Playing with Stories

For the Sunday Salon


It’s Mothers’ Day here in the UK and I’m feeling very spoilt; one of my gifts was Claire Tomalin’s biography, Katherine Mansfield. A Secret Life and I couldn’t resist starting it this morning. Mansfield’s life makes a wonderful story and Tomalin is an outstanding writer. She has guided me though those early childhood years with clarity and aplomb, when all too often the reader can be lost in a sea of indistinguishable relatives. She turns a lovely sentence, too, and incorporates Mansfield’s writing in such an intelligent way. It made me think of the debate about biography that took place last week on Dorothy’s and Dan’s site (and here), and seemed to indicate to me that the life and the work can be brought together in very interesting ways, on the understanding that neither explains the other, but instead casts an intriguing pattern of similarity and difference that can be thoughtfully considered. Biography cannot properly be used in the analysis of literature, but speculation and curiosity are every bit as much a part of the pleasure of reading and loving books, and it would be unnecessarily reductive, I think, to limit what it is possible to do with literature, out of a perfectly decent desire to mark off the arena of academic literary study. Reading Claire Tomalin makes me aware of all the imperfections in my own style, however, and sharpens the desire I’ve been nursing for a while to do a writing course. The problem is I cannot find one that focuses on non-fiction (not journalism) and is a correspondence course. I don’t suppose any bloggers have any ideas or suggestions? I need a good critical eye on my writing if I’m to improve it; someone who’ll whip me into shape and not be indulgent over my tortuous sentences and sloppy planning.


The other book I ought to be reading today (and have not yet got to) is by Alain Robbe-Grillet, who died on February 17th and has therefore featured in the newspapers recently because of his historical importance for European literature. Robbe-Grillet was one of the founder members of the ‘Nouveau Roman’ or the new novel that took the intelligentsia by storm in the 50s and 60s. Rather in the way that modern art explores the visual by challenging, subverting or simply abandoning all traditional strategies of representation, so the new novel dispensed in a cavalier fashion with plot, characters, orthodox description and conventional endings to see what happened to this thing called the story. You will appreciate that the new novel is not always the easiest comfort read, but I cannot help but like them. Much in the way mechanics take motorbike engines apart to figure out how they function, any student of literature can never look at narrative the same way again, once it has been systematically dismantled by these novelists.


The nouveaux romanciers were also notable for being caught up in what were probably the most vigorous and acrimonious debates over the purpose and meaning of literature that any artistic movement has ever encountered. And that is saying quite something. The new novel came out of the desire of these writers to break away from orthodox realism, believing it to be old-fashioned and politically entrenched. Realist novels (according to Robbe-Grillet) imposed an order on social and personal experience that was completely false and misleading, and even if they had a political point to make, it could only be fought on the same old terms and in the same old ways and were thus incapable of bringing about radical change. It is a formidable characteristic of French thought that the Revolution can only come about by changing the way we think, not just the contents of our thought. So, with this ostensibly revolutionary project in mind, the new novel became thoroughly enamoured with the notion of stories as existing in a self-contained arena, produced by the play of language but not really capable of referring to a world beyond themselves. This sounds outrageous, but think, if you will, of the classic designation of ‘a tall dark handsome stranger’. A very well-used and familiar textual coin, but what image would a reader exchange for it? A different one in the head of every individual who approached the story, I’d bet. We all know what a story means by introducing such a figure, but to say that they exist in reality, or perhaps more usefully, that we would all point to the same person in a line-up if called upon to do so, is far from likely. And so, bearing this in mind, the new novel flamboyantly pointed out to the reader the way it was constructed, and with a very heavy-hand, emphasized how language could offer multiple meanings in a way that made choosing ‘the right one’ impossible. For instance, one of Robbe-Grillet’s best-known novels, Jealousy, is written in such a way that the narrating voice could emanate simply from a recording machine, such as a close-circuit television, but it could also equally come from a man whose mentality is disturbed by the sheer intensity of his feelings. That sounds good, doesn’t it, but don’t get too excited about reading it: that one’s hard work. Far more accessible is his pseudo-detective novel, The Erasers, in which a hopeless detective investigates a crime that in fact has not been committed.


