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Bedridden, lying down and convalescent: between literature and psychiatry


The writers tied to their beds form an aristocracy within a profession full of sick bodies and depressive temperaments. Several books explore his universe

After many years of donations, inquiries and diplomacy, the Carnavalet Museum in Paris rebuilt the room where Marcel Proust lived.

At the beginning of the year, the museum, in a palace in the Le Marais district, a neighborhood alien to the atmospheres of the great aristocracy where

In Search of Lost Time

takes place , recreated the apartment on Malesherbes Boulevard where the writer lived with his mother.

More information

In search of Marcel Proust

Thanks to the perfumer and bibliophile Jacques Guérin, obsessed with Proust and a collector of his relics, as well as donations from the family of his governess and other characters who found Proustian objects in his attics, the Carnavalet set up the writer's room.

The reconstruction was the center of the exhibition with which this year the centenary of his death began to be celebrated.

There was the desk that belonged to Dr. Adrien Proust, father of genius, a library, a cork screen, the famous coat and an armchair.

But there were two pieces of furniture that dominated the whole, both dedicated to the art of lounging: a


and a brass bed.

Proust's famous bed, with its surprisingly small blue bedspread for our age of giant beds, was the most sacred relic, the heart of all Proustian mythology.

Faithful readers revere it as if it were the shroud or the very cross of Christ.

A large part of the seven volumes of his masterpiece were written on that bed, in small notebooks with tight calligraphy tending to

horror vacui,

without margins or blank spaces, which his brother Robert took years to decipher and transcribe.

Marcel Proust wrote at night, leaning on a plank purposely designed to simulate a desk.

He had practiced the very difficult art of writing lying down.

Despite his intense social life, despite having visited all the salons in Paris, having flirted with all the waiters at the Ritz and not missing a literary brawl that animated the cafes of his city, the novelist spent a good part of his 51 years of lying life.

Since at nine he suffered an asthma attack that almost killed him, the bedroom was his world.

"Voltaire's Awakening" by Jean Hubert.

Heritage Images (Heritage Images/Getty Images)

The son and brother of eminent physicians, Proust's condition worried and obsessed his relatives.

To help him, his father investigated neurasthenia, which was the name used at the time to explain that feeling of tiredness and discouragement that so many patients felt, without apparent physical cause.

They assumed it was due to a disturbance of the nervous system, which was a way of shrugging.

Proust, always exhausted, increasingly horizontal, disbelieved in doctors: "It is very silly to believe in medicine," he once said, "but it is even worse not to believe in it."

That Proust was ill, although sometimes they did not know why, was never in doubt.

There was no flirtatiousness in his bedding, which he detested.

The greatest proof that he longed for health and did not yield to the sweetness of the convalescent is found in the thousands of pages of

In Search of Lost Time

, a mental feat that would exhaust the healthiest and most vigorous of novelists.

Someone resigned to death does not work so much.

Perhaps that is why he occupies a place of honor in that parnassus of horizontal writers, locked in unventilated rooms, to the despair of their families and the fascination of their readers.

Much has been written about bedridden writers, who form an aristocracy within a profession full of sick bodies and depressive temperaments.

Only in Spain, authors such as Álvaro Pombo, Soledad Puértolas, Rosa Montero, Julio Llamazares, Luis Landero or José Manuel Caballero Bonald have dedicated many eloquent pages to this enigma embodied, among others, by Mark Twain or Juan Carlos Onetti, passing through Valle -Inclán, Truman Capote or, in a milder but more reflective way, Virginia Woolf, whose theory of her own room owes both feminism and her own sick and convalescent condition.

Juan Ramón Jiménez wrote at the end of his life one of his most beautiful aphorisms, collected by Andrés Trapiello: “Everything is reached.

I have learned to be dirty.

And it seems fine to me."

At that time, the poet lived bedridden,

The writer Ramón María del Valle Inclán, with his son Carlos in the twenties.EFE

In his exile from Puerto Rico, Juan Ramón became a tumbado, a figure that obsessed the writer Luis Landero, who attributed it to the folklore of his native Extremadura and Andalusia: “I think that my first conscious or clear memory of the disease has to see with a man prostrated in a bed, not just any man, but one of those almost legendary figures that existed in the south years ago and who were called the lying down.

I once knew a lying person up close;

that is, not to a lazy person, a neurotic or a simple imaginary sick person, but to an authentic and unrepeatable example of lying down: a man who from one morning to the next chooses to suspend his work activity and splendidly abandons himself to inaction” , he wrote in his essay

Downed Up and Risen


Lying down is not a southern Spanish phenomenon, but it is contemporary.

Except for Voltaire, there are hardly any examples prior to the 19th century.

It is said that the first bedridden was a French bibliophile, Mr. Boulard, who one morning got tired of classifying and organizing his huge library, went to bed and never came out.

