Law and Conversation

September 15, 2010

The Schumanns and the law

Filed under: biography,composers,Law,mental health,Music,piano — Helen Gunnarsson @ 10:39 am
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Monday’s edition of The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor reminds us that Clara Wieck Schumann was born on that day, September 13, 1819.  Clara vied with Franz Liszt for the title of preeminent concert pianist of the 19th century, though her role as wife of composer Robert Schumann and mother of their eight children required her to cut back on performing for a time as well as to leave off composing.

Legal issues permeated the Schumanns’ lives.  To marry, they had to file a lawsuit, for Clara’s controlling and grasping father/teacher/agent/producer opposed their relationship.  After their marriage, Clara writes in her diary and correspondence of further legal disputes with her father over her earnings and property.  And Clara eventually had to commit Robert to an institution because of his insanity, the result of his syphilis.

The Schumanns’ lives show that truth is far stranger and more complex than fiction!  For more, you can read “The Marriage Diaries of Robert and Clara Schumann” as well as your choice of several juicy biographies.

Who are your favorite musicians?  For enthralling reading, what biographies do you recommend?

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September 3, 2010

Jane Eyre and mental illness

Earlier this week I urged readers to read or reread Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre.”  In that post, I referenced two totally delightful articles analyzing the book and Mr. Rochester in particular that I came across while surfing the Bronte Blog

As both articles indicate, Jean Rhys wrote Bertha Rochester’s backstory in “The Wide Sargasso Sea,” which won the Cheltenham Booker Prize in 2006 for the year 1966.  Rhys’s sympathetic treatment of the first Mrs. Rochester, whom Bronte portrayed as an inconvenient, crazy hag whose death was a relief for all, highlights how far we’ve come in attitude towards and treatment for the mentally ill since Mr. Rochester locked his wife up in her attic room. 

Present-day advocates for the mentally ill, though, will point out that treatment resources are still woefully inadequate, as I’ve noted in articles such as “Involuntary administration of psychotropic drugs: Does Illinois need new standards?” and “Bill would make involuntary commitment easier” in the January 2003 and August 2007 issues, respectively, of the Illinois Bar Journal.  (In the forthcoming October 2010 issue of the same publication I discuss the recent changes in the standard for involuntary commitment in Illinois’s  Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Code and quote University of Chicago clinical professor of law Mark J. Heyrman, whose lucid commentary always gets to the heart of the matter.)  And, of course, mental illness or the hint of it still carries a strong stigma, though, unlike Charlotte Bronte, we no longer generally refer to someone who’s mentally ill as a “lunatic,” a “maniac,” or using the pronoun “it.”  For those who are interested, the website of Mental Health America of Illinois is a good starting point.  

What are your favorite 19th century novels?  How about your favorite novels that deal with mental illness?

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