Cover image for What her body thought : a journey into the shadows
What her body thought : a journey into the shadows
Griffin, Susan.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
San Francisco : HarperSanFrancisco, [1999]

Physical Description:
xvii, 328 pages ; 22 cm

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3557.R48913 W45 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In this boldly intimate and intelligent blend of personal memoir, social history, and cultural criticism, Susan Griffin profoundly illuminates our understanding of illness. She explores its physical, emotional, spiritual, and social aspects, revealing how it magnifies our yearning for connection and reconciliation.

Griffin begins with a gripping account of her own harrowing experiences with Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS), a potentially life-threatening illness that has been misconstrued and marginalized through the label "psychosomatic." Faced with terrifying bouts of fatigue, pain, and diminished thinking, the shame of illness, and the difficulty of being told you are "not really ill," she was driven to understand how early childhood loss made her susceptible to disease.

Alongside her own story, Griffin weaves in her fascinating interpretation of the story of Marie du Plessis, popularized as the fictional Camille, an eighteenth-century courtesan whose young life was taken by tuberculosis. In the old story, Griffin finds contemporary themes of "money, bills, creditors, class, social standing, who is acceptable and who not, who is to be protected and who abandoned." In our current economy, she sees "how to be sick can impoverish, how poverty increases the misery of sickness, and how the implicit violence of this process wounds the soul as well as the body."

Griffin insists that we must tell our stories to maintain our own integrity and authority, so that the sources of suffering become visible and validated. She writes passionately of a society where we are all cared for through "the rootedness of our connections. How the wound of being allowed to suffer points to a need to meet at the deepest level, to make an exchange at the nadir of life and death, the giving and taking which will weave a more spacious fabric of existence, communitas, community." Her views of the larger problems of illness and society are deeply illuminating.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

If a single thread runs through Griffin's deeply felt and creatively intellectual books, it is her recognition that truth always makes itself known. As Griffin struggled to understand the hidden origins and painful lessons of the disease she suffered from for an anguished decade, chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome (CFIDS), she recognized the "pattern of neglect" that shaped her childhood. She also found herself drawn to the story of another woman's illness, that of a celebrated eighteenth-century Parisian courtesan, who was portrayed first by Alexandre Dumas, then by Verdi in La Traviata, and christened Camille in a George Cukor film starring Greta Garbo, and who lost her looks, lovers, and fortune to tuberculosis. As Griffin compares her ordeal to that of Camille's, she examines the nexus of disease, shame, sexuality, and poverty then and now in a feminist variation on Susan Sontag's Illness as Metaphor. Ultimately, Griffin's passionate inquiry greatly extends our understanding of the body-mind connection and of how profoundly our complex responses to illness and healing are shaped by social mores. --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

"The life of the body is at the heart of my story," declares philosopher, ecologist and feminist theorist Griffin, as she describes her harrowing descent into serious illness. An astute cultural critic, Griffin probes two stories of illnessÄher own and the archetypal tale of women and illness Camille (in book, play, opera and film form)Äin an effort to explore the role of illness and healing in society. At the core of Griffin's ruminative narrative is her battle with Chronic Fatigue Immune Deficiency Syndrome (CFIDS). The disease has left her bedridden, unable to care for her own most basic needs and frightened that she will die alone. Raw with grief over her loss of health and fearful of penury as she becomes unable to work, Griffin has also felt tremendous shame at being betrayed by her bodyÄ"like a lover seduced and abandoned." She is angry at the way her illness has been minimized by the scientific and medical communities, even by her own friends. Griffin has an exquisite sense of place and a gripping yet lyrical style. However, her constant return to the themes of Camille wears thin by the book's end, and the short prose poems interspersed throughout are distractingÄalternately florid and flat. Despite these flaws, the book offers valuable insights into illness and society, elucidating Griffin's theory that "illness itself uncovers hidden reserves of strength." Author tour. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

As in Kat Duff's Alchemy of Illness (Bell Tower, 1994), feminist Griffin uses her personal battle with chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome (CFIDS) as a springboard for a critique of Western medical practices. More importantly, the Pulitzer Prize-nominated Griffin (The Eros of Everyday Life, LJ 11/1/95) vividly describes the compound effect of the illness's mysterious symptoms and the absence of adequate social support structures on her mental outlook. Griffin brilliantly summons sensual and emotional impressions from her childhood as she speculates that psychological factors may have contributed to her contracting CFIDS. She also puts her tale in historical context by poetically weaving in the story of Marie de Plessis, the 19th-century French courtesan whose tuberculosis inspired Alexandre Dumas's novel and play (and later the Greta Garbo film) Camille. Highly recommended for philosophy and women's studies collections.ÄKim Baxter, New Jersey Inst. of Technology, Newark (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.