Thursday, August 22, 2013

Misdiagnosing Janet Frame, again

Patrick Evans this week admitted that he believes Janet Frame to have been 'autistic', and that 'autistic' is just another name for 'schizophrenic'.

Eva Radich interviewed Patrick Evans on Monday 19th August 2013 for 'Upbeat' on Radio New Zealand Concert. They were discussing Patrick Evans's play Gifted which is a fictional reinvention of Janet Frame.

Radich: I wondered how you interpreted her [Janet]?
Evans: Well, ahh, we have in our family a much loved autistic person who I've helped care for, for quite a while now, who lives with us and who's deeply creative in the artistic sense and I guess you have to say that there's a lot of one in the other. If you have ever been close to somebody who is gifted in that way...
Radich: But Janet of course wasn't autistic - it was an entirely different situation - she was shy, she was incredibly vulnerable and shy, but autistic?
Evans: Ahh, everybody I know who is autistic is autistic and not autistic. You deal with the person who is in front of you.
Radich: Of course we didn't have labels like that in the 1950s... Janet was misdiagnosed with schizophrenia: that was certainly never an issue.
Evans: No. But no, that was the label that we had then.
Radich: And the label we have now is autism?
Evans: It is, yes. And you take the person in front of you and you can see the vulnerability, the difference, the extraordinary insights that people have who are different in that way.

(Listen to the rest of this most enlightening interview here, in which Patrick Evans is unable to explain why, for the purposes of his fictional portrayal, he has felt it necessary to make such drastic changes to the historical record of the actual relationship between Janet Frame and Frank Sargeson.)

Some background:
English literature lecturer Patrick Evans of Christchurch New Zealand never accepted the fact that when doctors in Dunedin labelled Janet Frame with 'schizophrenia' that they had made a mistake. The label 'schizophrenic' was given at Dunedin hospital without a proper examination, simply on the advice of Frame's university tutor, psychology student John Money, with whom she was engaged in an emotional affaire complicated by the transference from his botched amateurish attempt at a Freudian analysis of her dreams. Money had at that stage not even embarked on his doctoral studies in psychology and he was never a medical doctor let alone a psychiatrist [see Michael King's Frame biography Wrestling with the Angel, Penguin 2000].

A panel of eminent psychiatrists in the UK in the 1950s, after extensive examination and observation, proclaimed that Frame had never suffered from schizophrenia, should never have been hospitalised, and in fact had clearly never suffered from any formal mental illness at all [see King, 2000].

Despite this historically verifiable medical decision, Evans has coined the term 'the myth of the misdiagnosis' to deride Frame's contention that she had been misdiagnosed in New Zealand.

Some middle class New Zealanders such as Evans seem to be so bewildered by the behaviours, bearings and even dress, of those who are 'lower class' and 'non-conformist', that they interpret these social differences as symptoms of disorder. It's all the same to them if it's 'odd' - and to be thought peculiar amongst these narrow-minded people it is sufficient to be uninterested in clothing labels, or to want to go to your room and write your novel when everyone else is sitting up late drinking, or to cry when your mother dies, as Frame's mother did when she was boarding with Sargeson (one of the many biographical facts suppressed by Evans in order to construct his projected fantasy 'Janet'). However it was Janet Frame's wild red hair that was her most obvious symptom of pathological 'difference' in the eyes of the smugly 'typical' people. That hair was obviously not normal and is the first of the list of things that made those around her think she was so 'strange'.

 "I was a certified lunatic in New Zealand.  Go back?  I was advised to sell hats for my salvation."

~ Janet Frame (from Towards Another Summer 1963/2007)


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