i inhaled a beautiful book called THE VANISHING OF ESME LENNOX by Maggie O’Farrell. set in the 1930s, it’s a story about a young woman who’s caught wearing her mother’s negligee and institutionalized. the negligee, of course, is the last straw for a lifetime of being different. of wandering away from her desk at school. of complaining that clothes don’t feel right on her skin, of not sitting still at the dinner table. of daydreaming.
until the 1950s a woman could be signed away to an institution with one signature. the reasons? refusing to speak, refusing to listen. arguments with neighbours. libidinous and uncontrolled behaviour, eloping with an unsuitable man, taking long walks and refusing offers of marriage. if married, not wanting sex, wanting sex too much, wanting sex differently. keeping a messy house.
it occurs to me that i could’ve been institutionalized.
here’s an excerpt:
Her father doesn’t speak in the car. She says his name, she says, Father, she touches his shoulder, she wipes her face, she tries to say, please. But he looks straight out of the windscreen, the doctor beside him. He doesn’t speak as he gets out, as he and the doctor wedge her between them and walk her across gravel and up the steps to a big building, high on a hill.
Inside the doors there is heavy silence. The floor is tiles of marble, black white black white black white. Her father and the doctor shuffle and fumble with papers. They don’t remove their hats. And then a woman she has never seen before, a woman dressed as a nurse, takes her arm. (p. 175)