Schizoid resonances: Janet Frame

Cover of the novel Towards Another Summer by Janet Frame

“Self–styled” writer Grace Cleave has writer’s block, and her anxiety is only augmented by her chronic aversion to leaving her home, to be “among people, even for five or ten minutes.” And so it is with trepidation that she accepts an invitation to spend a weekend away from London in the north of England. Once there, she feels more and more like a migratory bird, as the pull of her native New Zealand makes life away from it seem transitory. Grace longs to find her place in the world, but first she must learn to be comfortable in her own skin, feathers and all.” (blurb for the novel Towards Another Summer)

In my opinion, Janet Frame’s novel,  Towards Another Summer, offers an insight into the schizoid state of mind – and a truly exquisite and deeply affecting one at that. 

Turns out Frame was indeed diagnosed as having a “personality with schizoid… features”. 

Here’s a collection of passages from the novel which I think can be read as schizoid:

“Now journeys were not simple matters for Grace; nothing is simple if your mind is a fetch-and-carry wanderer from sliced perilous outer world to secret safe inner world.”

“It was her mind he wanted to reach, and nobody, by conversation, could ever reach Grace’s mind. Like the grave, it was a ‘private place’, and could not be shared.”

“… ever since she ceased being human, ever since she retired to her private world, although keeping open certain necessary vague lines of fatuous communication with the outside world: she was a migratory bird.” 

“Another encounter with people successfully concluded… I’m doing fine, she said to herself, as if she were one or two days old and had finally mastered the art of breathing.”

“Why couldn’t she speak, why couldn’t she speak?”

“… its bright eyes closed quickly in the glare of the light, then growing used to the new enclosure it opened its eyes, and began exploring, until it discovered the wire-netting, the boundaries; it was not free, after all; it had been let out to blink in the sun only while its cage was being cleaned!”

“Alone, outside the gate, Grace breathed relief and freedom.”

“I don’t wish to inhabit the world under false pretences… people will always be afraid and jealous of those who finally establish their identity; it leads them to consider their own, to seclude it, cosset it, for fear it may be borrowed or interfered with, and when they are in the act of protecting it they suffer the shock of realising that their identity is nothing, it is something they dreamed and never knew…”

Black and white photo of a young Janet Frame
Janet Frame

“The strain of constant adaptation to so many fearful events and discoveries is already too much to bear with sanity; one has to keep pretending to slip successfully into the new mould; a time will come when the tailored and camouflaged mind breaks beneath the burden; the stick insect in our brains no longer cares to resemble a twig on the same habitual human tree in the mere hope that it may survive extinction.”

“She was so fiercely self-centered that she supposed that any strong emotion which affected her must also affect others…”

“Yet she was indeed afraid, chiefly of thresholds and the human beings who might cross them; continually warned, she gave forth an offensive cloud of emotion and dream – timidity, absorption.”

“She would never learn; communication with people was more than a business letter; why could she not make it so?”

“I’ll sit in the London flat making my civilised voyage of discovery, and hope that people above, below, next door do not surround me so much that I no longer set out… ‘in a new direction’ to ‘enlarge the world’ or follow my destined course as a migratory bird. Let me not become a ship-and-sailor strangled in a bottle, a glass bird upon a mantelpiece!”

“I matter. I. I. I matter… I fly alone, apart from the flock, on long journeys through storm and clear skies to another summer. Hear me!”

“Philip was silent, still looking at her, waiting… for Grace to speak. Why can’t he understand, Grace thought, that all my words are platitudes, that when I juggle and empty out a sentence there’s nothing left, no sediment of thought or imagination lies in my speech.”

“Yet Grace repeated to herself, – I’ve said nothing, I’ve said nothing. They are used to my silence and stupidity. I’ve failed, like an automatic machine which is not quite empty but which through a fault in its mechanism can never respond. I wonder what is the fate of those machines choked with sweets, tickets, fortunes, weights, hot chocolate, which are finally abandoned on deserted corners in ghost towns because they have failed to respond?” 

“… most of her spoken words were meaningless. They were a gesture, like that of a hostess arranging loose covers on the furniture of her room in order to assure herself that everything was prepared for her guests… “

“I’m not there, she thought, I’m not there. I’m nowhere. She felt the world go dark with sudden exclusion and she was beating her wings against the door of the dark but no one opened the door; indeed, no one heard.”

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