The Erasers also has a certain literary notoriety for the moment of the tomato segment. Robbe-Grillet’s style is marked by a fascination with objects and what we expect them to do in stories. Orthodox fiction has objects reflect the emotional and social world around them. Characters who possess Ming vases are old money elegant, but probably corrupt, characters who possess cheap supermarket vases are good and honest souls but open to some condescension, and characters who possess hand-fired, rustic earthenware vases are self-consciously bohemian and quite possibly maintain goats and green principles. What if, Robbe-Grillet wondered, an object could be placed in fiction as simply itself? His descriptions are marked by a certain forensic precision, often including measurements, and using terms designed to be accurate but which are often resistant to visualization. The tomato segment in The Erasers is described minutely and comprehensively, but of course in a detective novel, even one that is playing with the conventions of the genre, the reader spends her time wondering whether this is a clue or not, and what the tomato might ‘mean’. As is so often the case with the new novel, you end up watching a reflection of your reading mind, sifting and analyzing the information, trying and failing to process it in all the usual ways (which generally take place so smoothly and swiftly that we never notice them). The point that these descriptions end up making, is how dependent the reader is on the perspective of the narrator to assign sense to details. If we are being given a description of a tomato channeled through the mind of a detective, we might expect him to focus on the aspects of it that reflect his emotional state (curled up around the edges, limp and dried out, or ripe and bursting with flavour), or we might expect it by analogy or association to remind him of a vital piece of evidence in the case (a tomato red blouse worn by a suspect, a recently used kitchen knife), or it might be indicative of the way he takes care of himself, the lone tomato representing a solitary and unfulfilled social life. But we are utterly at sea when the tomato appears to mean nothing but itself. And in this way the new novel discovered that breaking the rules of fiction is a sure fire way of finding out what they are in the first place.


Can a truly anal description of a tomato segment bring about revolution? Well, no, not really. The nouveau roman found itself attacked on all sides, by traditional critics who couldn’t understand what they were being faced with, by social realists who were hostile to what they considered to be a lack of obvious politics, and in time, by the avant-garde Parisian left bank artists, who would discredit it for not being radical enough. Which just goes to show that if you try to do something startlingly different, the chances are you will end up pleasing none of the people most of the time. But given the newspaper articles and obituaries of Alain Robbe-Grillet, it is also quite possible that history will be kind. For my own part, much as I wouldn’t rush to read a Robbe-Grillet novel, I think that what he does with fiction is extraordinary, and I am very glad to have read him and written about his novels. They are a miniature masterclass in all the hidden expectations we bring to every act of reading.


25 thoughts on “Playing with Stories

  1. Happy Mother’s Day and I’m really envious of the Tomalin biography. You know the problems I have with short stories and yet I spent one very happy summer reading everything Mansfield wrote as a final year undergrad. I would love to know more about her life especially as I keep bumping into her in Virginia Woolf’s journals and they seem to have a very ambiguous type of friendship. It would be interesting to get a really good biographer’s take on it.

    In respect of the writing course, I have to say I’m not certain you need one, but we started an English with Creative Writing Degree in September so if I bump into any of the creative writing lecturers I’ll ask them if they know of anything.

    I find the whole notion of the role of the narrator in directing the reader’s appreciation of item’s within a novel fascinating, but then the narrative voice has always been a key interest of mine. I suppose that my real issue with writers like Robbe-Grillet is that there isn’t much point in trying to start a revolution if no one is going to be able to read your books and get the revolution of its feet. Was he not a bit self-defeating (sorry, I’ve just seen the pun, but you know what I mean!).

  2. Thank you, Ann! I do think you would like the Tomalin biography; I’m loving it. I’ll tell you more when I get to the account of her friendship with Woolf. And thank you so much in advance for asking about a course (and for your kind comment); I feel the need for discipline! I loved the inadvertent pun concerning Robbe-Grillet; I think it all depends on what kind of revolution you are aiming at. French writers of that epoque were much more involved in politics than British or American ones. And the N.R. had its role to play in the lead up to May ’68 which was probably the most book-driven attempt at revolution the world has ever seen. But your point is entirely valid and, I think, aligned with Sartre’s (who quarrelled viciously with Robbe-Grillet) that such literature is irrelevant in a world where children die of hunger. The Parisian Left Bank was often accused of forgetting that the rest of the planet existed.

