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Number 9: Winter 2013

The Long Vacation: A Memoir by Rosemary Dinnage

Nic Bayley

The chapters dealing with Winnicott show him in a favourable light (many of the therapists in her book One to One: Experiences of Psychotherapy1 fare considerably less well).  Who amongst the analysts who read her book will not react with empathy to her excited discovery, after Winnicott’s death, of her own session with him reproduced in Playing and Reality?2 Desperate after failed relationships, including a a failed therapy relationship, and having read Winnicott, she travelled to Scotland to hear him speak. She offered herself for therapy with him but at first he resisted, claiming he was old and ill.  When she started to see him he asked her why she’d left it so late – too late, as he was dying.  They both knew he had not long to live and she joined the small group of people who have experienced the ultimate ‘satisfactory‘ ending, going with eyes wide open to the death of one’s analyst. (Unlike Jane Haynes, who discusses her experiences elsewhere in this volume.)

The courage, wit and acute observation with which Dinnage writes about her bleak and repeatedly bereft childhood emerge in a revealing tone, not defensive, but truly ‘true speech’.  Her ‘privileged’ childhood at Rhodes House in Oxford was a life of coldness and disdain in the ‘environment’ – not only her mother’s relationship with her, but the whole apparatus of middle-class professional family arrangements at the time. She writes of lavish meals sent up to the nursery in a lift but with no adults present; of the parents’ vacations away from the children, who on one occasion were left in such unsatisfactory circumstances that they were temporarily taken into care.

One of the differences between reading an analyst’s account of his struggles with himself and his relationships, like Bion’s, and reading a comparable life written by an analysand, is that although Dinnage shows an awareness of the ‘basic fault’ running into her childhood and deeper into her psychic structure, she does not attempt – in this book at least – to analyse, overcome, ‘learn from experience’.  This is a great relief.  The reader can share the horrors and disasters and also the delights and triumphs without (to quote Bion’s favourite phrase from one of Dinnage’s favourite poets) ‘any irritable reaching after fact or reason’.

Dinnage apologises towards the end of her book for being too old and frail to complete it properly.  She is mistaken in her modesty, for the vignettes with which the memoir ends, coming after the brave and clear-eyed account of a life lived richly if painfully, are beautiful in their poetic evanescence.

In this informal and delightful book the author muses on the enduring horrors and incidental pleasures of a long life. Coming from the privileged childhood of academia she is nonetheless intensely aware of the political map, not least because her evacuation to Canada in the war had permanently broken her sense of home.  And her parents were very conservative.  She quotes Orwell writing a book review of her own father’s book, Democracy and the Individual.  ‘Marxism may be a mistaken theory but it is a useful instrument for testing other systems of thought, rather like one of those long-handled hammers with which they tap the wheels of locomotives.’  Dinnage comments: ‘Orwell’s point seemed to me perfectly clear and perfectly valid.  It still does.’


  1. All Rosemary Dinnage’s books are in print and readily available.  One to One: Experiences of Psychotherapy Dinnage, R. (1988) is published by Viking. 

  2. The relevant section of Playing and Reality by D.W.Winnicott  is to be found in the final pages of Chapter 1, ‘Transitional Objects and Transitional Phenomena’, where Winnicott gives a five page account of one session with Dinnage.