Book Reviews



  Going down

to come

up again straight

Victoria Brittain reviews a new book on madness.

Mary Barnes lives alone in an attic in Hampstead painting with furious energy picture after picture, often of Christ crucified or The Resurrection. Two exhibitions of her paintings, a, good number of short stories and now a book, (Mary Barnes. Two Accounts of a Journey Through Madness. Mary Barnes and Joseph Berke. Mac Gibbon, & Kee, £ 2.95,) tell the story of Miss Barnes' own resurrection.

  Seven years ago after a career which included months in the locked ward of a mental hospital as a patient, years in different hospitals as a' nurse, sister and teacher of nurses and an attempt to become a nun, Miss Barnes decided "to go down to 'before I was born?to come up again straight".

With weeks of her bravely planned breakdown Miss Barnes had in mind and body regressed to an intra?uterine in which she needed the total care of babyhood or the months before birth and was literally fed by a tube.

About 25 years before Miss Barnes' younger brother Peter had broken down and was sent to a mental hospital at the age of 16. She explains this us his early attempt at freedom front their abnormally nice family" where each of then, had choked on unexpressed gnawing anger since childhood.

The family as she describes it was the classic breeding ground of neurosis: a semi?invalid mother demanding "good" children to shield, her from any rude touch of reality, thereby preventing each child from acknowledging the unpleasant facets of the world and of themselves.

By the time she was 40 Miss Barnes had decided she could not any longer pretend her life was manageable (as it then appeared on the surface). Nor would she go back into a mental hospital. She decided on psychoanalysis.
Dr R. D. Laing who she was referred to told her: You need analysis 24 hours out of 24. You. will be like a child and cannot be around like that. Yon would only get locked up in a mental hospital. What there is of you is very frail, You can't lie on a couch to have analysis and get up and carry on. A year later Miss Barnes went to break down and be cared for in, the community of doctors, artists, students and others who lived in Kingsley Hall in east London between 1965 and 1969.

Prostrate in waves of madness Miss Barnes was possessed by her anger which, she called. IT. " During the day IT seemed stronger than my very strong body and will. Instead of using my strength I become as a slave bound in chains of my own making, stiff, set, unable to bend, I felt my anger not only killing me, but everyone and everything around me." She saw herself as a monster, a kil1er, too dangerous for anyone to be near.

But through all this a group of a dozen or so doctors and others were constantly near Miss Barnes giving total physical care and feeding her love and warmth in return for the anger she meted out to them.

One doctor saw her constantly. In the bad times he was with her for hours and hours, washing her, feeding her. and putting her to bed. Later he saw her for three hourly sessions a week and later still for one. The intimacy for their relationship is described here by both. Miss Barnes and Dr Joseph Berke. It clearly illustrates the Phenomenon of the transference relationship which is the key to psychoanalysis allowing the patient to reexperience all infant love, hate and fantasy with, the, analyst ill loco parents.

In a conventional analysis these, feelings are mostly communicated in words. Miss Barnes could communicate them only physically in deeds for over a year.

Her therapist Dr Berke is an American. He is not on the Medical Register and therefore not subject to the General Medical Council rules which prohibit personal publicity which might bring patients to a doctor.

Miss Barnes' painting was en. encouraged though also often hated for its primitive violence by others living in Kingsley Hall. When she could not speak the paintings became, "me, exposed, raw on the wall all around the house". It was the first outlet her creativity had ever had in her life. She painted obsessively sometimes seven hours at a stretch. The Paintings forged the link which brought her back to the adult world as a different person.