"To Write a Great Story": Margiad Evans' Illness Narratives

Asbee, Sue (2009). "To Write a Great Story": Margiad Evans' Illness Narratives. In: Bartoszko, Aleksandra and Vaccarella, Maria eds. The Patient: Probing Interdisciplinary Boundaries. Inter-Disciplinary Press, pp. 55–64.

URL: http://www.inter-disciplinary.net


Margiad Evans’s Ray of Darkness (1952) attempts to make sense of the onset of her epilepsy. Recognising her own compulsion to tell the story of her illness, she believes simultaneously that the condition separates her from the understanding of healthy people. I argue that in the text and the unpublished mss, tellingly called The Nightingale Silenced (1954), Evans’s concern is to establish and affirm and identity by writing, while at the same time believing that communication is impossible. In opposition to the impulse to “lie down […] and sleep” is the “obstinate, instinctive expressive which wants to speak,to testify, to reason.” Evans continually questions whom she is writing for, atone point concluding that she may simply be talking to herself. TheNightingale Silenced was written when she was hospitalised. It charts a new acute phase of her disease: the frightening defamiliarisation of ordinary objects and “dream-like horror of the sufferer’s surroundings.” Household objects become the locus of fear, imbued with malevolent intent to destroy her mind. During some attacks, mind and body become divorced, while her own face in the looking glass appears as a “stain” provoking her “distaste and even fear.” With identity in such distressing crisis, her status as a writer trying to record such experiences is paramount for sanity and survival. Often presenting a tone of practical clinical detachment, she also subscribes to the notion of epilepsy as poetry, and a mystical sense of union with nature; I argue that these are ways of coping with fear of approaching complete loss of identity.

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