Saturday, May 5, 2012

Why Virginia Woolf needed a little hush

Virginia Woolf by Roger Fry
c. 1917
Today's Age and Sydney Morning Herald have my review of Susan Cain's timely and well-written Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. A sample:
"That silence is more profound after noise,'' wrote Virginia Woolf in Orlando, ''still wants the confirmation of science.'' In the decades since Orlando was published, scientists have cautiously confirmed this - but not for everyone.
As Susan Cain reveals in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, at least one in three of the American population hankers for silence and solitude, particularly after a party, conference room presentation or crowded train journey.  
It is not because they are simply shy, rude or weak but because they have an introverted personality type, which is more comfortable with lower levels of stimulation. Introverts prefer solitude or one-on-one conversations to mass gabfests and are often slower, quieter and more deliberate. 
Obviously no one is purely an introvert or extrovert - anyone so extreme would be ''in a lunatic asylum'', wrote psychotherapist Carl Jung, who coined the terms in 1921. But some are certainly near the introvert pole - Woolf being a classic example. 
However, Cain argues, introverts are not absolutely hardwired. For example, Woolf enjoyed company and lectured to huge halls of strangers. At literary parties she was often able to beguile friends with ''some fantastic, entrancing, amusing, dreamlike … description'', as her husband put it. In this way, the author was able to depart from her psychological type to pursue what Cain calls her ''core personal project'': literature. But this false extroversion often had a price: exhaustion, depression, illness. 
Somewhere between self-help and manifesto, Quiet reveals that stories such as Woolf's are replayed across the modern West, particularly the US.
Read more of the review here.

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