The Compulsion to Create: Women Writers and Their Demon Lovers

by Susan Kavaler-Adler
Foreword by McDougal, Joyce
ISBN: 9780984870004 (soft)

The Compulsion to Create: Women Writers and Their Demon Lovers is a fascinating and informative psychological survey of women and the literature they create, especially as reflected by the lives and work of such luminaries as Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte, Emily Dickinson, Anais Nin, Sylvia Plath, and Edith Sitwell. The reader is treated to such issues as compulsion versus reparation, developmental mourning and creative-process reparation, creative women and the “internal father,” and the “demon-lover” theme as literary myth and psychodynamic complex. A highly recommended addition to women’s studies, literary studies, and psychological studies supplemental reading lists, The Compulsion to Create is original, revealing, insightful, challenging, at times iconoclastic, and always entertaining.


The Compulsion to Create is a superb account of distinguished female writers [Plath, Nin, the Brontæs, Dickinson, and Sitwell] from a psychoanalytic object relations perspective. The artists discussed often suffered tragic fates including suicide, fatal illness, lifelong withdrawal from people, or alienation from the world. At this current time in the American psychoanalytic dialogue, there is a tendency to idealize the creative process and to discuss it only in terms of ‘healthy narcissism.’ While presenting a sympathetic and respectful attitude toward the creative process, Kavaler-Adler nevertheless does not idealize it and is forthright in discussing the problems the artist may encounter.

— Jeffrey Seinfeld, Ph.D

This book can be highly recommended as an introduction to the clinical applications of current object relations theory from the perspective of both its dynamic and developmental viewpoints, as well as its application to the analysis of fine, enduring literature of female authors, and the unconscious mechanisms that underlie it. It is a rich and often moving account of how the capacity for attempts at self-repair find their expression in artistic endeavors that provide the artist with a personal medium for creative psychic survival, while contributing to the general enrichment of culture by means of such aesthetic experiences.

— Mark Wayne, C.S.W., B.C.D., American Journal of Psychoanalysis