  3. Thinking back I’m not sure what was being signaled in the presentation of my self when I ate a tomato as part of my dinner. I’ve got to say it was juicy, but a bit lacking in flavour, if that helps. I suppose that we are surrounded by conventions of meaning which are invisible to us. We accept them as natural when they are just normative forms which we’ve grown up with like the round of the seasons, which is natural, but carved up into blocks of time, which is back to our artificial constructions. It’s a lot easier to discuss in the abstract than spot in real life, so I guess that’s why there was so much negative reaction to it, along with how it must have undermined the opposition’s tenets and beliefs. That biography/work of art split or continuum is difficult. I’m aware of that because I’ve recently been reading the works and a biography of Sylvia Plath. I wouldn’t want to let the biography override the work, but I think some of the more general ideas and issues in her work are aided by knowing something of her life. It is particularly contentious with her of course as her biographers have tended to follow their own agendas. I think you have to take what is actual, consider with care what is speculation and always read the work as the defining object. After all even when writing is meant to be autobiographical it’s still only a construction of the author’s life – not his/her life. They are only interpreting the tomatoes after the event.

  4. Though I haven’t read Robbe-Grillet, I have been curious about him. Perhaps – as is likely considering your knowledge there – the revolution of aesthetics he participated in has shown up in other literatures at later dates.

    In Gilbert Sorrentino’s collection of ‘stories’, _The Moon In Its Flight_, the narrator asserts how changeable each element of the story can be. He could introduce a nice person, rescue a child from the effects of a bad upraising or genetics, he asks if anyone out there (you, me) would give a couple (imagine for a couple) a nice apartment. Sorrentino takes some sentences he used in one story and puts them in another, defying the idea that each utterance is special and unique to a story. _Lunar Follies_ and _A Strange Commonplace_, novels which come later (his last two to be published, alas), continue his games, which stem from his own strictures. I’m reading his book of essays, _Something Said_, but so far nothing about Robbe-Grillet. His literary likes include, among others, William Carlos Williams (fiction and poetry), Ezra Pound, Hubert Selby, John Hawkes, and poets named Spicer. Zukofsky, Rexroth. But that doesn’t mean the tomato episode you use as illustration (or something like it) couldn’t have played an unconscious part in how Sorrentino stripped the narrative engine to show it could easily power a golf cart, lawnmower, or aeroplane. Some writers today would not recognize you can do that, but then, it does take time to ketchup.

  5. I am always bothered by those who dismiss biography. To me, it is a particularly grounded type of scholarship. So much scholarship nowadays is based on smoke and mirrors, but to consider biography and history together is to ground the scholarship in something meaningful. Biography is not everything, nor ought it be handled clumsily, but delicate readings of biography can open up a text.

    (Should you have an illogical desire to see how I have handled it in my brief foray into scholarship, you can check out American Literary Realism from Spring 2006, but I sure won’t be offended if you don’t.)

    The larger and more important point is the one you make. Regardless of whether biography makes for good scholarship, it makes for deeper readership. And that is what it is all about. My close and intimate relationship with Henry James, for example, has made my reading of him incredibly intimate. I shudder to think scholarship SHOULD usurp readership.

    And anyone who can write a sentence as dead-on as this has nothing to worry about in the writing: “As is so often the case with the new novel, you end up watching a reflection of your reading mind, sifting and analyzing the information, trying and failing to process it in all the usual ways “

  6. You write: “It is a formidable characteristic of French thought that the Revolution can only come about by changing the way we think, not just the contents of our thought.”

    Well said. This is the key: the way we think. I have read all of Robbe-Grillet, discovering him way back when he was first translated and being read on college campuses (late sixties). I revere him to this day; he virtually turned me into a writer, as when I read him I was informed in the most dramatic way that it is internal IMAGINATION that holds all the storylines, and that plot can be realized as an internal structure. And sometimes the plot is MISSING, and all that is left is the description of the setting. Such descriptions have unique power and are absolutely contemporary.(Of course one has to have a belief in the power of language to even see this.) So that indeed it is a way of thinking, indicative of a way of perceiving, that is new. Of course this is not for everyone–in fact it is incomprehensible to certain critics. Robbe-Grillet comes right out of Kafka; recently I have been reading Robert Walser–who is similarly motivated by pure imagination. Robbe-Grillet’s non-fiction FOR A NEW NOVEL sends one in several directions that flesh out historically this basic shift in perception–and consequent literary construction.

