Rosemary Dinnage’s books include The Ruffian on the Stair, One to One: Experiences of Psychotherapy, and Annie Besant.

Lessons of the Master

In 1909, in a mood of depression, Henry James burned all his correspondence. In Author, Author, a part-fiction, part-biographical reconstruction of James’s later life, David Lodge has him say: I hate the idea of people reading [letters] after we are dead…. And not only reading them, but publishing them, and …

In Love with Verdi

I had always wanted to see Sant’Agata, Giuseppe Verdi’s house some miles from his home town of Busseto in the Po Valley. He loved it so much, loved it like the peasant he claimed he always was, the sowing and reaping, the grapes for his own wine, the building and …

The Crack-Up

Our times have been called, among other things, the Age of Depression: incidence seems constantly to rise, laboratories to bring out more and more new medicines. But in Where the Roots Reach for Water Jeffery Smith argues that it is more an Age of Anti-Depression. The old illness of melancholia, …

Lost World

“Could you tell me where Spitalfields is?” a lady from Australia asked me in London’s East End the other day. “Ah, Spitalfields—a magic, mythical place,” I said. “Created by novelists and historians and architects and performance artists. Very hard to find.” (Actually, what I said was, “I’m not sure.”) Then …

On the Road

As the title declares, this is a book about reality. Or, more accurately, “reality.” Author of an impressive study of multiple personality (Rewriting the Soul, 1995), Professor Hacking here narrows down his interest in the extraordinary changeableness of mental symptoms to one circumscribed instance: a psychiatric epidemic of “hysterical fugues”—cases …

Dreamer

“How Coleridge does rise up, as it were, almost from the dead!” wrote Dorothy Wordsworth in 1808. It was only two years since he had returned from the extended travels in the Mediterranean that were intended to cure all his ailments, physical and mental. He was thirty-six, and since the …

In the Dark Continent

Not Iris Murdoch. When an interview appeared about three years ago revealing that she was mentally degenerating (“I’m in a bad place, a very quiet place” was, I think, what she said), there must have been others besides myself who reacted with that thought. True, she was in her seventies, …

Good Grief

Magnified and sanctified may His great name be in the world that He created, as He wills, and may His kingdom come in your lives and in your days and in the lives of all the house of Israel, swiftly and soon, …

Doris Lessing’s Double Life

Born at the end of the “Great War”—the war that she believes overshadowed her parents and her childhood—Doris Lessing can be considered an elder stateswoman now, of literature, political experience, feminism. No fewer than thirty-six books by her were listed at the beginning of the first volume of her autobiography.

So Alert with Love

After six previous novels and two books of short stories, Ian McEwan’s reputation as a writer of small, impeccably written fictions is secure. His gift for the cold and scary is well established, too: among the critical praise that festoons his book jackets, the word “macabre” crops up more than …

Delightful Tears

Oscar Wilde said that one must have a heart of stone to read the death of Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop without laughing. Even earlier, an essay by the critic Fitzjames Stephen defied current attitudes by noting sourly that any interesting child in Dickens’s fiction “runs as much …

Out of the Ruins

The central character of The God of Small Things (she is just called “Ammu”—Mother—because the story is even more about her twin children) is a South Indian woman who has few advantages in her background but who refuses to be docile: “Must we behave like some damn godforsaken tribe that’s …

The Whirr of Wings

What would Virginia Woolf have made of the immense biographical fuss that has been made, from the time of Michael Holroyd’s Lytton Strachey onward, over the Bloomsbury group and herself in particular? Of the sexual speculations and revelations, the doctoral dissertations, the pro- and anti-Bloomsbury arguments, the iconization of herself …

The Blasted Oak Tree

Augustus John’s artistic reputation has undergone as dramatic a change as any in British art history. Dubbed by The Times, in 1917, “the most famous of living English painters” and declared by another critic to be one of the three greatest talents in Europe (the other two being Matisse and …

The Rise & Fall of a Half-Genius

“I actually wanted to help,” says R.D. Laing, of his lifelong psychiatric work, to Bob Mullan in Mad to be Normal (with the qualification “maybe sentimentally or of some schmucky compassion for other people”). I thought it would be a nice idea to spend my life to be respected by …

The Survivor

Not long after she started to research her biography of Bruno Bettelheim, writes Nina Sutton, she found herself wondering whose life it was that she was writing. When she started in July of 1990, she believed she was researching a brilliant writer and psychologist, a courageous Holocaust survivor, an almost …

Death’s Gray Land

Until Pat Barker’s Regeneration, the first book of her World War I trilogy, appeared in 1991, she was modestly respected for her novels of life in the urban wastelands of northern England, harsh and knowledgeable and showing a wonderful ear for the local idiom. But in the trilogy—Regeneration, The Eye …

Melting into Air

We know there is one branch of fiction, godfathered by Kafka and Borges, which has abandoned the pretense that it really happened for fantasy and joke, miracle and fairy tale. “It’s all a magic trick,” its authors say. “See how I do it?” This is fun, and often clever; but, …

The Wild Man

Seen in isolation, the author of The Father says, the life of Henry James Senior “moves like a vessel guided by its own internal gyroscopes”; in the context of other lives, he seems “one of a million corks companionably bobbing on immense swells.” This is the joy of good biography: …

Kicking the Myth Habit

Why the “silent woman”? Among the vast number of words generated by the suicide of the poet Sylvia Plath (which are hereby being added to) is an account of a scene in Yorkshire in 1960. Olwyn Hughes, sister of Plath’s English husband, Ted Hughes, and a crucial figure in the …

Night Thoughts

More and more books are beginning to appear on the subject of dreaming, and yet it raises so many issues—psychological, philosophical, cultural—that as yet they are only the visible part of an iceberg. Alvarez, critic and writer and New Yorker contributor, has chosen to surround the central section on dreaming …

The Downhill Slope

We are lucky, those of us who are aging in step with such writers as Updike and Brookner, as they chart in their totally different ways the downhill slope. Updike, in his stories especially, has always been acutely aware of mutability, moments inching away, moments of illumination that show gulfs …

Grand Delusion

Schreber’s Memoirs of My Nervous Illness must be the most written-about document in all psychiatric literature. Professor Zvi Lothane’s huge bibliography to In Defense of Schreber (about half of it German publications) has some 120 entries solely about the case. Successive generations of psychiatric writers have used the book as …

Bringing Up Raja

There was an old man with a boy in the train compartment from Delhi to Jaipur, and a couple with two children. The younger of these was a little boy of about two, beautifully dressed and sucking fitfully on a bottle of fruit juice. The elder, a girl of about …