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HEART'S WORK by Charles Schlaifer

HEART'S WORK

Civil War Heroine and Champion of the Mentally Ill, Dorothea Lynde Dix

By Charles Schlaifer (Author) , Lucy Freeman (Author)

Pub Date: Nov. 15th, 1991
ISBN: 1-55778-419-1

 A failed attempt to arouse interest in the work of Dorothea Dix, who, in the 19th century, devoted her considerable talents to establishing hospitals for the needy insane. Schlaifer, a longtime advocate of improved treatment of the mentally ill, and prolific science-writer Freeman (coauthor, Our Wish to Kill, p. 312, etc.) have produced a dull biography of a woman who must have been anything but dull. They rely heavily on an 1891 biography of Dix by Francis Tiffany, which may account in part for the stilted and often oddly archaic tone of the present volume (``Dorothea would occupy her hospital home for five years as she suffered a lasting exhaustion and the pain of the steadily advancing disease of which she died--ossification of the lining membranes of the arteries''). Less explicable is the disjointedness of the narrative and why, although the subtitle dubs Dix a Civil War heroine, less than a half-dozen pages are devoted to her Civil War activities. Throughout her life, Dix shrank from publicity, and she wrote no memoirs; indeed, her first biographer commented that ``no real information is to be had about her.'' Schlaifer and Freeman fail to change this. In a final chapter, they do attempt to explain Dix's lifelong concern with helping the mentally disturbed by linking it to her own unhappy childhood--a psychoanalytic leap that might well have been strongly resented by Dix. A plodding biography of a remarkable woman.