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Submitted Literature

The Shutter of Snow

By Emily Coleman

Review

Autobiographical novel which recounts Marthe Gail's struggle with psychosis after the birth of her son. The novel is Modernist and the narration is an example of the 'stream of consciousness' style.

Marthe's sense of time in the hospital is non-linear. She does not remember being admitted to the hospital. She has vague memories of her psychotic episodes which took place in the presence of her baby, but these are confused with images of herself as an infant. Marthe is most preoccupied throughout the novel with the sense that she is God.

Coleman's novel is a fictional study of madness in the mind of the protagonist, but can also be read as a gendered critique of society's reaction to psychosis. Marthe isn't allowed to verbalize her struggle. Instead, her husband and the nurses tell her that she will be released if only she will stay quiet.

Treatments of psychotic patients are also presented. 'The sheet' appears repeatedly throughout the novel as both treatment and punishment. One of the most humorous episodes in the novel is Marthe's 'Conference' in which she must face the doctors and convince them of her sanity. 

Key Themes:

  • Creativity and Madness
  • Post-natal Depression
  • Psychosis

Significant Quotes / Pages

pg. 3: 'She had to say it all and when it was said and when every word had been sealed into the night wind's casket, she would stop. She had been a foetus and had knitted herself together in the bed. Then she had come noiselessly forth and they had fed her. The sunny morning and Hazel feeding her out of a bowl. Clean cheeks and a little river in her teeth. Pine needles dripping in the Caucausus.

 Her father had come in the door and she had cried to him. All of them standing around her bed, not this bed, pointing to the baby and to the wall. She had thrown the medicine glass at the wall and made a livid spot in it. They took away her little baby. The top of his head was soft and sunken. Down with her chin in the silk and sunk, and flowing up around her cheeks the dying. She had warmed in her bed.'

p. 53: 'She knows I am God. She may be treacherous but she knows. Marthe relaxed her legs and became a night blooming Cereus on the wrinkled stream. She had a small and tightly folded centre, yellow and full of gold and poppy-dreamings, and now she would open and pour out its fulness.'

p. 123: 'Brunmark told her she could get out before it was time. The cloth was heavy but she had done it. The sheet was unfastened, and down began to sink the water, down below the grave straps and down to her wet and sagging body. Down sank the water, down and down, cold and heavy and still she was left in the empty tub. She was in the ground, rolled down on the straps, a wet and sunken corpse, bound close in the cerements of the grave and lying chilled and paralyzed beneath the ground.'

Reference: Emily, Coleman. 1930. The Shutter of Snow. Virago, 1981

Reviewer

Dr Sherah Wells
Date Review Submitted: Thursday 8th October 2009