‘Art and Madness, A Memoir of Lust Without Reason’ Review


Ann Roiphe (Art and Madness, A Memoir of Lust Without Reason, 2011) willingly gives up everything for art in the 1950’s when she is just in her twenties. She gives up a privileged life, comfort, care of her child and her own talent. This was a time when women naturally took second place to men, so in order to be part of the artistic genre, she married a talented playwright who used her unmercifully to his own advantage, taking for a time her money, her property, and eventually her soul.

Male artists of the time were like magnets to Roiphe. Educated at Smith College, Roiphe fell in love with the writings of Beckett, Proust, Sartre, and Mann, and was only satisfied in the company of those who could intelligently discuss these writers. This led her to New York City and The Village where she found the idolized male artists she craved. She was like a sponge for the likes of George Plimpton, Terry Southern, Doc Humes and Norman Mailer. The late night parties she attended, often with her small child in tow, included famous writers, painters and sculptors. She was extreme in her need to associate with these artistic giants saying,

“ Moderation for most of us is a most unnatural condition…..I preferred to burn out like a brilliant fire cracker.”

Roiphe came to believe that great art could not be achieved without consuming voluminous amounts of alcohol (the drug of choice in those days) which she observed all around her.

Mark Paczkowski, Still Life, graphite on arches hot pressed WC paper, (2011), 9 x 12 in

Roiphe finally dug herself out from this artistic scene and hero worship to find her own voice and went on to write nine novels of fiction and eleven books of non-fiction. What led her to find her own voice and the courage to express it? Perhaps it was her child who “holds her fingers on Roiphe’s wrists digging in, holding on as if she were a life raft slipping away from its moorings.” Perhaps it was reading Thomas Mann’s story, “Disorder and Early Sorrow” which she identifies as describing her own life. Perhaps it was turning thirty. Perhaps it was finally divorcing her alcoholic husband. Perhaps it was hearing a lecture by Anna Freud and beginning to understand the id, ego and super ego in terms of her own life and history. Perhaps it was meeting “the man with the smile” who she eventually married. Perhaps it was all of these things together, along with something deep inside her that was finally allowed to emerge, setting free a very talented woman writer.

Ann Roiphe was a woman of her time, and carries with her the history and memory of the New York City art scene in the 50’s. She was a watcher on the sidelines; a babe in the woods observing a generation of male artists who dominated this decade. This scene gave her all the tools she needed to come into her own writing talents and to produce her unique voice. She tells of this journey in her own words in this remarkable book, Art and Madness, A Memoir of Lust Without Reason.

GrettaB-38Gretta Barclay is a passionate reader, writer, and lover of art in all its forms. She writes essays, short stories, poems, and novels. Her first novel, “To See a Sundog”, is an adventure story that takes place in a small Midwest town. She is in the process of writing her second novel.




  • Basel

    great review, sounds interesting and relevant, will put on my reading list………….Basel