In the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, hundreds of women allegedly died from laughing too hard. Any activity in modern life—going to the circus, playing bridge, or salting pork in the kitchen—could become a gateway to the convulsions of hysterical laughter for women. In this article, I look at death from laughter as a limit case that blows open the long-standing separation between laughter and hysteria in scholarship on these topics. I argue that women’s hysterical laughter failed to register as either laughter or hysteria. Whereas laughter allegedly killed regular women, female hysterics could endure multiday laughing, barking fits without so much as a trace on their bodies. Finally, I think about the striking oppositions between the female laughing hysteric and the hysterically laughing woman through the archives of early cinema. Film spectatorship not only offered women a space to laugh safely but also represented a potential visual cure to nervous hysteria.

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