The Passions of the Mind: Where’s the novel?

In The Passions of the Mind, Irving Stone presents Sigmund Freud as a family man who works hard, walks fast, and writes prodigiously while smoking expensive cigars.

The random pattern represents the Passions of the Mind
Random pattern represents the mind.

He also loves Renaissance art, collecting antiquities, and reading literature.

Freud takes a medical degree, intending to go into research instead of treating patients. Circumstances conspire against him; he ends up practicing as a neurologist in Vienna.

Freud’s inability to treat by conventional means patients whose symptoms don”t arise from physical causes lead him into what in later years would become known as psychoanalysis.

Freud is determined to have his theories accepted by the medical community. To that end, he befriends and nurtures younger analysts, several of whom he supports financially as well as emotionally.

Stone reveals Freud as frequently unaware of the import of events around him, both among fellow practitioners and nationally.

Only as the Freud family suffers deprivation in WWII Vienna and Sigmund develops cancer of the mouth does the analyst begin to seem like a real person.

Stone’s meticulous research (the novel includes a bibliography and a glossary of psychoanalytic terms) will appeal to those already interested in Freud.

Readers looking for an interesting story will be quit reading long before Freud sees his first patient.

The Passions of the Mind: A Novel of Sigmund Freud by Irving Stone
Doubleday, ©1971. [Book club edition.] 856 p.
1971 bestseller #3. My grade: C

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Portnoy’s Complaint: Sophomoric, salacious, and insightful

all-text cover of Portnoy's Complaint
Complaint in plain wrapper.

Alexander Portnoy, Assistant Human Opportunity Commissioner for New York City, is a psychological mess, and it’s all his parent’s fault.

At least that’s what he tells his psychiatrist, Dr. Spielvogel, in Philip Roth’s aptly named Portnoy’s Complaint.

Alex suffers from stereotypes.

He’s the brilliant and personable only son of a New Jersey Jewish couple. Alex’s eighth-grade educated father slaves for a Protestant insurance company, selling life insurance in the black slums. His mother cooks, cleans, kvetches.

Alex grew up being alternately praised to the hilt and told he was a disgrace to his family.

At 33 he’s still unmarried. His professional life is devoted to doing good for others.

His nonprofessional life is devoted to activities discussed primarily in four-letter words.

Alex’s monologue mixes exaggeration with self-deprecation. His occasional flashes of insight are masked with jokes.

He tells his shrink, “I hear myself indulging in the kind of ritualized bellyaching that is just what gives psychoanalytic patients such a bad name with the general public.”

Roth’s novel is genuinely funny, but as he lets Alex makes readers laugh, he makes them see how emotionally frail Alex is.

Roth’s technical skill and his humanity — plus the final punch line — combine to produce a hopeful portrait of a damaged man.

Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth
Random House, 1969. 274 p. 1969 bestseller #1 My grade: A

 

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni