Out of Her Mind, edited by Rebecca Shannonhouse, captures the best literature by and about women struggling with madness. A remarkable chronicle of gifted and unconventional women who have spun their inner turmoil into literary gold, the collection features classic short stories, breathtaking literary excerpts, key historical writings, and previously unpublished letters by Zelda Fitzgerald.
Shannonhouse’s recent anthology, Under the Influence: The Literature of Addiction, is also available as a Modern Library Paperback Original.
This somewhat uneven collection by freelance writer Shannonhouse focuses not on the experience of mental illness but rather on descriptions of those experiences (both first-and secondhand) written by women, making the subject matter fairly unique. The time span of the 21 brief selections is impressive (1436-1999); however, almost two-thirds of the writings are from the last half of the 20th century. The wide range of work includes arresting first-person descriptions of mental illness and the equally riveting 1843 testimony of Dorothea Dix on the conditions of Massaschusetts insane assylums. Unfortunately, this collection also includes material such as four rather benign letters by Zelda Fitzgerald (published here for the first time) in which she describes "picnic suppers' and "idyllic days" spent at Highland Hospital. Although sufficient for casual reading, a topic this intriguing deserves more thorough treatment. Recommend for larger public and academic collections.-Angela M. Weiler, SUNY Libs., Morrisville