Solitude, by Anthony Storr

Shelf Indulgence

This Shelf Indulgence review takes a look at a book which is a pleasing mixture of philosophy, psychiatry, psychoanalysis, and the creative mind. Many of the history’s geniuses were solitary by nature or circumstance. In Solitude, eminent psychiatrist Dr Anthony Storr challenges the popular view that intimate personal relationships are the only source of health and happiness. With references to Freud, Jung, Bowlby and others, he examines the creative lives – and solitude – of great composers, artists, philosophers and writers including Beethoven, Beatrix Potter, Henry James, Wittgenstein, P.G. Wodehouse and Rudyard Kipling. He also cites a startling number of great works which were created during enforced solitude, Boethius’s The Consolation of Philosophy among them, and gives examples of triumph over the mental torture of solitary confinement – notably Elizabeth Bone, who remained strong and resolute throughout her seven-year wrongful imprisonment as a spy.

By far the most important message is the psychological value of spending time alone. In this fascinating book, Storr draws a parallel between creativity and meditation or prayer, noting that moments of great insight and inspiration often happen in solitude. With chapters on ‘The Capacity to be Alone’, ‘The Uses of Solitude’, ‘Solitude and Temperament’ and ‘Bereavement, depression and Repair’, this is a book to return to at different times in life for solace, reassurance, and wisdom.

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