In Praise of Solitude

A remark by my son caused me to revisit Anthony Storr’s Solitude: A Return to the Self. Storr, in the book’s final paragraphs, summarizes his themes and conclusions:

This book began with the observation that many highly creative people were predominantly solitary, but that it was nonsense to suppose that, because of this, they were necessarily unhapppy or neurotic. Although man is a social being, who certainly needs interaction with others, there is considerable variation in the depth of the relationships which individuals form with each other. All human beings need interests as well as relationships; all are geared toward the impersonal as well as toward the personal….

The capacity to be alone was adumbrated as a valuable resource, which facilitated learning, thinking, innovation, coming to terms with change, and the maintenance of contact with the inner world of the imagination. We saw that, even in those whose capacity for making intimate relationships has been damaged, the development of creative imagination could exercise a healing function…. Man’s adaptation to the world is largely governed by the development of the imagination and hence of an inner world of the psyche which is necessarily at variance with the external world…. Throughout the book, it was noted that some of the most profound and healing psychological experiences which individuals encounter take place internally, and are only distantly related, if at all, to interaction with other human beings….

The epigraph of this chapter is taken from The Prelude. It is fitting that Wordsworth should also provide its end.

When from our better selves we have too long
Been parted by the hurrying world, and droop,
Sick of its business, of its pleasures tired,
How gracious, how benign, is Solitude.

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