The biographer and her mother as secret sharers

DIVIDED LIVES: DREAMS OF A MOTHER AND DAUGHTER

Virago, $35 pb, 328 pp, 9781844088904

Two thirds of the way into Lyndall Gordon’s part memoir, part maternal biography, there is an episode of profound risk to the self. At the age of twenty-four, having recently moved from Cape Town to New York, Gordon is being treated for post-partum depression. This is 1966. Electro-convulsive therapy seems not to have helped, and her psychiatrist is urging longer-term treatment in an asylum in order to turn her – so it seems to Gordon – into the self-sacrificing wife and mother her own mother had wished her to be. Her husband, who has hitherto supported Dr Kay, makes a sudden turn. ‘Do something with your life … I’ve always thought you could write biography.’

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Dorothy Driver

Dorothy Driver

Dorothy Driver is Professor of English at the University of Adelaide.