Creativity and Mental Illness: Sigmund Freud and Sylvia Plath

I have long been interested in the connection between mental illness and creativity. My latest novel, A Dangerous Daughter, describes how psychoanalysis was used to cure a mental illness and to unlock the main character’s creativity. Some of our greatest artists, writers and musicians suffered some form of mental illness while producing brilliant and lasting works of art. Many of the 20th century’s great writers, including Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Schumann,Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda Fitzgerald, and William Styron, suffered from mental illness.  In this article by Jahnavi Ravishankar “Sylvia Plath– A Caged Darkness of the Mind”, the writer extrapolates how Freud, the Father of Psychoanalysis, might have analysed the poet and author Sylvia Plath, who suffered what would now be called a bipolar condition, and made several suicide attempts before succeeding in 1963. In this abridged version, Ravishankar analyses Plath’s famous poem, ‘Daddy” in Freudian terms (see poem attached): .“Sylvia Plath, a renowned American poet, was clinically depressed for most of her life and eventually became a victim of suicide at the age of Bnb thirty. The “Ariel” poems, including ‘I am Vertical and ‘Daddy’, were written shortly before she died. and posthumously garnered acclaim. These poems painted a vivid image of her inner psyche. Sigmund Freud’s position that the artist is a successful neurotic has been contested but, at the same time, has served as a key focal point for several psychoanalytic theories in literature. In his essay, ‘Creative Writers and Daydreaming’, he states, “The […]

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“EDGE”: A short story

The following is an excerpt frm my short story which was a finalist in the 2018 NT Literary Awards:   EDGE  by Dina Davis Rubbing her hands together, desperate for warmth, the young mother dragged a blanket from the empty cot nearby, to drape over her shoulders. Her two children were still sleeping in this hour before dawn. It took a […]

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An Excerpt from ‘Capriccio”

The following extract from my novel ‘Capriccio’ is a fictional recreation of the last day of Sylvia Plath’s life. In this version I haven’t named her, partly to comply with a request from the Hughes estate, and partly to see if it works. What do you think, Dear Readers? Does it work?    The moon has nothing to be sad about, Staring from her hood of bone. She is used to this sort of thing. Her blacks crackle and drag.           – from  ‘Edge’ by S.Plath EDGE  Rubbing her hands together, desperate for warmth, the young mother dragged a blanket from the empty cot nearby, to drape over her shoulders. Her two children were still sleeping in this hour before dawn. It took a supreme effort of will to shuffle to the little table under the bedroom window that served as a desk. She opened her journal with stiff aching fingers, and reached for her fountain pen  The water’s frozen in the pipes, and the blood’s frozen in my veins.  My hands are stiff and blue with cold as I write this. It’s the worst winter London has known in over thirty years. Thirty years; my age last birthday and what have I to show for it? A failed marriage, a few poems, and a mediocre novel. At least I didn’t publish it under my own name. Mother would be mortified if she knew that monster was […]

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The torment of Ted Hughes

This review by Mark Ford of ‘Ted Hughes: the Unauthorised Life’ by Jonathan Bates, gives an interesting slant on Bate’s book, and echoes much of the portrayal of Hughes’s remorse in my novel: ‘Capriccio: the Haunting of Sylvia Plath.‘  In March 1969 Assia gassed both herself and her four-year-old daughter by Hughes, Shura, in her flat in Clapham. She had grown tired of sharing Hughes with his two women down in Devon, Brenda Hedden (a social worker) and Carol Orchard, a local farmer’s daughter and nurse, who would become his second wife. Hughes did, on occasion, explicitly question the implications of his … behaviour in his private journal, noting, for instance, of this particular erotic triangle: ‘3 beautiful women – all in love, and a separate life of joy visible with each, all possessed – but own soul lost.’ The sorrows of the polygamist … As the errant poet struggled to manage his handily alphabetised commitments to A, B and C, as he referred to them in his journal, Assia battled with the complexities of the situation in which she found herself after Plath’s suicide.   Although less jealous and possessive than Plath, Assia had her own moments of despair and fury: in a will she made in April 1968 she left to Hughes only ‘my no doubt welcome absence and my bitter contempt.’  Hughes’s ‘The Error’, from the suite of Assia poems collected in Capriccio (1990), presents her subsequent death as almost […]

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Sylvia’s Last Letter

  What do you think Sylvia might have written in that last letter? Sylvia Plath’s last days have been well documented, again and again giving us the same facts in the various non-fiction biographies. We know she wrote a letter just before she died, and asked her downstairs neighbour for stamps.. The letter, if it was found, has never been disclosed. […]

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What is Truth in Fiction?

Assia Gutmann Wevill, the subject of my novel, Capriccio: the Haunting of Sylvia Plath What do readers look for from historical or biographical fiction? Is it the ‘truth’ in the form of accurately researched facts, or are they seeking  a deeper truth behind those facts? There are facts a-plenty in ‘Capriccio’, the result of ten years’ extensive research of the characters’ lives and works.However,   I have dug deeper into the realm of possibilities to create a story which, although largely following known truths, adds drama and colour to the lives of these real people. The question of truth in fiction has been constantly in my mind throughout this novel’s long gestation. I first heard of Assia Wevill in the year 2000, when a newspaper article ‘Haunted by the Ghosts of Love’ came to my notice. It was written by Assia’s biographers, Eilat Negev and Yehuda Koren. Something about Assia’s story resonated with me, and for the next few years I read and researched everything I could about her role in the famous story of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. When Negev and Koren’s biography, ‘Lover of Unreason’, came out in 2006, I was at first devastated to know that others had got there before me, and abandoned all thought of writing my own book about Assia. Then I realised that what I wanted to write was not a ‘straight’ biography, but a re-creation of the lives of Assia, Ted and Sylvia during […]

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Vale Olwyn Hughes

Excerpt from the obituary by Jonathan Bate, The Guardian, 5 January 2016: Olwyn Marguerite Hughes, literary agent, born 26 August 1928; died 3 January 2016. Literary agent with a fearsome reputation who was devoted to the work of her brother, Ted Hughes, and the posthumous literary life of his wife Sylvia Plath.  Olwyn Hughes, centre, with her brothers, Ted, right, and Gerald. Photograph:  The Ted Hughes Estate Born in Mytholmroyd, West Yorkshire, Olwyn was the middle child of William, a carpenter, and Edith (nee Farrar); an older brother, Gerald, emigrated to Australia after the second world war. The family’s end of terrace house was cramped, but a happy childhood included picnics at Hardcastle Crags and dips in the rocky pool on Cragg Vale. When Olwyn was 10, the family moved to the mining town of Mexborough, in South Yorkshire, where they took on a newspaper and tobacco shop. Olwyn was at first miserable, but soon began to lose herself in reading books and dabbling with horoscopes and Ouija boards. On just six occasions during visits home, she met the young American woman whom Ted had married after a whirlwind romance in 1956. Their first impressions of each other were wary. Olwyn found Sylvia “poised and controlled, with a hint of reserve or constraint”. Sylvia thought Olwyn was “startlingly beautiful with amber-gold hair and eyes”, but felt that she was “quite selfish and squanders money on herself continually in extravagances of clothes and cigarettes, while […]

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Sylvia’s last letter

  The last person who saw Sylvia alive was the neighbour in the flat below hers in Fitzroy Road, Primrose Hill. She asked him for some airmail stamps a few hours before her suicide. If she needed stamps, there must have been a last letter. The story at the party in New York was that it was a suicide note […]

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