The case is told in a medical book from 1841. As science then shrugged its shoulders at this behavior (the subjects were healthy, perhaps sad or listless, but nothing physical prevented them from getting out of bed and resuming their lives), speculation literature romanticized the tumbados and interpreted their retirement as a form of rebellion.

If Bartleby, Herman Melville's clerk, represented skepticism with his "I'd rather not do it", and the heteronyms of Fernando Pessoa leaning out from the balconies,

But with the lying down something similar happens to electoral abstention: interpreting its meaning —political or not— is a vain speculation, since neither the lying down explains why they lie down nor the abstainer, except on rare occasions, why they abstain.

It is impossible to analyze an opinion that has not been expressed.

To say that those who lie down and those who abstain reject the outside world or the electoral system is saying nothing.

Some are confined and others are inhibited.

They don't want to play the game, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're against it or that they'd rather play something else.

As tempting as it may sound to turn the bedridden person into a hero or a saint, it is best not to separate the phenomenon from the disease.

In this sense, we must thank Vicente Valero for that wonderful little book entitled

Old Enfermos

(Periférico, 2020), where he evokes the childhood fascination and tremor that some of these characters caused him when, in the Ibiza before tourism, he met them hand in hand of his mother while she fulfilled the secular custom of visiting the sick.

More recently, the French scholar Daniel Ménager has explored the imagery of prostration in his essay

Convalescence: Literature at Rest.

(Siruela, 2022), where he shows that the fact of lying down to recover health (when it recovers) has been narrated as a transformational trance for many characters, who receive the illumination of the

vita nova

(such as Pierre Bezujov in

Guerra y peace

) or they resign themselves to their own fragility and accept the mortal condition (like the Hans Castorp of

The Magic Mountain


Both books —Valero's and Ménager's— have returned the matter to its health dimension, without giving up its literary expression.

Mark Twain, photographed in his home.

Scientific advances in psychiatry have finished demolishing the romantic myth of the lying down and all its associated phenomena, such as the famous Japanese hikkikomoris, those postmodern hermits who shut themselves up forever in their bedrooms.

Nothing may hurt and clinical tests may not detect anything abnormal, but a bedridden person is a patient whose condition can be illuminated in the light of depressive and anxiety disorders.

Science has even coined a specific term for those lying down: clinophilia, a neologism with Greek roots, from


(bed) and

phyllos .


The patient perceives the world as a hostile place that he cannot face, and only in bed does he find comfort and calm.

Actually, clinophilia is related to a multitude of conditions, such as fibromyalgia.

The patient does not reason or justify his bedridden.

Simply, he is unable to leave the room and lead an active life, and this can happen after a bodily illness, the trauma of which has not been assimilated.

Although the convalescent is already recovered from his physical illness, clinophilia keeps him tied to the sheets.

Many get out of bed with a simple psychological therapy, similar to that applied to treat anxiety.

The most serious need a boost of anxiolytics or antipsychotics, but today science feels capable of getting some lying down on their feet.

I belong to a family of bedridden patients who marked my childhood and adolescence and who were then called clinophiles.

One morning, Uncle Manolo, my grandfather's brother, a single man and a joker, a guy with a hitherto prodigious vitality, got into bed after shaving and didn't get out of it for years.

He lived with one of his sisters, who took care of him in everything.

In bed he ate, read, washed, and received visitors, who after a few weeks stopped insisting that he get up.

I was a child, and my parents forced me to enter the room and kiss him, like in a scene from a Vicente Valero book.

Intimidating was that man, otherwise very nice, who never forgot to tip his great-nephew and who always had an affectionate gesture for everyone.

In his room there was an irreconcilable mixture of candor and hysteria that I have often associated with madness.

One day, taking advantage of the fact that his sister had gone down to the grocery store, Uncle Manolo got up, got dressed, left the house and no one saw him again until many years later.

The other bedridden member of my family was his brother, my grandfather.

Active like the other, a passionate hiker from Gredos, Guadarrama and Somosierra, one day he got tired of living.

It was true that he was not in good health.

The ailments reminded her of death, but his weakness was far from crippling.

He still had a few walks left and he could have watered his garden a little more, but he didn't feel like it, and one day, without explanation, he went to bed forever.

I was no longer a child and I thought I understood something of what was happening, but maybe that's why it impressed me more.

Grandpa had lost all his passions.

He didn't even watch the Atleti games, of which he was a member since it was called "Aviation".

He never picked up a book either.

"Don't you want to read anything anymore?" I asked him once, and he didn't even articulate an answer, he just looked at me,

I collected Uncle Manolo's story in some story, and my grandfather's story, in a novel called

What nobody cares about.

Until today, those are my two contributions to the collection of the lying down, a tribe that transcends literature, intrigues psychiatrists and disturbs those who contemplate it, as it disturbs Proust's brass bed, so small, so blue and so fragile, that it seems unlikely that it contains all the literature in the world.

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Source: elparis

All life articles on 2022-08-14

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