The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375701214
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/28/1998
Series: Vintage International Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 144
Sales rank: 39,937
Product dimensions: 5.15(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Jean-Dominique Bauby was born in France in 1952. He attended school in Paris. After working as a journalist for a number of years, Bauby became the editor-in-chief of Elle magazine in Paris in 1991.

On December 8, 1995 he had a stroke which left him with the condition known as locked-in syndrome. Bauby died on March 9, 1997. He was the father of two children, Theophile and Celeste.

From the Hardcover edition.

Read an Excerpt


Through the frayed curtain at my window, a wan glow announces the break of day. My heels hurt, my head weighs a ton, and something like a giant invisible cocoon holds my whole body prisoner. My room emerges slowly from the gloom. I linger over every item: photos of loved ones, my children's drawings, posters, the little tin cyclist sent by a friend the day before the Paris-Roubaix bike race, and the IV pole hanging over the bed where I have been confined these past six months, like a hermit crab dug into his rock.

No need to wonder very long where I am, or to recall that the life I once knew was snuffed out Friday, the eighth of December, last year.

Up until then I had never even heard of the brain stem. I've since learned that it is an essential component of our internal computer, the inseparable link between the brain and the spinal cord. That day I was brutally introduced to this vital piece of anatomy when a cerebrovascular accident took my brain stem out of action. In the past, it was known as a "massive stroke," and you simply died. But improved resuscitation techniques have now prolonged and refined the agony. You survive, but you survive with what is so aptly known as "locked-in syndrome." Paralyzed from head to toe, the patient, his mind intact, is imprisoned inside his own body, unable to speak or move. In my case, blinking my left eyelid is my only means of communication.

Of course, the party chiefly concerned is the last to hear the good news. I myself had twenty days of deep coma and several weeks of grogginess and somnolence before I truly appreciated the extent of the damage. I did not fully awake until the end of January. When I finally surfaced, I was in Room 119 of the Naval Hospital at Berck-sur-Mer, on the French Channel coast --- the same Room 119, infused now with the first light of day, from which I write.

An ordinary day. At seven the chapel bells begin again to punctuate the passage of time, quarter hour by quarter hour. After their night's respite, my congested bronchial tubes once more begin their noisy rattle. My hands, lying curled on the yellow sheets, are hurting, although I can't tell if they are burning hot or ice cold. To fight off stiffness, I instinctively stretch, my arms and legs moving only a fraction of an inch. It is often enough to bring relief to a painful limb.

My diving bell becomes less oppressive, and my mind takes flight like a butterfly. There is so much to do. You can wander off in space or in time, set out for Tierra del Fuego or for King Midas's court. You can visit the woman you love, slide down beside her and stroke her still-sleeping face. You can build castles in Spain, steal the Golden Fleece, discover Atlantis, realize your childhood dreams and adult ambitions.

Enough rambling. My main task now is to compose the first of these bedridden travel notes so that I shall be ready when my publisher's emissary arrives to take my dictation, letter by letter. In my head I churn over every sentence ten times, delete a word, add an adjective, and learn my text by heart, paragraph by paragraph.

Seven-thirty. The duty nurse interrupts the flow of my thoughts. Following a well-established ritual, she draws the curtain, checks tracheostomy and drip feed, and turns on the TV so I can watch the news. Right now a cartoon celebrates the adventures of the fastest frog in the West. And what if I asked to be changed into a frog? What then?

The Photo

The last time I saw my father, I shaved him. It was the week of my stroke. He was unwell, so I had spent the night at his small apartment near the Tuileries gardens in Paris. In the morning, after bringing him a cup of milky tea, I decided to rid him of his few days' growth of beard. The scene has remained engraved in my memory.

Hunched in the red-upholstered armchair where he sifts through the day's newspapers, my dad bravely endures the rasp of the razor attacking his loose skin. I wrap a big towel around his shriveled neck, daub thick lather over his face, and do my best not to irritate his skin, dotted here and there with small dilated capillaries. From age and fatigue, his eyes have sunk deep into their sockets, and his nose looks too prominent for his emaciated features. But, still flaunting the plume of hair --- now snow white --- that has always crowned his tall frame, he has lost none of his splendor.

