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Submitted Literature

The Bird's Nest

By Shirley Jackson

Review

Novel about a young woman with Multiple Personality Disorder.

 

Elizabeth Richmond originally visits Dr. Wright for headaches, blackouts, and odd behaviour witnessed by her aunt. Whilst Elizabeth is under hypnosis, Dr. Wright discovers three other personalities: Betsy, Beth, and Bess. Throughout the novel, each personality vies for control, and the novel reaches its resolution when the four become one. The young woman who emerges does not have a name, but she claims to have a stronger sense of identity than when she first began her sessions with Dr. Wright.

 

The novel intimates that Elizabeth Richmond’s personality began to fragment following a traumatic childhood event involving her mother and her mother’s boyfriend, Robin. The protagonist’s mother, also Elizabeth Richmond and often referred to as Lizzie, might be seen as a representation of another aspect of the protagonist’s personality, particularly at the level of linguistics. Betsy constantly searches for her mother, and Bess believes her mother has only been dead three weeks even though the elder Elizabeth Richmond has been dead for several years. Although none of the personalities confess, it is suggested that one of them may have been responsible for the mother’s death.

 

In the tradition of Freud, Dr. Wright records “Miss R’s” case study within the narrative. It is important to note that Jackson does not afford Wright control over the narrative as a whole, unlike The Three Faces of Eve  (1957) which is presented strictly as a case study from the analyst’s point of view. Nonetheless, Dr. Wright’s character serves to draw Elizabeth/Betsy/Beth/Bess into the realm of science and medicine.

 

The film adaptation of The Bird’s Nest entitled Lizzie was released in 1957.

Key Themes:

  • Multiple Personality Disorder / Dissociative Identity Disorder

Significant Quotes / Pages

‘Ruefully, then, I [Dr. Wright] added a new number to my notes – R3, the hateful, the enemy. Perhaps my numerical system was at fault, perhaps I was too persuaded of my belief that we could slough off the paralyzing past and bring back Miss R. as R2’, p. 58-9

 

‘[P]oor Bess continuing all this time about the obligations of wealth, and the luxuries she had had to forego because of her aunt’s extravagances – Bess’ right hand, without her knowledge, took to scribbling on the pad, while I drew a deep sigh and sat back in my chair, smiling and nodding like a great idol who has just seen a whole calf roasted at his altar. [...] At any rate, I eyed the scribbling pencil with far more attention (although disguised, surely) than I gave to Miss R. [...]

            [...] and I bent my gave ardently to the page of paper.

            “doctor wrong,” it read, “aunt m lawyers stop money poor bess ask her ask her where is mother what aunt m says ask her ask her she is not saying true ask her i am here and ia m her and she is not no money poor bess laughing betsy”

            And thus ended my page, but the pencil wrote on and on.’, pg. 153

 

‘ “I’m back,” Elizabeth said. “I never went away, auntie dear, I never never did.” She looked at the doctor and said clearly and without faltering, “I did it. I’m the real one, Doctor Wrong, I am the one who gets the money and who never did anything, and I jumped into a bramble bush and I am going to close my eyes now and you will never see me again.” ’, p. 230

Reference: Shirley, Jackson. 1954. The Bird's Nest. Tower Publications, 1967

Reviewer

Dr Sherah Wells
Date Review Submitted: Monday 12th April 2010