The violet hour Great writers at the end

Katie Roiphe

Book - 2016

"Katie Roiphe takes an unexpected and liberating approach to the most unavoidable of subjects: death. She investigates the final days of six great thinkers, writers, and artists": Susan Sontag, Sigmund Freud, John Updike, Dylan Thomas, Maurice Sendak and James Slater.--

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Subjects
Published
New York : The Dial Press 2016.
Edition
First edition
Language
English
Physical Description
306 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (pages 293-301).
ISBN
9780385343596
0385343590
Main Author
Katie Roiphe (author)
  • Susan Sontag
  • Sigmund Freud
  • John Updike
  • Dylan Thomas
  • Maurice Sendak
  • Epilogue: James Salter.
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* Consider the group Roiphe (In Praise of Messy Lives, 2012) selected: Susan Sontag, Sigmund Freud, John Updike, Dylan Thomas, Maurice Sendak, and James Salter—all articulate, creative people who were especially sensitive to death. Roiphe combed through their letters and journals, their interviews and manuscripts. She also talked to family and friends as well as caretakers and housekeepers. Her motivation, she writes, was to see "if I can capture a death on the page" in order to "repair or heal something." She wanted to look at death and "be less afraid." Sontag fought to the end, convinced that she alone—she was always the exception in everything she did, after all—could conquer this most universal of human fates. Freud refused painkillers so he could think clearly at the end. Updike was unprepared for his bleak fate. Thomas avoided doctors at all cost. Sendak was obsessed with death, even at a young age. The 89-year-old Salter didn't really think much about death. These are vivid portraits of human beings who, whether consciously or not, teach the rest of us how to face the final journey. Roiphe's book is touching and luminous, profound and somehow reassuring. Recommend it to anyone who is grieving or has experienced a death, which ultimately means all of us. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

When acclaimed writer Roiphe (In Praise of Messy Lives) was 12, she contracted pneumonia. This book, she declares, had its origin in the hazy, fever-filled days she spent hovering between life and death. Roiphe explores, through mesmerizing storytelling, how six writers—Susan Sontag, Sigmund Freud, John Updike, Dylan Thomas, Maurice Sendak, and James Salter—confronted mortality. Drawing on her subjects' writing and on interviews with their friends and loved ones, she relates how they "embraced or evaded, made peace with or raged against death." When Sontag receives her breast cancer diagnosis, she steels herself to continue her work. Returning home after deciding on chemotherapy, Updike rests his head on his typewriter, as if resigned to never writing again, until his wife, Martha, says to him, "Just one more book." Freud faces his final days calmly, refusing painkillers, as if collecting notes for an essay about his own death. Thomas seems almost to long for death, while Sendak expresses pure terror in his stories and drawings. When Roiphe visits Salter, who died suddenly of a heart attack months after her visit, he tells her he doesn't think much about death. Roiphe's riveting profiles reveal a simple truth: each person faces death in a unique way. Agent: Suzanne Gluck, WME. (Mar.) [Page ]. Copyright 2015 PWxyz LLC

Review by Publisher Summary 1

"In this category-defying book, Katie Roiphe takes an unexpected and liberating approach to the most unavoidable of subjects: death. She examines the final days of five great writers and artists. Here is Susan Sontag, the ultimate intellectual, finding her commitment to rational thinking tested during her third bout with cancer. Here is Sigmund Freud fleeing Nazi-occupied Vienna for London only to continue the constant cigar-smoking that he knows will soon kill him. Roiphe takes us to the hospital room where, after receiving the worst kind of diagnosis, seventy-six year old John Updike immediately begins writing a poem. She vividly portrays Dylan Thomas's extraordinary self-destructive tendencies that culminate in his infamous final collapse at a Greenwich Village tavern. And she shows us how Maurice Sendak's beloved books for children are infused with his lifelong obsession with death, if you know where to look. In each of these glorious creators' final moments, Roiphe finds bravery, suffering, bad behavior, passionate love, peacefulness, bursts of energy, and profound thinking. In a voice that is unsentimental, compassionate, urgent, Roiphe helps us to look boldly at death and be less afraid"--

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Examines the final days of five great writers and artists--Susan Sontag, Sigmund Freud, John Updike, Dylan Thomas, and Maurice Sendak--in an original meditation on mortality.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

Examining the final days of five great writers and artists—Susan Sontag, Sigmund Freud, John Updike, Dylan Thomas and Maurice Sendak—a thought-provoking volume helps readers look boldly at death and be less afraid, in a wholly original meditation on mortality.

Review by Publisher Summary 4

From one of our most perceptive and provocative voices comes a deeply researched account of the last days of Susan Sontag, Sigmund Freud, John Updike, Dylan Thomas, Maurice Sendak, and James Salter—an arresting and wholly original meditation on mortality. In The Violet Hour, Katie Roiphe takes an unexpected and liberating approach to the most unavoidable of subjects. She investigates the last days of six great thinkers, writers, and artists as they come to terms with the reality of approaching death, or what T. S. Eliot called “the evening hour that strives Homeward, and brings the sailor home from sea.” Roiphe draws on her own extraordinary research and access to the family, friends, and caretakers of her subjects. Here is Susan Sontag, the consummate public intellectual, who finds her commitment to rational thinking tested during her third bout with cancer. Roiphe takes us to the hospital room where, after receiving the worst possible diagnosis, seventy-six-year-old John Updike begins writing a poem. She vividly re-creates the fortnight of almost suicidal excess that culminated in Dylan Thomas’s fatal collapse at the Chelsea Hotel. She gives us a bracing portrait of Sigmund Freud fleeing Nazi-occupied Vienna only to continue in his London exile the compulsive cigar smoking that he knows will hasten his decline. And she shows us how Maurice Sendak’s beloved books for children are infused with his lifelong obsession with death, if you know where to look.The Violet Hour is a book filled with intimate and surprising revelations. In the final acts of each of these creative geniuses are examples of courage, passion, self-delusion, pointless suffering, and superb devotion. There are also moments of sublime insight and understanding where the mind creates its own comfort. As the author writes, “If it’s nearly impossible to capture the approach of death in words, who would have the most hope of doing it?” By bringing these great writers’ final days to urgent, unsentimental life, Katie Roiphe helps us to look boldly in the face of death and be less afraid.Praise for The Violet Hour“A beautiful book . . . The intensity of these passages—the depth of research, the acute sensitivity for declarative moments—is deeply beguiling.”—The New York Times Book Review “Profound, poetic and—yes—comforting.”—People “Unconventional, engaging . . . [The Violet Hour] is at once scholarly, literary, juicy—and unabashedly personal.”—Los Angeles Times “Enveloping . . . I read it in bed, at the kitchen table, while walking down the street. . . . ‘What normal person wants to blunder into this hushed and sacred space?’ she asks. But the answer is all of us, and Ms. Roiphe does it with grace.”—Jennifer Senior, The New York Times “A beautiful and provocative meditation on mortality.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune “A tender yet penetrating look at the final days . . . Roiphe has always seemed to me a writer to envy. No matter what the occasion, she can be counted on to marry ferocity and erudition in ways that nearly always make her interesting.”—The Wall Street Journal “Here is a critic in supreme control of her gifts, whose gift to us is the observant vigor that refuses to flinch before the Reaper. . . . She knows that true criticism does not bother with the mollification of delicate sensibilities, only with the intellect as it roils and rollicks through language.”—William Giraldi, The New Republic