The Savage God: A Study of Suicide

The Savage God: A Study of Suicide

“To write a beautiful book about suicide . . . to transform the subject into something beautiful—this is the forbidding task that A. Alvarez set for himself. . . . He has succeeded.”—New York Times

“Suicide,” writes the notes English poet and critic A. Alvarez, “has permeated Western culture like a dye that cannot be washed out.” Although the aims of this compelling, compassionate work are broadly cultural and literary, the narrative is rooted in personal experience: it begins with a long memoir of Sylvia Plath, and ends with an account of the author’s own suicide attempt. Within this dramatic framework, Alvarez launches his enquiry into the final taboo of human behavior, and traces changing attitudes towards suicide from the perspective of literature. He follows the black thread leading from Dante through Donne and the romantic agony, to the Savage God at the heart of modern literature.

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3 Comments so far »

  1. E. A. Lovitt "starmoth" said,

    Wrote on December 22, 2011 @ 4:55 am

    62 of 64 people found the following review helpful:
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    One of my most treasured books, October 10, 2000
    By 
    E. A. Lovitt “starmoth” (Gladwin, MI USA) –
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    This review is from: The Savage God: A Study of Suicide (Paperback)

    I used to read “The Savage God” whenever I was ‘in the midst of a dark wood’, which for me at least, seemed to occur once every three years. For some reason, the stories of other people’s despair and suicide, including Alvarez’s own attempted suicide always steadied me. His book is a very literate account of why suicide is such a waste of life and talent. I wouldn’t call it a cheerful book, but for me at least, reading it is a very cathartic experience. Alvarez doesn’t preach, he merely reports, but he has nevertheless written a very moving book. Read it especially if you are depressed. There is nothing like it on the bookshelves, except perhaps Styron’s “Darkness Visible”.

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  2. Tim Seraphiel said,

    Wrote on December 22, 2011 @ 4:56 am

    31 of 31 people found the following review helpful:
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    An intelligent, well informed study of suicide., November 11, 1998
    By 
    Tim Seraphiel (Australia) –

    This review is from: The Savage God: A Study of Suicide (Paperback)

    As someone who suffers from Major Depression and has been suicidal from time to time I’ve tried to read up on the subject of suicide. This book by A. Alvarez has to be the best study I’ve read to date. It might be because he himself attempted suicide at one point of his life and therefore has first-hand experience of the subject matter. It might also be because he writes with intelligence and has total control of the english language. This book is very easy to read, unlike a lot of similar studies, and contains invaluable background information on the history of suicide and the Christian church’s stance on the subject.

    For anyone interested in the subject of suicide, this book is a must.

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  3. E. Bukowsky "booklover10" said,

    Wrote on December 22, 2011 @ 5:27 am

    28 of 28 people found the following review helpful:
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    An excellent study of the many aspects of suicide., February 8, 2003
    By 
    E. Bukowsky “booklover10” (NY United States) –
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    This review is from: The Savage God: A Study of Suicide (Paperback)

    Alvarez’s classic book, “The Savage God,” examines the religious, sociological, philosophical and literary aspects of suicide through the ages. In pagan Rome, suicide was habitual and considered an honorable way to die. In the Middle Ages, suicide was regarded with revulsion as a mortal sin. Dante, in his “Inferno,” consigned suicides to the seventh circle of hell, below the burning heretics and murderers. Later on, the Romantics associated premature death with genius and they admired people who ended their lives while they were still at their artistic peak. Throughout history, mankind has viewed suicide as everything from an unforgivable crime of self-murder to the sad act of a person for whom living has become intolerable.

    In a more personal vein, Alvarez discusses the fascinating poet Sylvia Plath, with whom he was acquainted, as well as his own depression and attempted suicide. The section on Plath is superb. Alvarez was fond of Plath and he admired her work greatly. He reveals in a clear-eyed manner how the forces tearing her apart were stronger than those holding her together.

    “The Savage God” is an absorbing look at a subject often spoken of in whispers. Alvarez points out that people who lose parents at an early age are more likely to take their own lives. He also examines in depth the strong and mysterious link between creative genius and the impulse toward suicide. “The Savage God” is a work that sheds welcome light on the human condition in all of its complexity, yet Alvarez never presumes to provide easy answers to questions that are ultimately unanswerable.

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