Saturday, 30 October 2010

Evidence to prove Tolkien's psychological breakdown 1945-6


I suppose that it is well known among expert scholars that Tolkien had a psychological breakdown in 1945-6 -

- especially since the publication of The JRR Tolkien Companion Guide Chronology edited by Christina Scull & Wayne G Hammond (2006).

But the fact does not seem generally known among Tolkien fans.

Yet it is a fact of considerable interest - especially in terms of the composition of Lord of the Rings, its prolonged interruption from 1944 to the second half of 1946; and it gives added interest to the unfinished Notion Club Papers novel composed during this hiatus and (I suspect) conveying information concerning Tolkien's strange state of mind.


When I first read Humphrey Carpenter's authorized biography of Tolkien, it seemed clear to me that some personal facts had been left out - and I read something to confirm this sometime later - I think it was an interview with Carpenter.

Reading the Notion Club Papers, about five years ago, perhaps? - I became intrigued by the experiences of altered consciousness described in that novel - and strongly suspected that they were Tolkien's own experiences. The novel was begun at the Christmas period of 1945 and was worked-on over the next months (probably).

Reading Warnie Lewis's selected dairies (Brothers and Friends) I noticed two entries which confirmed my suspicions:

Saturday 15 December 1945: "Tollers [i.e. Tolkien] and I went out by the 9.35 [train] on Tuesday morning and spent a pleasant day together; he spoke with much more frankness about his domestic life that he has ever used to me before, and did me good in making me realize how trivial after all are the things which I have to complain of at [the] Kilns."

Tuesday 2nd April 1946: "An exquisite sping morning, J[ack] poor devil in Manchester. To the Bird and baby where I was joined by Humphrey [Havard], Tollers and Chris[topher Tolkien]. Tollers looking wonderfully improved by his restcure at Stonyhurst, and in great spirits (having packed his wife off to Brighton for ten days). He has shut up his house and he and Chris are living at the Bear at Woodstock..."

My impression was confirmed on re-reading Tolkien's selected letters - To Michael Tolkien 1 November 1963: "...I was never obliged to teach anything except what I loved (and do) with an inextinguishable enthusiasm. (Save only for a brief time after my change of Chair in 1945 - that was awful.)


This was amply confirmed by the Chronology (Quotes) :

Page 296 - Christmas vacation 1946-August 1946. Tolkien writes during 'a fortnight of comparative leisure' around Christmas 1945 [the beginnings of The Notion Club Papers].

Page 297 - End of 1945-early 1946 ...But neither [Simonne d'Ardenne] nor Tolkien are in sufficiently good health to do extensive work.

Page 298 - End of February-March 1946. Tolkien is ill, the result of various worries.

Page 299 - 20 March 1946. ... He is unwell, and although his doctor has ordered him to apply for a term's leave, he realizes that this is impossible in the present academic plight, short of a complete collapse. He is, however, going away for a while...

25 March - 1 April 1946. Tolkien stays at New Lodge in Stonyhurst, Lancashire (...). In a letter to Stanley Unwin on 21 July 1946 he will say that he came 'near to a real breakdown' around this time, and went away and 'ate and slept and did nothing else, by orders, but only for three weeks, and not for the six months that my doctor prescribed...

Page 301 - Early June 1946. ... he is unwell and also heavily engaged with an extremely difficult term...

Page 302 - 21 July 1946. Letter to Stanly Unwin... I have been ill, worry and overwork mainly, but am a good deal recovered... I hope after this week actually to - write.

Page 305 - c 23 September 1946... Tolkien returns again to The Lord of the Rings [delayed by the 'tiresome business of the election to the Merton Chair'].

So by September, and probably a few weeks earlier Tolkien was recovered.


This makes the dates of Tolkien's psychological problems building-up to become severe approx December 1945 - and resolving around July of 1946.


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