A s a relatively new parent being introduced to the anxieties of his first-born’s education,
I bought the “socialization” mantra of the nursery school set without much thought,
until one day I bristled: when, I howled to myself, do they teach them to be alone?
For me — reader, writer, brooder — the husbandry of solitude has always seemed
the aim and art of learning. “How about a little later?” my wife sagely suggested.
“She’s only three.” So I took solace in the pages of this valuable and insightful study,
in which Anthony Storr focuses upon the uses of solitude, exploring not only the
connection between solitude and creativity (in portraits of Henry James, Goya,
Wittgenstein, Kipling, and Beatrix Potter), but also examining the strengths ordinary
people find in the need to be alone: in the experience of bereavement and depression,
in escape from the rigors and routines of daily life, in the search for personal meaning
and self-expression. Storr has written an inspiriting, illuminating book (which someday,
I hope, my daughter will read), which closes, aptly, with these lines from Wordsworth’s Prelude:
"When from our better selves we have too long /
Been parted by the hurrying world, and droop,
Sick of its business, of its pleasures tired, /
How gracious, how benign, is Solitude. "
The pursuit of contemplation in a world of action was the motive force
in the life of Thomas
Merton, the Trappist monk whose creative energies animated mid-twentieth-century Christianity.
The character and recompense of solitude and the spirituallife are eloquently invoked in this volume,
first published in 1956.
“We who live alone can treat the situation as an illness and spend our days searching for a cure,
or we can make ourselves comfortable here. Learn to extract the fullest nourishment from friends,
roll up our sleeves and cope with the plumbing, the IRS and the possibility of burglars, enjoy our private
dinners and even survive major holidays. Having come to terms with the ordinary, we can step out further.
After all, we and only we are free to have adventures of our own choosing, humor our eccentric interests,
and create our lives in any shape we please, however unconventional, with no one to say no.”