Social Note:
What to Do?
1 March 2019

¶ Re-reading Sybille Bedford’s Jigsaw, I see that a great deal of the pathos toward the end of the book springs from the sheer novelty that confronts the narrator and her stepfather. They don’t know how to handle the morphine addiction that overtakes the mother because they’ve never had to think about such things, because they have never known such a disaster to overtake anyone in their acquaintance. And they cannot see that the mother’s self-regard will make true recovery impossible.  

I can enter into the caregivers’ ignorance, because I shared it throughout childhood. I did not even imagine that there were ingestible substances capable of eviscerating an upstanding individual’s moral character. And I understand why the first impulse of anyone surprised by the catastrophe of drug dependency is to hide it, to tell no one, to seek as little help as possible — a tactic made all the easier by a world that doesn’t want to know. Jigsaw ends in about 1930. Even in 1960, conventional wisdom held that such things don’t happen to respectable people. 

But all that has changed. Nowadays, everyone knows something about addiction, if only from television. I hope that this hasn’t spoiled the drama of Jigsaw for new generations of readers. 

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