A cord breaking

Tennessee Williams’ notebook, 24 March 1943
Houghton Library, Harvard University

American playwright Tennessee Williams shared a deep bond with his beloved sister, Rose, whose life began in 1919, two years before his. In 1937, her increasingly erratic behaviour was seemingly explained by a diagnosis of dementia praecox—now known as schizophrenia—and six years later, following various ineffective treatments, and without Tennessee’s knowledge, Rose underwent a bilateral prefrontal lobotomy that left her incapacitated for the rest of her life. This entry, written two months after the operation, contains the only mention of the procedure in Tennessee’s diaries. Rose’s life became a major influence on his work, with many of his vulnerable and fragile characters reflecting aspects of her tragic story. Forever tormented by her suffering, he stayed close to his sister until his death in 1983, whereupon proceeds from his estate were used to pay for her care.

The Diary Entry

Late Tuesday Night –

Conference with McClintic went off nicely.

He was cordial and kindly – and appeared to be rather substantially interested in the play.

Asked to hold script for further perusal.

After a blank beginning, I warmed up and became fairly eloquent. Probably seemed an odd but interesting character to the great McClintic.

Curiously enough, his favorite was the tea scene. That was a pleasant surprise.

Palpitation just now –

Too much smoke, coffee.

I wrote alone at Donnie’s office till two A.M. – from 7 – a 7 hour stretch – longest at one stretch in a long time. On a short play. 27 Wagons. Not worth much – amusing but a little nasty perhaps. 

Grand. God be with you.

A cord breaking.

1000 miles away.

Rose. Her head cut open.

A knife thrust in her brain. 

Me. Here. Smoking.

My father, mean as a devil, snoring. 1000 miles away.

Further Reading

Tennessee Williams’ notebooks are held in various archives; this particular entry belongs in a diary now living in the Tennessee Williams Papers, 1932-1983 (MS Thr 397), Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard University. In 2006, they were published by Yale University Press in a volume titled Notebooks, impressively compiled and edited by Margaret Bradham Thornton.

Interesting reading: Not Like All the Other Horses: Neurodiversity and the Case of Rose Williams by Clay Morton.

Tennessee Williams’ diary entry is reprinted here by kind permission of The University of the South, to whom he left his estate.

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