All around us, a lifetime's clutter has accumulated; his room calls to mind one of those old persons' attics whose secrets only they can know --- a confusion of old magazines, records no longer played, miscellaneous objects. Photos from all the ages of man have been stuck into the frame of a large mirror. There is dad, wearing a sailor suit and playing with a hoop before the Great War; my eight-year-old daughter in riding gear; and a black-and-white photo of myself on a miniature-golf course. I was eleven, my ears protruded, and I looked like a somewhat simpleminded schoolboy. Mortifying to realize that at that age I was already a confirmed dunce.

I complete my barber's duties by splashing my father with his favorite aftershave lotion. Then we say goodbye; this time, for once, he neglects to mention the letter in his writing desk where his last wishes are set out.

We have not seen each other since. I cannot quit my seaside confinement. And he can no longer descend the magnificent staircase of his apartment building on his ninety-two-year-old legs. We are both locked-in cases, each in his own way: myself in my carcass, my father in his fourth-floor apartment. Now I am the one they shave every morning, and I often think of him as a nurse's aide laboriously scrapes my cheeks with a week-old blade. I hope that I was a more attentive Figaro.

Every now and then he calls, and I listen to his affectionate voice, which quivers a little in the receiver they hold to my ear. It cannot be easy for him to speak to a son who, as he well knows, will never reply. He also sent me the photo of me at the miniature-golf course. At first I did not understand why. It would have remained a mystery if someone had not thought to look at the back of the print. Suddenly, in my own personal movie theater, the forgotten footage of a spring weekend began to unroll, when my parents and I had gone to take the air in a windy and not very sparkling seaside town. In his strong, angular handwriting, dad had simply noted: Berck-sur-Mer, April 1963.

From the Hardcover edition.

What People are Saying About This

Oliver Sacks

A book of surpassing beauty, a testament to the freedom and vitality and delight of the human mind.

