Recently, a reader asked me if mental illness had influenced the characters in my novel, ‘Capriccio’. Until she brought it to my attention I hadn’t realised just how much the suffering in this story was brought about by the frailties of each character’s mind.
Sylvia (Grace in the novel) had attempted suicide three times before she finally succeeded. It is conjectured she would have been diagnosed as bipolar or manic depressive, were she alive today. Back in the sixties, however, she was regarded as ‘highly strung’, and prescribed heavy drugs towards the end of her life. As a teenager, after her first attempt at suicide, she was given electro-convulsive therapy, then a relatively new and more brutal treatment for mental illness. The circumstances of her life described in the novel contributed to her major depression and eventual death.
Assia (Esther in the novel) is a more complex case; she would likely be pigeonholed today as having a ‘personality disorder’. Narcissistic yet overly generous, mischievous yet guilt-ridden, grandiose yet shy, she was a deeply misunderstood woman, who attracted trouble simply because of her outstanding beauty, and haughty mannerisms. Deep down she remained a frightened child for most of her life; the memories of fleeing from Nazi Germany with her family as a child, never left her.
As for Ted (Larry), he was a victim of the times, when artists and writers adopted their own moral and social standards. Prolific and creative, his output of verse, drama, prose and children’s stories was immense. He found it impossible to live a conservative life, chained to the domesticity of hearth and home. Yet during the six years of his marriage to Sylvia, he was a devoted father and a faithful husband. In my portrayal of him, I have tried to be impartial, showing his sometimes cruel treatment of both Assia and Sylvia without judgement. I hope I have also shown the artistic constraints which, while not excuses for his behaviour, partly explains it.
Research has shown that often, creativity and mental illness go together. This is evident in all three characters, although Ted didn’t have a mental illness as such. Sylvia was a highly gifted poet, and paid a heavy price for her gift. Assia also was a talented artist and translator, but is rarely remembered as such. Towards the end of her short life she suffered major depression, as a reaction to her straightened circumstances, and Ted’s ultimate rejection of both her, and their daughter..