New York Sun
Ambitious . . . brilliant . . . a powerhouse of a book. Daphne Merkin
Times Literary Supplement
Sophisticated, vigorously written, full of striking subtexts . . .an entertaining and well-researched book that avoids easy answers. Andrew Scull
New York Times Book Review
Fascinating. . . . A meticulous and exhaustive account. Kathryn Harrison
Daphne Merkin - New York Sun
“Ambitious . . . brilliant . . . a powerhouse of a book.”
Andrew Scull - Times Literary Supplement
“Sophisticated, vigorously written, full of striking subtexts . . .an entertaining and well-researched book that avoids easy answers.”
Kathryn Harrison - New York Times Book Review
“Fascinating. . . . A meticulous and exhaustive account.”
One of the consistently fascinating and disturbing aspects of Mad, Bad and Sad: Women and the Mind Doctors is Lisa Appignanesi's assiduous tracking of the modishness of what might be mistaken for a sui generis discipline. Of course, as anyone who has visited a psychiatric hospitalor ridden the subwaycan attest, crazy is what we call people who refuse to conform to accepted norms of behavior. And the definition of nonconformity must change in step with styles of conforming…While Mad, Bad and Sad echoes and enlarges upon Elaine Showalter's book The Female Malady: Women, Madness, and English Culture, 1830-1980, Showalter's perspective is more exclusively feminist, arguing that psychiatry as practiced on women is a history of their subjugation and control by men. But as Appignanesi makes clear, women have had no little role in creating and fulfilling the definitions of their madness.
The New York Times
Award-winning British novelist Appignanesi (The Memory Man) has written a fascinating if somewhat diffuse study of how, over the past two centuries, women's ability to live creative lives has been controlled by culture, and how their unsuccessful attempts to rebel frequently lead to mental illness-itself a slippery, ever-evolving cultural concept. Appignanesi's sources are wide-ranging but largely literary, based upon letters, diaries, articles and fiction from feminist writers such as Betty Friedan, historians like R.D. Laing and Jacque Lacan, psychologists such as Melanie Klein, and troubled subjects like Zelda Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe. Beginning with the lives of mentally ill women in the 19th century, Appignanesi moves chronologically through the history of psychology-as ideas like schizophrenia replace earlier notions of hysteria-and its relationship to the creative woman, using in-depth profiles of Virginia Woolf, Alice James and others. Looking at the complex cultural, political and familial circumstances under which mental illness emerges, and their implications for the present (in which depression and eating disorders have become major problems), Appignanesi convincingly asserts that "symptoms and diagnoses... cluster to create cultural fashions in illness and cure," suggesting provocatively that "what is at issue here is not psychic disorder so much as social deterioration of a radical kind."
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