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The Diving Bell and the Butterfly 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 97 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I could really relate to him, I had a brain stem stroke 6 years ago and went through the LOCK IN state. I think anyone could benifit from reading this book. You never know!
BostonAustin More than 1 year ago
Jean-Dominique Bauby was a lively editor for Elle magazine in 1995 when he suffered a massive stroke that left him in a coma for twenty days. When he finally emerged from his coma, he found out he had fallen victim to ¿locked-in syndrome¿. His body was almost fully paralyzed, except for some slight head and eye movements, while his mind continued to function. With the use of only one of his eyes, he blinked to a translator who recorded letters to make words, sentences, and eventually this whole memoir. It took the pair nearly ten months to write at four hours a day. Although Bauby¿s condition was grim, his spirits were high and he never lost his wonderful humor and fascinating imagination. This book takes us through Bauby¿s experience of being a quadriplegic and his euphoric journey through a lifetime of memories. The anecdotes of his life serve to show how thankful Bauby was that he was still alive after such a horrific event and how not being able to move was not going to stop him from creating something great and sharing the best moments of his life. Bauby¿s style is unique, especially for someone in his situation. His witty sense of humor and use of irony add to the lighthearted tone, even though there is an underlying feeling on self-pity and regret. Although Bauby is confined to his body like a ¿diving bell¿, his mind is still free to fly like a ¿butterfly¿. This memoir speaks to the fact that the strength of the human spirit is undeniable and life is worth living.
Zeisinator More than 1 year ago
After living a normal life with a successful career and all the freedoms of motion, paralysis is an extremely devastating blow to anyone. Jean Dominique Bauby experienced a complete loss of his lifestyle after a stroke that left him with only the physical ability of blinking. Despite his bodily degradation, he was able to patiently author a memoir that reveals the thoughts of someone deeply isolated from the world, only connected through a communication system based on blinking. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a true story that never slows down for a moment. Since his communication was very limited, he does not focus on a single aspect of his life, but jumps around from scene to scene. While this style would seem choppy in most cases, Bauby's endless list of anecdotes flows together smoothly. The memoir does not leave out imagery and symbolism, but rather it uses these tools to make a string of stories fit together. With such a unique story, Bauby faces the huge task of making his situation understandable to readers. With no ability to physically do anything worthwhile, the only things he has left are memory and imagination; however, he is able to recall memories he can no longer experience with as much detail as if had just experienced them again. In one chapter, he recalls the time he helped shave his unable father and then uses this image to describe himself. His ability to explain unusual circumstances in a way that anyone can understand makes his memoir all the more interesting. One of the most obvious, yet important, symbols is the diving bell. Bauby uses the image of the diving bell to present the ideas of isolation and separation. As he is very limited in his communication, this symbol fits well; however, he also refers to "the tiny opening of my diving bell", which is his blinking communication system and only link to the world. The imagery of the diving bell gives a better perspective of his feelings of isolation. One of the most captivating parts of the memoir is that it makes the reader pity Bauby, yet Bauby himself does not spend his time pettily seeking pity. While he is often disappointed from recalling his past abilities, he tends toward a more hopeful spirit. When his kids come to visit him for a day at the beach, he finds joy in their lives, as if he is living through them. He misses the physical part of being their father, but he still realizes that he is their father and cares for them dearly. When he describes his thoughts at the beginning of his sufferings, he is almost in denial of his disability. Over time, however, he accepts his fate and tries to adjust to the less active life. He makes up for his physical inability by writing this memoir, reflecting on memories-a huge part of the memoir-and imagining things. Ultimately, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is not the most cheerful story, but it presents Bauby's life with a positive aura and manipulates emotions. It is a very unique opportunity to look into circumstances that are indescribable except for the person who has experienced them.
AlissaH More than 1 year ago
As one who values a unique perspective, this memoir is the epitome of beauty and perfection. With enchanting language, painstakingly constructed, Bauby's writing transcends my capabilities of description. Written literally by blinking, this short story tells of his experience with Locked-In Syndrome, an unfortunate condition where your entire body is paralyzed while your mind is perfectly in tact. Straightforward and honest, without becoming too depressing or overly optimistic, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a literary jewel that will be the treasure of your library.
stephenmakin on LibraryThing 3 days ago
This is a book written by a man with locked in syndrome. He communicates entirely with one eyelid. Before his stroke he was a editor of a woman's magazine - which comes through in the excellent qualitiy of his writting. He takes you on his dreams and into his world.
ClicksClan on LibraryThing 3 days ago
