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Submitted Literature

The Bird of Night

By Susan Hill

Review

Susan Hill’s 1972 novel examines the relationship between Bipolar Affective Disorder and creativity; the illness that both creates genius and destroys it.  The text, which contains homoerotic overtones, is narrated by Harvey from first person perspective, giving an insight into the pressure on his abilities to care for and keep safe Francis, who is seen as the greatest poet of his era but is extremely unwell with a madness that is directly linked to his creativity.  Francis’ illness is both the driving force for his brilliance and the key element to his downfall.  The novel is a brilliant exploration of madness, almost completely removed from the medical system, in which madness is seen concomitantly pathological and a necessary part of the creative process.

Key Themes:

  • Bipolar Affective Disorder
  • Carer Issues
  • Creativity and Madness
  • Revealing Reads

Significant Quotes / Pages

11 – “And I have begun to write and at once realised that it is no beginning.  For those the neat, dry, formal words of a chronicler, they would lead us into ‘A Biography and Appreciative Essay on the poet Francis Croft’.

God knows, whatever I am writing, it is not that.  No tight, careful little structure will contain the man as I knew him.  Though, when I think about that, I see that it is very remarkable.  For when he was writing, in full possession of all his wits, either before the madness touched him, or later, in the periods of calm and sanity between, he was above all a poet who believed passionately that content was inseparable from form.  What he always tried to make were beautiful and meaningful structures.  He wrote a number of sonnets.  But even more often, the structures were entirely original, very complex, and meticulously worked out.  He was a man of violent feelings, a man of beliefs and passions, he was a poet with a vision, he had everything, everything to say.  But he meant to contain it, to make beautiful patterns.”

110 – “But the cycle of Francis’s madness was never a regular or predictable one.  I had prepared myself for days, perhaps weeks, spent closeted in that dismal flat by candlelight, having to comfort and support him through his deepest apathy and depression.  Certainly, for the next two days he stays in bed or sat slouched in a chair looking as though he were half drugged, his eyes blank and all his attention turned inward upon himself.  He hardly spoke to me and when he did answer a persistent question, it was with a monosyllable.  He would not shave or eat or read, but only sat up once in a while and muttered to his own hands. ‘It’s all wrong, I tell you, it's all wrong.’  Once I caught him staring at himself in a mirror, his face very close to the glass.  He looked puzzled. ‘I’m afraid we have not been introduced,’ he said to his own reflection. ‘I do not know your face.  Should I know your face?  Is this a good party?’

But on the third day he woke looking altered again, more like his calmer self, he began to get dressed, paying scrupulous attention to the set of his tie and cufflinks and the colour of his socks, polishing his shoes with great vigour.”

 

Reference: Susan, Hill. 1972. The Bird of Night. London: Penguin, 1981

Reviewer

- Charley Baker
Date Review Submitted: Friday 20th March 2009