By Irène Némirovsky

In a French court docket, the trial of a lady is happening. Gladys Eysenach isn't any longer younger, yet she remains to be appealing, stylish, chilly. She is accused of capturing useless her much-younger lover. because the witnesses take the stand and the case unfolds, Gladys relives fragments of her prior: her youth, her absent father, her marriage, her turbulent dating together with her daughter, her decline, after which the ultimate irrevocable act. With the intensity of perception and pitiless compassion now we have come to anticipate from the writer of Suite Française, Irène Némirovsky exhibits us the soul of a determined lady captivated with her misplaced formative years.

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As Robert Burton, the most famous ‘anatomist’ of Renaissance depression, put it in his Anatomy of Melancholy: most pleasant it is at first, to such as are melancholy given . . to walk alone in some solitary grove, betwixt wood and water, by a brooke side, to meditate upon some delightsome and pleasant subject . . A most incomparable delight, it is so to melancholize, and build castles in the ayre, to goe smiling to themselves, acting a infinite variety of parts . . 35 Burton’s poetic ‘Abstract of Melancholy’ highlights the paradoxical nature of the disease; he begins: When I goe musing all alone Thinking of divers things fore-knowne.

At one level, following Burton’s encyclopaedic volume, symptoms (and causes) are often dizzyingly complex and include 36 Melancholy Experience many physical manifestations. 43 ‘Hypochondriacal, or windy melancholy’ also varies from the core features of fear and sadness: ‘Fearful, sad, suspicious, discontent, anxiety, &c. 45 At another level, however, we might argue that depression/melancholy is primarily a mental state characterized by causeless fear and sadness and therefore capable of social functions above and beyond those of physical disease.

In Chapter 2, ‘Philosophical Melancholy’, Richard Terry’s concern is to explore the link between unhappiness and philosophical pessimism, in particular the complex dialogue that many eighteenth-century 20 Melancholy Experience thinkers conducted with classical stoicism, a philosophy that held it was possible to become largely immune to the experience of grief and misfortune. For those who espoused philosophical pessimism, melancholy was a perfectly reasonable and defensible response to the trials and tribulations of our life.

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