I heard about The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly many years ago. As part of our English GCSE work we looked at the play Whose Life Is It Anyway? and Jean-Dominique Bauby's autobiography came up in conversation. I didn't get to read it then though, the subject matter interested me, but I wasn't sure that it was the sort of thing that I really wanted to read (at the time).Then, a couple of years ago, it was the book choice for the HTV book club, so I grabbed a copy from the local library. I immediately fell in love with the cover. It was truly beautiful, all shiny and sparkly, like a butterfly's wing. Last year The Book People advertised their Stranger Than Fiction set of books and the main books that sold it to me were The Perfect Storm and this book. I really wanted a copy of my own, I would have loved to have had the copy pictured above, but I'm happy with the one I got.It's a truly incredible story, and it's quite horrifying to think about. Imagine being trapped in you own body, unable to move and your only method of communication is via blinking one eye (the other having been sewn shut for its own protection). It's a truly incredible story. Somehow all the more special because it's true, Bauby is telling his own story.It's a very short book. I started reading it in the morning, and was a good portion of the way through it by the time I stopped. When I went to bed (rather late) I decided to read on and realised I was over half-way through it. So I just kept going, it's far too good to stop and can easily be read in one sitting. I ended it finishing it shortly after midnight.I do rather selfishly wish that it was longer. It's a selfish thought of course, when you consider the effort that went into its creation. Bauby had to work with another person who would run through the letters of the alphabet and watch for his blink each time they reached the letter he wanted. It must have taken so much effort to get even a sentence out, I really can't complain about the fact that I wish there were another 160 pages to devour during my reading session.It's a book which really speaks for itself, there's so much I could say for it, but I think it would be far better for you just to go out and read a copy yourself. You'll fall in love with it, you just can't help but love it. Bauby has the chance to be such a tragic character, but he isn't really, it's incredible how he's able to keep going and produce a fantastic book. Though you can feel his pain in the text, the way he's longing for his lost life and independence. It's a real shame that he never got the chance to make more of a recovery; he died shortly after the book's publication.
pokarekareana on LibraryThing 3 days ago
I read this beautiful, beautiful book in a single sitting, late last night. I lay awake for hours afterwards thinking about it. Perhaps already famous for having been written by a man who communicated only by blinking one eye, there was always the danger that this book would turn out to be trite, poorly written, even dull. None of these came to pass. I¿m quite sure that Bauby could have had a long career as the writer of great literature, had things turned out differently. As it happened, Bauby found himself imprisoned. Trapped in his failing body, suddenly unable to move, when previously he had been an active forty-something with a family and a high-flying job, Bauby¿s bewilderment is the most clear and profound message of this book. He speaks eloquently of his experience of the hospital, of each of his torturous days, of his few jaunts into the outside world. Perhaps most touching is his description of the day of his stroke, which was like any other until his world was torn from its moorings. That sense of a sudden horror resonated like a bell for me; serious illness swoops unexpectedly from nowhere and scrambles human lives into something unrecognisable.Would I recommend this book? Yes. Would you want to read it? If you¿re not afraid of powerlessness, of frustration, of suffering that cannot properly be expressed, and a sense that Bauby was one of the great writers we never really got to read.
gilporat on LibraryThing 3 days ago
How can one not admire the situation, let alone the story?
joes on LibraryThing 3 months ago
There are few books , if any, that I can honestly say were anywhere near as moving as this one. If you haven't read it, do. It is far more uplifting and life enhancing than any of the so called 'self help' books you're likely to read and although simply written it does so with style.
chocolatechip on LibraryThing 3 months ago
this one made me cry, its a good reminder to enjoy life, and the perfect read for when you think your life stinks
maggiereads on LibraryThing 3 months ago
I was thrilled to hear "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" movie won two Golden Globe awards: Best Director and Best Foreign Film. I had just finished the book and was in awe of the author¿s determination and style.Jean-Dominique Bauby, Editor in Chief of French Elle magazine, had a massive stroke December 8, 1995. After three weeks in a coma and another month spent in a drug haze, he slowly began to realize he could not escape his hospital bed. He felt pain, but wasn¿t sure whether it was ¿burning hot or ice cold.¿ To ward off the feeling he instinctively stretched, but his movement was less than an inch. Bauby was experiencing locked-in syndrome.Bauby equated his post-stroke situation as being locked in a case, or as the title suggest, in a diving bell. He was breathing air and could move his neck a little, but the rest of his body was weighted down by the water.The word butterfly in Bauby¿s title is a symbol representing his imagination. He used his mind to escape the diving bell at every opportunity. ¿There is so much to do. You can wander off in space or in time, set out for Tierra del Fuego or for King Midas¿s court. You can visit the woman you love, slide down beside her and stroke her still-sleeping face. You can build castles in Spain, steal the Golden Fleece, discover Atlantis, realize your childhood dreams and ambitions.