The Snake Pit still terrifies 70 years later

Mary Jane Ward’s The Snake Pit is a powerful story about mental illness, as terrifying in a quiet way as anything by Stephen King.

The novel takes readers inside the mind of one mentally ill person, Virginia Cunningham.

The Snake Pit by Mary Jane Ward

Random House, 1946. 278 p. 1946 bestseller #10. My grade: A.

Virginia was living in New York and working on a novel when she began having trouble sleeping.

She recalls saying to her husband “Robert, I think here is something the matter with my head.”

As the novel opens, Virginia doesn’t even know where she is. She thinks she must be in prison doing research for a book, but she isn’t sure.

She wonders if blurred vision is causing her fuzzy thinking, so she asks a nurse for glasses.

“If I’m without them much longer I’ll go crazy,” she says.

When she says crazy out loud, she realizes she has been refusing to acknowledge she is in a mental hospital.

That realization is the beginning of her road back to mental health.

Virginia’s recovery isn’t smooth.

She is given medication, shock treatments, confined in body-temperature baths, moved from ward to ward.

Virginia never knows what caused her problems or why they recede.

She only rarely realizes she is seeing a doctor.

The Snake Pit is a classic. Don’t miss it.

Forgive Us Our Trespasses; forgive the novelist his

As a child, Dinny Brumm refuses to take anything from his father. His Aunt Martha and Uncle Miles tell him his father, whom he’s never seen, deserted his mother. They lead him to believe his father cares nothing for him.

In his hatred of his father, Dinny even takes their name lest he be linked to his father, newspaper magnate Zandy Craig.

Dinny finds a letter his dying mother wrote to him before he was born. It tells of her love for his father and how she found peace through forgiving those who had hurt her.

Dinny decides to see if forgiving others will help him feel better and win the woman he loves.

The plot is contrived, the main characters emotionally implausible. Douglas creates situations that he quickly drops, such as Dinny’s half-sister’s attempt to seduce him.

Although Forgive Us Our Trespasses is tinged with religiosity, author Lloyd C. Douglas stays far away from religion. He explores forgiveness as a tool for psychological health.

Despite the novel’s tacked-on happy ending, the only characters who seem likely to have any lasting happiness are Dinny’s aunt and uncle, who, despite their shortcomings, seem to have some genuine faith in something besides themselves.

Forgive Us Our Trespasses
by Lloyd C. Douglas
Grosset & Dunlap, 1932
369 pages
1933 bestseller #6
My grade C-

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni