Last year, while trawling the web, I came across mention of Rachel Power’s The Divided Heart: Art and Motherhood. The book’s scope was clearly related to my own work, so I immediately ordered a copy even though I had to order it directly from Red Dog, the Australian publisher. The book arrived in good stead — fat and enticing — but it took me nearly a year before making the time to read it while on vacation this August. I only wish I hadn’t waited so long.
Rachel Power explores the painful dichotomy that is inherent in being both a mother and an artist: “A divided heart; a split self; the sense that to succeed at one means to fail at the other.” Through profiles of professional creative women — many of whom are familiar names to an American audience — Rachel explores how the divided heart manifests for each artist. While every situation is different, there are undeniable — and affirming — commonalities. Rachel’s book is not prescriptive; rather it is an intimate exploration of what it means to be an artist and a mother.
The profiles are fascinating, but the most compelling parts of the book are the author’s introduction, first chapter, and conclusion — which are all personal and expository. Rachel Power is a beautiful writer, and her prose is brilliant and honest. Ultimately, I wished the book had included more of her own thoughts and analysis.
Here is an excerpt that will sell the book to this particular audience more than any reviewer’s pontification:
“I looked at the other mothers in the part in the hope of recognising something. But we were smiling, smiling, all noble silence. Inside, are you crushed? I wanted to ask them. Are you gazing at the planes that fly overhead with a barely disguised yearning? Are your legs restless to run? And then, do you see your child grinning proudly at you from the top of the slide and does your heart lurch? Does love storm through your body and cuase you to run toward that darling face as if you’ve never wanted anything more in your life?” (p. 15)
This, dear reader, is the divided heart. I know that you know it well. Fortunately, the book rings with optimism without glossing over the author’s premise: being an artist and a mother is inherently painful, but you CAN turn the experience into something beautiful and successful, if you try hard enough — and surrender to the rocky landscape. Rachel quotes Susan Rubein Suleiman: “…Any mother of young children…who wants to do serious creative work — with all that such work implies of the will to self-assertion, self-absorption, solitary grappling — must be prepared for the worst kind of struggle, which is the struggle against herself.”
The Aussie writer and blogger MamaMia (Mia Freedman) described The Divided Heart as “A book that changed my life” and posted a terrific interview with Rachel. In-depth blogger reviews abound; my favorites include Loobylu, PickleMeThis, and You can now order the book in hardcover through third parties at amazon, or a paperback via the publisher.
Rachel Power has her own blog, The Rachel Papers, which continues the conversation.
Without question, The Divided Heart is an important resource in our discussion and contemplation of motherhood and art.