Columbia Library columns (v.33(1983Nov-1984May))

(New York :  Friends of the Columbia Libraries.  )



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  v.33,no.1(1983:Nov): Page 3  

The Critic and the Actress:

The Troubled Lives of
Arthur and Rhoda Symons


IN the late summer of 190S, Arthur Symons, \\'hom his friend
W. B. Yeats called "the best critic of his generation," suf¬
fered a sudden mental breakdown while in Italy with his
wife, Rhoda. Describing his aimless wanderings in the country¬
side, his confinement (at one time in a prison, handcufi^ed), and
his final return to F.ngland, Symons wrote in his Confessions: A
Study in Pathology (1930) that he was "utterly and absolutely
unprepared for so unimaginable a crisis as that which befell
me. . . ." His career disrupted, his mind seeminglv destroyed, and
his future doubtful, Symons spent two years in and out of mental
institutions, alternating between periods of luciditv and episodes
of paranoia and pathological grandiositv.

The devotion of his wife during this period and in the years
that followed until her death in 1936 has been largely ignored in
accounts of Symons, but in more than two thousand letters ex¬
changed between Arthur and Rhoda, now in the Rare Book and
Manuscript Library (the gift of Kenneth A. Lohf), the story may
be told in detail: of extraordinary devotion in the face of great
stress and of Rhoda's attempts to establish herself as an actress, as
well as a progressive emotional instability in her life, the result of
her husband's hopeless condition and the sense of her own failure
in life.

Opposite: Arthur S\nu)ns in his study at Iskind Cottage, ca.  1920; his

■wife Rhoda in a theatrical pose, ca. 1915; and Island Cottage, Wittershani,

Kent, the late seventeenth century timbered house where Arthur lived

from 1906 until hi.s dcatii in 1945.

  v.33,no.1(1983:Nov): Page 3