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These are hectic times for psychoanalytic critics; it is virtually impossible to keep track of the flood of books appearing that use Freudian, neo-Freudian, Lacanian, or other psychoanalytic approaches to interpret literature. Indeed, psychoanalysis seems to have more staying power than any of the recently popular critical approaches. Currently, even the once revered Derrida and his deconstructive tactics are on the wane, and hardly anyone notices the differance.
One of the best recent uses of psychoanalysis, Jeffrey Berman's The Talking Cure, seems bound to become a classic in the field. Berman deserves such credit; I have long thought his book on Conrad (Joseph Conrad: Writing as Rescue) is underappreciated. In The Talking Cure Berman examines the use modern writers have made of the psychoanalyst as a literary character. The judgments are generally astute, but it is the breadth of this book that impresses most. Berman covers nearly every major concept of psychoanalysis—narcissism, doubling, transference, and so on—and easily ranges through a host of post-Freudian revisionists such as Kohut, Kernberg, Mahler, and Jung. Indeed, when Berman testifies at one point that he reread all of Freud systematically to write this book, one can respond only as Don Meredith would: "It ain't braggin' if he done it."
What makes this book especially valuable is the thoroughness with which Berman examines each writer's work. For example, his analysis of Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar is greatly enhanced by his scrupulous reading of Plath's journals; similarly, Berman reads Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" with a close eye to her later feminist and economic tracts and to the published theories of her famous analyst, S. Weir Mitchell. Berman also recognizes that a superficial understanding of psychoanalysis underlies Doris Lessing's treatment of the subject as well as Fitzgerald's portrait of Dick Diver in Tender is the Night. In another chapter he carefully details the immensity of Nabokov's obsession with Freud, an obsession so overwhelming that Berman sees Freud as "Nabokov's alter ego, a hated part of the self that the novelist had to defeat again and again" (213).
Not every chapter is superb. Berman seems, for example, strangely embarrassed about his criticism of Joanne Greenberg's I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, a discussion enlivened by a comparison of the novelist's rendering of her experience to her analyst's superior published account of the case. But every chapter is thorough, often scintillating, and readable enough that critics who are not well versed in psychoanalytic method could use this book as a primer. For neophytes, I especially recommend the chapters on Gilman, Plath, Roth, and, most of all, the final chapter on D. M. Thomas' The White Hotel. Berman, in fact, reminds me of Thomas with his breadth of knowledge not only of Freud's writings but also of the impact Freud's ideas had on the interpretation of modern events.
Berman has written a fascinating and far-reaching book; what a pity that [End Page 700] few will be able to afford it.
Like The Talking Cure, Katharine Dalsimer's Female Adolescence contains a highly useful bibliography of psychoanalysis. But whereas Berman's book could win new converts to psychoanalytic criticism, Dalsimer's book surely will not. While reading the latter, I longed for some of Berman's breadth of reading and ease of style. In contrast, Dalsimer's prose seems carefully guarded and self-conscious. As a result, I did not find this book a "good read," although it is useful for its explanations of the delicate psychic structure of female adolescent characters.
Dalsimer demonstrates great knowledge of adolescence...