Calling Dr. Freud: New Diagnosis in the Sad Case of Jean Rhys

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London’s tabloid newspaper Daily Mail, in its pseudo-review of Lilian Pizzichini’s book on Rhys, The Blue Hour, has issued its diagnosis on the late Dominican writer. The “doctors” of the Daily Mail have concluded, after reading the book, that “had she been alive today Jean Rhys (1890-1976) would certainly have been diagnosed with a personality disorder. Or as hovering on the very edge of the Asperger’s spectrum. Poor woman.”

Poor woman indeed…

“Pizzichini’s excellent biography” lead reviewers to conclude that Rhys was “an absolute nightmare” and therefore “God’s gift to a biographer.”

If you want the sordid details from the “review” you can go to the link below. A biography that leads the reviewer to conclude that “how [Rhys] managed to write Wide Sargasso Sea . . . is one of the great literary mysteries of our time” has certainly missed its point. For the answer to that you can go to Carole Angier’s 1991 biography, Jean Rhys: Life and Work, which is easily obtainable.

You can find the review at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/books/article-1179089/Beach-burlesque-booze-brilliance-THE-BLUE-HOUR-BY-LILIAN-PIZZICHINI.html

4 thoughts on “Calling Dr. Freud: New Diagnosis in the Sad Case of Jean Rhys

  1. Please see my response to your other hostile posting! I am surprised you recommend Angier’s biography of Rhys. Her book is one of the main reasons I wrote my own. I found her to be patronising, judgmental and dismissive of Rhys. To diagnose her subject as having a “borderline personality disorder” struck me as singularly presumptuous and, in literary terms, unimaginative. I have worked in the prison service and seen human beings reduced to psychiatric diagnoses and numbers. In the case of Rhys and the prisoners I worked with, these labels were unedifying to say the least. Not that I am comparing Rhys to a convicted prisoner, more the urge in middle-class academics / professionals to put a distance between themselves and the chaos that some human beings insist on revealing. It is in us all and Rhys did not shy away from it. This frightens some of her readers. I wanted to show that process at work.

    1. Carole Angier’s biography of Rhys is not without its problems–and reviewers pointed those out quite accurately when the book first came out. It is, however, a work that is bound by the available evidence on Rhys’ life and therein lies its strength. As you rightly point out, some of the conclusions she draws can be argued with, but her research and adherence to the known facts was unassailable. I am sympathetic to your concerns about the stigmatizing of prisoners, having taught in prisons myself for a number of years, but it has little relevance to Angier’s approach to Rhys and her work. Biography is ultimately a form of history and in your book you take liberties with your approach to historical accuracy that are more frequently found in “based-on-a-true-story” books and films. My praise for Angier’s biography was based on her working within the limitations of the material available.

  2. You have quite a rigid definition of “biography”. Have you read Lytton Strachey’s Elizabeth and Essex? And I think you contradict yourself: if Angier is drawing conclusions that are arguable she is not being “bound by the available evidence”. So therein does not lie her strength!

    Having said that, her dedication to research and presenting the facts was incredible – showing patience, diligence and an admiration for her subject that she could not seem to voice.

    There was an undercurrent of unexamined emotion in Angier’s book. As far as I am concerned, the unexamined life is not worth writing!

    Thank you for giving me this chance to air my views.

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