Webster, Brenda 1936-

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WEBSTER, Brenda 1936-

PERSONAL: Born 1936; daughter of Wolfgang (an entertainment lawyer) and Ethel (an artist) Schwabacher; married Richard Webster (a history professor; marriage ended, 1979); married Ira Lapidus (a professor), 1983; children (first marriage): Lisa, Michael, Rebecca. Education: Attended Swarthmore College, Barnard College, and Columbia University; trained at Psychoanalytic Institute.

ADDRESSES: Home—2671 Shasta Rd., Berkeley, CA 94708. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: Psychoanalytic critic and writer, 1973—.

MEMBER: PEN American Center West (president, 1999).


Yeats: A Psychoanalytic Study, Stanford University Press (Stanford, CA), 1973.

Freud under Analysis, edited by Todd Dufresne, Jacob Aronson (New York, NY), 1977.

Blake's Prophetic Psychology, University of Georgia

Press (Athens, GA), 1983.

Sins of the Mothers (novel), Baskerville (Dallas, TX), 1993.

(Editor, with Judith Emlyn Johnson) Hungry for Light:The Journal of Ethel Schwabacher, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IL), 1993.

Tattoo Bird (short stories), FictionNet, 1996.

Paradise Farm (novel), State University of New York Press (Albany, NY), 1998.

The Last Good Freudian (memoir), Holmes & Meier (New York, NY), 2000.

Contributor to anthologies and collections, including Critical Paths: Blake and the Argument of Method, edited by Dan Miller, Mark Bracher, and Donald Ault, Duke Unversity Press, 1987; Literary Theories in Praxis, edited by Shirley Staton, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1987; Mythopoesis: Literatura, Totalidad, Ideologia, edited by Joan Ramon Resina, Anthopos, 1992; William Blake (New Casebooks), edited by David Punter, Macmillan, 1996; Sideshow (short stories), edited by Shelley Anderson, Marjorie Jacobs, and Kathe Stoltz, Somersault Press, 1995. Translations from the Italian included in The Penguin Book of Women Poets, The Other Voice, Norton, and Women Poets of the World, Macmillan.

Also contributor of short stories, essays, and reviews to magazines, journals, and papers, including American Imago, Caprice, Chariton Review, Confrontation, Crazy Quilt, Fiction International, Hurricane Alice, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Review of Books, Signs, Southern Lights, Thirteenth Moon, William and Mary Review, Women's Art Journal, Women's Review of Books, and Women's Studies.

WORK IN PROGRESS: A novel about a drag queen dealing with gender identity issues.

SIDELIGHTS: Critic and novelist Brenda Webster draws on psychoanalytic theory and personal experience for inspiration. She once told Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series (CAAS) that her mother, painter Ethel Schwabacher, "brought into [her] marriage a serious history of mental instability in her family." "My childhood impulse to investigate the intimate details of peoples lives," she continued, "was undoubted fueled more by my sense that there were fascinatingly important things I wasn't supposed to know than by my budding vocation as a novelist and psychoanalytic critic." Her critical books on poets such as William Butler Yeats and William Blake broke new ground in critical analysis. "It was satisfyingly soothing to analyze texts," Webster stated. "Yeats's haunting images distracted me from my ongoing fights with Mother. It was much easier to track images through texts than it was to find meaning in my puzzling life.... Because of my upbringing—none of the women in my family had ever worked for a living—I didn't think of graduate school as a path to a future profession; I simply wanted an excuse to keep on probing writers' secrets."

Webster's first novel, Sins of the Mothers, examines an ongoing mother-daughter conflict that appears to mirror her relationship with her own mother. While a Publishers Weekly reviewer found the novel to be a "listless fiction debut," Women's Studies reviewer Madelon Sprengnether noted that "it is rare that one finds both sides of the mother-daughter relationship rendered with such psychological acuity and generosity of imagination." Sprengnether further stated that "Webster's realistic and moving portrayal of this relationship is the central achievement of her novel."

Webster analyzes additional details of her family life in her second novel, Paradise Farm. The Kamener family, declared Frank Caso in a Booklist review, "are a classically dysfunctional family....The novel is set in the late twenties and stylistically as well as thematically pays loving tribute to modernism." "Webster crafts a coming-of-age tale," explained a Publishers Weekly critic, "exploring the psychological underpinnings of a family's dramatic life changes in a historically portentous moment." "The setting has possibilities, and Webster creates memorable characters," said Library Journal contributor Jo Manning, "but this slender novel mostly skims the surface of the milieus her characters inhabit." "Webster deftly conveys a period of social history," the Publishers Weekly reviewer concluded, "when women began voicing their sexual needs, unconventional values were infiltrating social norms and new art movements and Freudian psychoanalysis was becoming chic among the intelligentsia."

During a radio interview, Webster stated that she originally intended to write yet another semi-autobiographical novel after Paradise Farm, but at a friend's suggestion turned instead to straight autobiography in her memoir The Last Good Freudian. This work details Webster's childhood among the privileged children of a group of early Freudians, and was described by a Publishers Weekly reviewer as an "absorbing tale of discovery and pain." Booklist reviewer Bonnie Johnston similarly asserted that The Last Good Freudian "is a heart-wrenching and ultimately inspiring remembrance of an era in which Freud's theories reigned supreme—one that reveals the darker side of psychoanalysis."



Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Volume 30, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999.

Webster, Brenda, The Last Good Freudian, Holmes & Meier (New York, NY), 2000.


Booklist, February 1, 1999, Frank Caso, review of Paradise Farm, p. 963; April 15, 2000, Bonnie Johnston, review of The Last Good Freudian, p. 1502.

Library Journal, January, 1999, Jo Manning, review of Paradise Farm, p. 161.

Publishers Weekly, August 2, 1993, review of Sins of the Mothers, p. 62; January 4, 1999, review of Paradise Farm, p. 72; March 6, 2000, review of The Last Good Freudian, p. 91.

Women's Studies, September, 1994, Madelon Sprengnether, review of Sins of the Mothers, p. 389.


The Alsop Review,http://www.alsopreview.com/ (April 19, 2000), Jack Foley, transcript of radio interview with Brenda Webster.*

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