  7. Bookboxed – ‘They are only interpreting the tomatoes after the event’ – what a clever line! Yes, what you say about the discrete chunks of realism is what bothered Flaubert. People really did live in cliches sometimes, and then again, quite often they didn’t. It drove him wild. I once wrote about women writers that their historical situation (rarely able to write without the distractions of domesticity and one hell of a fight to write at all) meant that their lives were inevitably more bound up with their work. I’m not sure it’s absolutely true but it’s interesting. JB – how fascinating; I have never heard of Sorrentino but will check him out now. I am most intrigued by that idea of sentences turning up in different stories. I often think that ideas travel on the wind, as it were, and develop organically out of historical situations as the natural next step. I’m sorry to say I’ve never read any William Carlos Williams either. I shall have to rectify that. Emily – I love what you say about biography being grounded – that is such an interesting thought, and I’ve read enough smoke and mirrors to know just what you mean there! I also agree that scholarship is wonderful for scholars, and mostly not so great for general readers. There’s a huge middle ground out there, I think, that needs to be colonised with all kinds of different, accessible, interesting ways of looking at narrative. I am entranced by the idea of reading a story in a way that is lop-sided and imperfect and open to attack but which gets people thinking and talking about it. Oh and I really do have that illogical desire – I’d just love to see an academic piece by you. (Thank you also for your lovely comment – I’m hanging onto that one).Lloyd – do you know, I’m really thrilled to think that you were inspired to write by Robbe-Grillet. Knowing and admiring what you do, I think he would be immensely proud. You’re spot on when you say it is all about perception; that’s exactly it. And I also don’t know Robert Walser – another writer I now think I need to check out. Thank you for that.

  8. Thanks for another fascinating post Litlove. I bought the Tomalin biography of Mansfield and a copy of Robbe-Grillet’s “The Erasers” at two different book sales in recent months and you’ve made me more impatient to get to both of them. While in the midst of a Paul Auster immersion this time last year, I read an essay that drew some interesting links between his novels (“The New York Trilogy” in particular) and the work of Robbe-Grille which made me keen to read Robbe-Grille and see what connections I could draw myself. And, following on JB’s comment, I’d like to bring Sorrentino into the mix as well with a third book I’ve long been meaning to read, his “Mulligan Stew” which I gather is also a very unconventional take on the detective novel.

  9. I don’t know why you think you need a nonfiction writing class. Perhaps you are just wanting a mentor of a sort, someone to bounce ideas off of and who will give you honest feedback. We have a couple of programs like that in Minneapolis where a student is paired with a professional writer for six months to a year. It’s all in-person though so that doesn’t help, though maybe you have something similar in your area. Or a writer’s group, perhaps?

    I won’t be running out to read a Robbe-Grille novel any time soon, but he sounds fascinating as does your description of the noveau roman. But I know myself and as fascinating as it all sounds and as much as I imagination myself liking such “out there” things, when it comes down to it, I like the idea of it more than the actuality.

    Happy Mother’s Day!

  10. Oh no, oops. I always forget that to my MIL, mother’s day is in March. I’m afraid we disappoint her every year, though I hope we make up for it with surprise May attention. Well, happy day after mother’s day to you!

  11. Kate – I thought it was you who had a copy of The Erasers; I seemed to remember it in conjunction with your Auster reading (now there’s an author I really MUST make time for). Ooh and another vote for Sorrentino. I would love to know what you think on either his work or Robbe-Grillet’s. Do keep me posted. TIV – so sorry to hear you are no longer blogging. Of course I’ll remove the link, and take down the story, too, if you would prefer. Stefanie – you are so sweet. You know, a writers’ group is a really good idea, if I could find one that wasn’t too awful (I am not that keen on group activities in a general kind of way!). I’m really glad I studied Robbe-Grillet, but in all honesty, I do not reach first for experimental fiction when I sit down in a chair of an evening either 🙂 Dew – oh how confusing for you – no wonder you forget! I’m sure she is delighted, though, by your May celebrations!

  12. Hobgoblin took a course in the French new novel, if I remember correctly, and I think we have a copy of The Erasers lying around somewhere — I’m tempted to pick it up! I do like trying challenging things, although sometimes I regret it about halfway through. But I can see how such a book would be very fun to think about.

  13. It’s ok, it turns out she considered the scarf I sent a month ago, but which just arrived, her Mother’s Day gift! But it was just something I knit over Christmas and forgot to send until late January. 🙂

  14. Sometimes, as a personal experiment only, with no intention of starting a revolution, I read your comments first and try to judge from them what I’ll find in the post, whether I’ll agree with your observations there, how you’ll twine the various threads. Too much emphasis is placed on the role of the writer in fiction when in fact it’s the reader who does most of the work and should gather all the fame and royalties. From now on, to advance the development of the NR, I will read Tales from the Reading Room as a novel written not by but about the lovely and intriguing Litlove and the characters who interact with her by way of comments.

