Gestures of Healing shows how the dominant novelists of American and British modernism--James, Conrad, Ford, Forster, Joyce, Woolf, Lawrence, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Faulkner--express a common condition of pain: anxiety produced by the experience of chaos in the self. John J. Clayton seeks the source of this condition not in vague reference to "modern society" nor in philosophical trends, but rather in the families of these writers. Clayton argues that although their situations were very different, these writers had in common certain patterns (particularly a weak or absent father and a central, strongwilled mother) that, in the absence of coherent grounding in the community, shaped a fragmented, incomplete self.
After tracing the often tragic effects of modernist anxiety on the writers' lives, Clayton explores how the fiction created by each author gestures toward healing. He shows how the writers "use" the reader, much as a patient "uses" an analyst, and how the culture that enthroned modernism looked to it for the same healing. The book, while psychoanalytically informed, is readable, personal in tone, and free of jargon.
Gestures of Healing concludes with extended studies of James, Lawrence, and Woolf.