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My Madness Saved Me: The Madness And Marriage of Virginia Woolf

Thomas Szasz

2006, Transaction Publishers, Somerset, New Jersey
ISBN: 0765803216

Thomas Szasz has created an extraordinary body of work, that continues to raise consequential challenges to the the prevailing myths of the culture of psychology.

--Tobias Wolff

As only he can, Thomas Szasz summons forth the "mad genius" image of Virginia Woolf as an emblem of the contradictions in our present Era of Psychopathology. Dr. Szasz has now harnessed his caustic intellect to the task of scrutinizing socio-cultural constructions of Virginia Woolf's character, marriage and myriad moods. The result is a field guide to psychiatric absurdity, one peopled by the legendary Bloomsbury circle of intellectuals and their camarades in psychoanalysis, art, literature and publishing, who make up the multiple dimensions "some real, some less real" of Virginia's "mental illness." In "My Madness Saved Me," Szasz delivers spirited vignettes about Virginia's own role in her series of "breakdowns," Leonard Woolf's ambiguous caretaking career and, of course, our society's need to use psychiatry as a form of social control.

--Elizabeth Danto, Professor of Social Work, Hunter College, New York

During the past century Virginia Woolf's "insanity" and the involvement of the Bloomsbury Group in the early manifestations of Freudian psychiatry assumed a distinctly mythic place in the annals of what was called Modern Literature. A rather swampy, not to say smelly, pedanticism grew up around it, involving the whole question of mental illness vis-a-vis artistic talent. Meanwhile a good number of us became crazy ourselves. We knew that much of this was nonsense. But we had small success in combating it. Now, like a cool wind from the prairie, Thomas Szasz brings Yankee common sense and objectivity to dispel the romantic and emotional idiocy that beclouds this sector of our intellectual past. May I recommend his clear vision and cool reasonableness to all my fellow psychiatric survivors? This is a matter that should concern us all.

--Hayden Carruth, Munnsville, New York

Thomas Szasz wrote an interesting and timely book again! Another vehement criticism of the concept of mental illness is based on a historical example, the case history of Virginia Woolf. She was declared mentally ill in an early stage of her life and this label was used later by her environment and by herself whenever problems and conflicts emerged.Szasz brilliantly demonstrates that Virginia could never accept sex and marriage, but could not escape from the fate of a Victorian woman, despite her talent and creativity and had to be bound to a man she despised. She put an end to her life by a conscious and deliberate act, according to Szasz, and not driven by the irrational motives of an illness.Szasz uses biographical sources and various reminiscences to reconstruct Virginia's mentality in an interesting way, his analysis might be of interest to literary critics, social historians and feminists as well as to laymen, who can read the book as a fascinating novel.In the appendices of the book Szasz refutes the mad genius hypothesis, widely held in the first half of the 20. century and points out again to the power struggle and labeling hidden in the mechanism of branding and handling somebody as a mentally ill. This is an emancipating, brave writing again from Szasz who is relentlessly fighting against oppression by psychiatry!

--Béla Buda, M.D., Ph.D., psychiatrist, psychotherapist, Budapest, Hungary

Thomas Szasz's book on the madness and marriage of Viginia Woolf is his latest brilliant and thought-provoking contribution to his prolific output, during the last fifty creative years, on the myth, metaphor, and meaning of madness. Professor Szasz, one of the great humanists and moralists of our times, gives us a work that is not only meticulously researched and lucidly written, a window into the tragic life story of one of the spectacular literary figures of the Bloomsbury group, but also further insights aplenty into the ongoing dilemmas regarding mental illness: madness as a purported medical malady vs. madness as a method, as Hamlets said it, of dealing with life's existential conflicts and crises: personal truth vs. the various strategies of make-believe, malingering, manipulation, and mendacity in the service of survival with dignity. It goes to the heart of society's ongoing struggle with these recurrent problems. I found the book absorbing and fascinating from beginning to end.

--Zvi Lothane, author of In Defense of Schreber Soul Murder and Psychiatry

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