  15. Dorothy – my secret is to know that you need never read every word of an experimental novel. You can skip and no one (probably not even yourself) will be the wiser! 🙂 It’s very cool that you have The Erasers hanging around the house! Dew – now didn’t that work out well in the end! All because you are sweet enough to be knitting people scarves in the first place, of course. David – I’m glad I know you well enough not to wonder whether you read the comments to see whether the post is worth your while! 🙂 It’s a lovely thought that readers should get royalties – I’d be doing quite well by now – but that probably IS the kind of thought to start a revolution. It’s also a most intriguing idea to follow the comments as a work-in-progress – only you could be that original and clever!

  16. I found it amusing that just as I was thinking ‘what a really great writing voice Litlove has, I must work more at uncovering my own’ the next sentence I read was about you wanting to do a writing course. Do it for yourself if you want to, but I can seriously assure you there is No Need.

    Reading these posts is making so much clear about my own literature degree. I can see now that most of my struggles were because none of it was put into context – the ‘reason’ we were studying these books was because this was the course which older and wiser heads had devised. When a friend in the year above gave me Eagleton’s ‘Literary Theory’ and I rushed to my tutor with my epiphany, I was told we would be ‘doing’ that in the Third Year and not to bother about it until then.

    In between knowing there were answers to my questions out there somewhere and being unable to find someone who could or would provide them, I spent much of my three years in despair and wasted a great deal of time that I could have used more profitably instead of trying to frantically catch up once things finally made sense in the last six months. I recall standing by the post box on the last day of the last term and thinking ‘yes, I understand now. Can we start the course again now I have the tools to make a success of it?’ But of course it was too late.

    I suppose the lesson is that however unhappy I was I should have had faith there was meaning somewhere and just got on with the task in hand. Reading your posts is making me think what a great teacher you must have been and how much I hope your students knew how lucky they were.

    I feel inspired now to find my old course lists and re-read all my set texts – and hopefully remember what it was they were, trying, to teach me.

    • Victoria, I have so been appreciating your comments over the past few days, and this is just delightful, thank you. I think I became a lecturer because I had exactly the same experience as you. By the time I reached the end of my undergraduate course, I felt that FINALLY I had grasped what this literature business was all about, and I couldn’t bear to let it go just as I was beginning to understand it and find my feet. I did work for a year in industry, and loathed it, and I knew I had to go back.

      When I started to teach, I remembered my own clueless years so clearly and felt determined that my students weren’t going to spend their days scratching their heads and figuring it out the long, hard way. And I really wanted them to feel supported and safe in their learning. So much of university is sink or swim, and it never struck me as necessary. I was lucky, too, and had such lovely students, they were so funny and entertaining and there were very few who couldn’t be called a wholehearted pleasure.

      If you do find your course lists, let me know what your set texts were, will you? I do still love to know which books get chosen!

      • I’m not sure how informative they would be as I did my course in the late eighties/early nineties (I think from your posts we are near contemporaries). We traced the development of the novel from the Romantics to the Postmodernists with literary theory introduced somewhere in the third year. (I recall ‘Waterland’ and ‘If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller’ and, I think, my dissertation compared Eco, Marquez and Rushdie.) With hindsight it was an excellent course – many people l later met from other HEIs hadn’t done theory at all – if only they’d explained it properly, or perhaps – thinking of your post on reception I was too tired to comment on coherently when I read it – in a way I could have understood.

        There was an amazing Master’s at Sheffield I was desperate to get onto but my degree was too low and I ended up working in academic admin instead, and then drifted into history having lost the ‘first fine careless rapture’. Reading your blog is both very nostalgic and stirring up old interests I’d thought were long since laid to rest.

        One thing that intrigues me as I read round is your frequently expressed self-doubt. It is obvious you are good at what you do – not only does your blog speak for itself but you wouldn’t have been published/employed/had students sign up for your courses if you weren’t. And the validation and support you get from your readers here is little short of amazing.

        So what is it you need, to make you believe yourself??

        (Sorry if that’s too personal – just interested in the disparity on an intellectual level.)

