63 of 64 people found the following review helpful
A strong and articulate clarion call for the benefits of solitude,
This review is from: Solitude (Flamingo) (Paperback)
Anthony Storr, the British psychiatrist and writer who died of a heart attack in 2001, published twelve books in his lifetime. 'Solitude' was groundbreaking upon its publication in 1989, his key argument being that solitary pursuits "play a greater part in the economy of human happiness than modern psycho-analysts and their followers allow". Traditionally, psychoanalysis has tended to view those who generally do not generally engage in or avoid close personal relationships as psychologically immature, as having a character deficit to be remedied. Today legions of self-help books and women's magazines bolster this tenet by extolling interpersonal relationships as life's holy grail (especially, but not exclusively, for women). Storr counters that interpersonal relationships are not the only way of finding emotional fulfilment and that solitude can be creative, fulfilling and foster emotional maturity. Drawing upon both voluntary and enforced states of solitude, he claims that it is crucial in "attaining peace of mind and maintaining mental health".
An especial need to be alone in adult life can be traced back (in many, if not all, cases) to "some degree of insecure attachment in early childhood". Solitude can then take on a compensatory and healing function: "a retreat from unhappiness, a compensation for loss, and a basis for later achievement". Indeed on the basis of the lives of famous writers (Trollope, James, Kafka), philosophers (Kant, Wittgenstein) and composers (Wagner, Beethoven, Bach), he argues that what began as compensation for deprivation can become a rewarding way of life. These artists and thinkers could "best express [their] true self in some form of creative work rather than in interaction with others".
Storr characterises those who especially like to retreat into solitude as often having a depressive tendency and - regarding those who managed to create art out of time spent alone - having often suffered the loss of a parent in their childhood years (e.g. Sylvia Plath, John Berryman, Louis MacNeice, John Donne and S.T. Coleridge). "[T]he greater the disharmony within, the sharper the spur to seek harmony, or, if one has the gifts, to create harmony", he states. Storr is at his strongest when conveying his incisive insights in clear and cogent prose, which often culminate in nuggets of wisdom (at one point he casually writes "In the end, one has to make sense of one's own life, however influential guidance from mentors may have been"). The reader might have to overlook occasionally portentous language (e.g. "I could not forbear to quote it"!), but this nevertheless remains a brilliant and original read.
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Initial post: 24 Aug 2009 19:06:42 BDT
Michelle Sarf says:
Excellent review, thank you :)
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