desperate Housewives and Model Amoebae: The Invention of Suburban Neurosis in Inter-War Britain


In March 1938, Stephen Taylor (1910-88), assistant editor of the Lancet and a rising medical politician, claimed to have identifi ed a new class of neurotic patient.1 He believed that the familiar fi gure of the working-class invalid chasing his consoling ‘bottle of medicine’ had been superseded in the outpatient clinics of London’s great teaching hospitals by a new class of well-heeled young women presenting a variety of anxiety states. These women, Taylor argued, ‘presented a defi nite clinical picture with a uniform background’: they were in their late twenties or early thirties, cleanly dressed but lacking any sense of zest or glamour. Their permanent waves had been abandoned and their clothes, Taylor noted, adopting the patient’s voice, were ‘never as smart as the young hussies who work in the biscuit factory.’2 Their breasts were fl abby, their refl exes brisk, and they regaled young housemen with a succession of spurious complaints that included trembling hands, nagging headaches, swollen stomachs, jumpiness, buzzing ears, and insomnia.