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Reviewed by:
  • Theodor SEUSS Geisel
  • Philip Nel (bio)
Theodor SEUSS Geisel. By Donald E. Pease. Oxford and New York: Oxford UP, 2010.

The first major biography—Judith and Neil Morgan's Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel: A Biography (1995)—is the primary source, giving us the facts and charting a path from which many others (myself included) have profited. The second, Charles Cohen's lavishly illustrated The Seuss, the Whole Seuss, and Nothing But the Seuss: A Visual Biography (2004), found the life through the stuff, constructing the man through his vast creative output, [End Page 111] including much that was obscure or unknown until Cohen uncovered it. The third, Donald E. Pease's Theodor SEUSS Geisel (2010), is the psychobiography, probing the tripartite self of Ted (the child), Geisel (the man), and Dr. Seuss (the creative persona).1

These three books taken together create a composite portrait, comprised of contrasting if complementary facets of their subject's life and work. For example, addressing the subjects that make Seuss scholars uncomfortable—Ted Geisel falling in love with Audrey Dimond (who would become his second wife) and Helen Geisel (his first wife) committing suicide—the Morgans note that Helen had been ill and overworked, and that, upon meeting "[p]etite and pretty" Audrey Dimond, Ted was "enchanted" by her sense of humor (185). As the Morgans do, Cohen divulges that Ted fell in love with Audrey only after reporting Helen's death but situates these events in what he calls "the worst period of his professional life"—the failed lawsuit against the Liberty Library Corporation's unauthorized use of his 1932 cartoons and the commercial failure of The Cat in the Hat Songbook (344-46). In contrast, Pease considers the dissolution of the first marriage and attraction to Audrey as an outgrowth of Ted's search for a family. As he puts it,

The need to separate from Helen impelled Geisel to repeat the quest for a substitute family that he had embarked upon four decades earlier. Following the return of Helen's illness in 1964, he began to transfer his primary sense of belonging onto another family. That family was composed of Audrey Stone Dimond, who was then married to the chief cardiologist at Scripps Hospital, Grey Dimond, and her daughters, Lark and Lea.


Throughout Theodor SEUSS Geisel, Pease returns to this theme, probing the ways in which Ted's family informs Dr. Seuss's work and motivates Geisel's artistic and professional choices. All three books offer insight into the man who was Dr. Seuss, but Pease's conveys the most interest in his psychology.

In the four books he dubs "the Springfield cycle"—And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street (1937), McElligot's Pool (1947), If I Ran the Zoo (1950), and If I Ran the Circus (1956)—Pease sees Dr. Seuss working through his relationship with his father. Geisel takes his mother's maiden name (Seuss) as "the surname of his story-telling persona" because she encouraged his imagination and his father did not (9). In Mulberry Street, Pease argues, the character Marco's "unbeatable story" replaces the "competitive drive" of Theodor Robert Geisel (Ted Geisel's dad, a.k.a. "T.R.") "to continue running his business" (a brewery) during Prohibition, but Geisel (via Marco) "cannot communicate with his father's unacknowledged need to recover his self-worth without defying his command" (19). The later three Springfield books allow Geisel to successfully work "through the trauma that started the compulsion," "releas[ing] him from the hold of the emotions that incited it" (85). In McElligot's Pool, dedicated to T.R., Marco enters another fantasy world but this time "directly responds to the adult" (87). Having written a book in [End Page 112] which a boy convinces a single adult of his fantasy, Seuss then created If I Ran the Zoo, in which a boy "turns his fantasized take-over of the zoo into the means to win the approval of everyone he encounters" (88). If I Ran the Circus, also dedicated to his father, goes a step further: it is "the first of Dr. Seuss's books in which a child...


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