      • Well that is the million dollar question! I don’t know why I am so often full of self-doubt. I can perform confidence easily, but I very rarely feel it. I think I was a late starter – I don’t feel that I got smart until I was 24, up until then I just had an excellent memory that I relied on too much to do the work for me. So like most late starters I readily feel like a fraud. And I suppose I am my own biggest critic. I was brought up very strictly to be humble, and neither of my parents has any confidence so that did have an effect. And all I know is that in my head I so often hear the words: well that’s what you did yesterday, but can you do it again today? Funnily enough it doesn’t help much to be in a place like Cambridge where you are surrounded by people getting Nobel prizes and publishing ground-breaking books and generally leading their field; you always suffer by comparison.

        I do think things would be easier for me if I had more confidence and less self-doubt. I wouldn’t suffer from so much anxiety apart from anything else! And goodness knows how much brain power I waste second-guessing myself. But nothing has ever really fixed it. If you have any suggestions for what I could do, I’d be delighted to hear them; it’s an age-old problem I’ve never resolved.

      • That’s interesting – the concept of all your achievements being some kind of fluke and not based on anything real.

        I think you’ve provided the answer to your problems yourself here. It sounds as though when your parents discovered they had a ‘swan’ on their hands they were so concerned to protect you from Icarus-like future disappointments they overdid their, admirably intended, cautions against conceit – ‘you were lucky this time, don’t bank on it happening again.’

        I would suggest Cognitive Based Therapy as it would fit in with your own academic mindset and encourage you to view it positively. Basically you discuss your early socialisation and unravel the messages you were given at that point and the ways they’ve affected your ability to deal with life. There’s a big difference between knowing something intellectually and feeling it.

        Talking to people about their experiences of this, the key factors for it to be successful are: finding someone who you feel comfortable with and confident that they know what they’re talking about; doing it for a sufficient length of time (12 sessions, for example, will probably only just have got everything out on the table, not resolved it); and most importantly, being prepared to feel absolutely wretched while you’re going through it. It is not for the faint-hearted but if you stick it out it should give you the answers you’re looking for.

        So what happened at 24 to make you feel you’d got started??

        This comparison thing is quite funny, if you’ll forgive me, when just being a lecturer at Cambridge puts you in something like the top 0.5% in the country.

      • Oh I know, the comparison thing is ridiculous, isn’t it? And yet exactly that difference you mention between knowing something intellectually and feeling it was in play – I might have known I would be considered smart, but everywhere I looked I was surrounded by people smarter than me so I didn’t feel it. But yes, ludicrous!

        However, that distinction, between thought experience and lived experience is one that strikes me again and again as so important to hang onto. So many of our shocks, surprises and distresses come from either experience not living up to imagination, or experience being exactly like our imaginings. One day I would like to write something about this because it is so hidden and yet so powerful.

        I also think you’re quite right that you have to go through the mill to change such deep-rooted impulses and drives, but I do think it can be worth it.

        When I was 24 I did the (then) brand-new M.Phil in European Literature. I got married a week before the course began, and fell pregnant halfway through it. I’m not sure why but that combination transformed me for a short while into a confident person, and the M.Phil had no exams, only prepared essays and a disseration. This was all so much easier than an average Cambridge term, and I was so thrilled to be free of exams in which I never performed as well as I might, that somehow everything seemed simple and so doable. I think perhaps I also understood then that work really was simple when compared to the demands of parenthood. But anyhow, I came top of the year which mattered less than how pleasurable the work had been, how exciting. I was awarded a starred first for my dissertation and I remember so vividly putting the phone down after receiving the news and thinking, yes, okay, I can do this. It was probably the best moment of quiet satisfaction in my whole life.

      • This really is interesting!

        My reading, from all the things you’ve written, would be that getting married and producing a grandchild was something your parents ‘understood’ and probably strongly validated as an achievement. Marriage in itself: the public demonstration that someone believes you are ‘valuable/worthy’ enough to spend the rest of their life with, through thick and thin and the ‘fulfilment’ of your expected social/biological role as a woman, are also strongly validating situations. Add to this the removal of the focus of your anxiety (exam taking) in your area of self worth and a comparison for what struggling really means (child rearing) and it doesn’t seem that surprising you should have had an upsurge of relief and confidence.

        From your responses, you actually already know most of the answers to your problems. What you don’t know is that you know. And you don’t Know, in the sense of ‘feeling it in play.’

        I really think you would benefit from CBT. It is essentially unpicking a narrative, which you have been trained to do and have spent many years teaching others to do so too. From the evidence of this blog you are extremely good at it, so I believe you would make rapid strides in reconstructing the viewpoint of your ‘inner author’ once shown how to do so.

        Imagine you are your own student.

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