Girl, Interrupted author Susanna Kaysen took her memoir’s title from the painting “Girl, Interrupted At Her Music” by the Dutch Golden Age painter Jan Vermeer.
Kaysen explained, “The ‘interruption’ was of the predictable life that all of us think we're going to live. You know, ‘First I'll do this, and then I'll graduate from high school, and then I'll go to college, or then I'll get a job, and then maybe I'll get married and have some children.’ And my life just blew up. It took a very different turn. You certainly don't say when you're nine years old, ‘Gee, I think I'd like to be in a mental hospital when I'm 18.' That's not anybody's ambition. And it's a real interruption. Especially when you're in for quite a long time, which I was.”
Not long before she committed herself to McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, Susanna Kaysen visited the Frick Museum in New York with her high school English teacher, who “hadn’t yet kissed” her.
“I was thinking of that future kiss, which I knew was coming,” Kaysen wrote, “and I left the Fragonards behind and walked into the hall leading to the courtyard – that dim corridor where the Vermeers gleam against the wall. It’s the painting from whose frame a girl looks out, ignoring her beefy music teacher, whose proprietary hand rests on her chair… I looked into her brown eyes and I recoiled. She was warning me of something – she looked up to warn me. Her mouth was slightly open, as if she had just drawn a breath in order to say to me, ‘Don’t!’ I didn’t listen to her. I went out to dinner with my English teacher, and he kissed me, and I went back to Cambridge and failed biology… and eventually I went crazy.”
Sixteen years later, Susanna Kaysen visited the Frick again, and saw the painting differently. “The girl had changed a lot in 16 years,” wrote Kaysen. “She was no longer urgent. In fact, she was sad. She was young and distracted, and her teacher was bearing down on her, trying to get her to pay attention. But she was looking out, looking for someone who would see her. This time I read the title of the painting: ‘Girl, Interrupted at Her Music.’ Interrupted at her music – as my life had been, interrupted in the music of being 17, as her life had been, snatched and fixed on canvas – one moment made to stand still and to stand for all other moments, whatever they would be or might have been. What life can recover from that?”
Susanna Kaysen, Girl, Interrupted, Turtle Bay Books, 1993
“Author Discusses Memoirs of Life in a Mental Hospital,” NPR’s All Things Considered, 7/10/93
Girl, Interrupted Production Information, Columbia Pictures Press Release