¿Most victims of stroke are functional after months of rehabilitation; unfortunately, locked-in syndrome patients take years to learn the art of breathing over their vocal cords for speech. Bauby had the capability to grunt, but being a stylish well-educated man, he desired a form of communication more appropriate with his demeanor.Easy enough, a blink pattern of once for yes and twice for no, was established during Bauby¿s second month of recovery. His left eyelid, the only voluntary movement from his face, began to become the portal for all communication. Next, an alphabet system with the most common letters at the beginning was recited to Bauby, and he blinked at the correct letter.Now, here is the most incredible part; Bauby wrote "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" with his left eyelid! He would compose paragraphs during the morning, memorizing three or four, and then blink them back to his amanuensis. This memoir is a reminder; lives do change in a blink of an eye.
Niecierpek on LibraryThing 3 months ago
The author, Jean-Dominique Bauby, paralysed after a massive stroke, unable to breathe or move on his own, managed to dictate this book with his left eyelid. He did it with the help of a speech therapist and a secretary who took down his words when he blinked the letters of the alphabet she pointed to: one blink for `yes¿, two blinks for `no¿. Unable to move, yet in full control of his mental faculties, he felt like a deep-sea diver in one of those heavy diving suits he was unable to control, with his mind fluttering like a butterfly going from letter to letter, word to word, event to event. He spent most of the nights editing his thoughts and memorizing paragraphs which he then dictated during the day. The book supposedly took about two hundred thousand blinks to write and was written in the summer of 1996, about half a year after his stroke.What emerged from this labour is a combination of images from his life which stood vividly in his mind, and, equally vivid, his life in the hospital in the paralysed state. It¿s very well written and utterly fascinating, intense, devoid of self pity and full of tenderness and love of life. It manages to be witty and entertaining on top of everything else.It's bound to become one of more memorable books I've read.
ColinFine on LibraryThing 3 months ago
I wasn't as delighted by this as a lot of people have been. Bearing in mind the circumstances of its writing, it is a wonderful achievement, but people talk about its value on its own terms. I found it rather forgettable.
thimbleberry on LibraryThing 3 months ago
kind of depressing, but a good reminder for when ever your feeling ungrateful
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
DMR1 More than 1 year ago
An incredible story of a man held captive in his own body after a severe stroke, which left him with only one eye able to blink and communicate this whole book. An amazing journey into the spirit and vitality of the mind.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I can’t imagine how this guy was able to communicate so well as to write this book. Wow! What happened to him was terrible but shows how humans can cope and make something from nothing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby to be quite an enjoyable read. Because of the subject matter, Bauby is paralyzed by a massive stroke that leaves him unable to move his body or speak, Bauby could have easily made the memoir extremely grave. However, he manages to keep the tone relatively light while still paying respect to the severity of the condition. He does so by incorporating self-deprecation and frivolous thoughts. Each sentence, page, and chapter included vivid imagery and carefully chosen words. This is even more impressive given the way he was forced to dictate the book (An aid went through a modified version of the French alphabet letter by letter until Bauby blinked, indicating that she had landed on the right one). Bauby’s musings, which are split into several short paragraphs, are very thought provoking. The reader is given insight into the deep thoughts of the narrator. Beginning with the title itself, many deep themes are expressed. That being said, the plotline is pretty anticlimactic, so the 144 pages can best be enjoyed in a single sitting. I would highly recommend The Diving Bell and the Butterfly to readers who appreciate the complexity of the human mind.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
            There are people in this world who are extremely blessed, and they appreciate none of it. How would it feel to not be able to move anything but an eyelid? The only one who can share this experience is Jean-Dominique Bauby.  He was paralyzed from the neck down, and in this story, he explains how much it affected him.He wrote this story, The Diving Bell and The Butterfly, with the help of many others. In every page, there is a lesson.  Yet, in the end of the book, you learn the most important lesson. Don't take things for granted. One day, everything could be gone, and you have no way to turn back time and change what you did with the blessings you were given.             This book is at times difficult to understand, but in the end, it is well worth it. It explains how the littlest things can be the most memorable. It says that you should cherish everything. Even the bad moments are something to cherish. If something happens and people feel bad, they will give you pity, and there will be no more fights.They will just pretend like the thing that made them unhappy never even happened because they know there is nothing they can do. Instead of having open conversations, everything would be kept in the dark. If you are look for a book to make you smile and make you cry, then this is a good one for you to read. It's a touching story to show how much things can change in the blink of an eye.
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