CREATIVE CHARACTERS by Elisabeth Young-Bruehl


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Author of biographies of Hannah Arendt (1982) and Anna Freud (1988) as well as the novel Virgil (1983), Young-Bruehl hits the ground running in this demanding approach to understanding creativity. Proceeding from issues raised during her biographical research work--the very different styles of her two celebrated subjects--she attempts to construct a typology that resists common assumptions about creativity, especially the idea of a single unifying factor, and argues instead for an intricate and diverse configuration of traits and motivations that illumines the development of creative minds. Young-Bruehl first refers to ancient Greek theories and the dualistic European philosophers, then begins a trellislike elaboration of her own pluralistic scheme featuring three broad character-types, or ways of being creative: the artisanal/sexual, the spiritual, and the political. She amplifies these concepts in a variety of ways, leaning heavily on psychodynamic insights (id-, superego-, and ego-dominated characters), referring to particular biographers' ways of presenting their subjects (one of the book's more accessible parts), and straining to relate and balance issues relevant to each part of the superstructure--issues of cultural significance, gender, and personal history among them. Many of her observations are apt, lucid, and well supported, e.g., on themes in Freud's writings about Leonardo da Vinci and Moses. She offers some memorable quotations for verification, such as Marguerite Yourcenar's comment on the purifying element involved in her own writing technique: ""One sheds one's clothing in order to be bronzed by the sun's rays."" And she ably dramatizes the influence of late adolescence on her subjects' works. Unfortunately, Young-Bruehl's text has a fudgelike density, with the highly hyphenated prose frequently distracting from a clear presentation of ideas. She suggests that this work is ""a map for further inquiry"" but its conclusions are less than compelling, and most readers, even psychodynamically oriented ones, will find a number of serious roadblocks here.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1991
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Routledge