Conrad Aiken (Magill's Literary Annual 1989)
Biographer Edward Butscher seems drawn to subjects whose lives are marked by trauma and who therefore are appropriate material for his psychoanalytical approach. His first biography was a controversial psychoanalytical study of American writer Sylvia Plath, whose tortured life ended in suicide; the present work, his second biography, is a Freudian study of Conrad Aiken, whose life was tragically marred when he was only eleven by the murder-suicide of his mother and father.
Butscher makes no apologies for his highly “interpretative” approach, prefacing volume 1 of this life of Aiken by asserting his belief that a biographer would be remiss to ignore the insights of modern psychology. Butscher also affirms that since this is a literary biography which attempts to study the influences that shaped an artist’s work, his discursive, impressionistic technique is justified because he is exploring the dynamics of human creativity. The technique often leads Butscher, however, to make highly problematical judgments about Aiken’s psychic development as if they were unquestionable facts. For example, in describing the eight-year-old Aiken’s pity for a kitten abandoned in the streets, Butscher says that it is easy to see that this response is a psychic expansion of the self-pity created by his father’s neurotic behavior and his mother’s lack of interest; such an empathic response to “lower forms of sentience,” says Butscher, reflects Aiken’s own...
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 1989)
Kirkus Reviews. LVI, June 15, 1988, p. 869.
Library Journal. CXIII, August, 1988, p. 160.
The New York Review of Books. XXXV, December 22, 1988, p. 45.
The New York Times Book Review. XCIII, November 27, 1988, p. 33.
The New Yorker. LXIV, September 19, 1988, p. 116.
Publishers Weekly. CCXXXIV, July 1, 1988, p. 62.
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