Skip to main content

The Education of Mrs. Bemis

About the Book

The Education of Mrs. Bemis

The patient is a 76-year old widowed white woman with a history of depression...referred by Gerald Faulkes, M.D., of the Boston City Hospital (BCH) emergency room where she was taken after being found completely disoriented in a Boston department store...Patient agreed to be brought to Montrose for diagnosis and treatment. "I have failed everyone and now I'm failing myself."

Who is Mrs. Bemis? What happened to her? Can she be cured? And what does she have to do with a drowned man who is found after his body bumps against a skinny-dipping college student? These questions haunt fledgling psychiatrist Dr. Alice Matthews, who is about to break all the rules to try to cure the nearly catatonic Boston matron in John Sedgwick's riveting portrayal of two women-and their "education."

Dr. Alice Matthews is the newest and youngest staff member at the once prestigious Montrose Psychiatric Hospital. A mistake in judgment regarding a suicidal patient has shaken her confidence, so the case of Mrs. Madeline Bemis is more than a challenge. It might make or break her career. Determined to get through to the uncommunicative old lady, she begins to investigate Mrs. Bemis outside of the therapeutic setting. With the help of a local police detective, she follows a twisted trail that leads back in time to the World War II era, a woman's tragic choices, and perhaps to a contemporary case of murder.

As for Mrs. Bemis herself, once a beautiful Boston debutante, she has kept her secrets for over fifty years. Now, her memories reveal a chilling set of circumstances that have prompted more than one breakdown. Can an untested doctor really cure a lifetime of mental illness? Or will Dr. Matthew's approach lead to Mrs. Bemis's irrevocable retreat into the darkness of her own mind?

A combination of riveting psychological thriller and fine literary fiction with a Jamesean sensibility, John Sedgwick's unforgettable novel bridges half a century and two women's lives. In it, the fates of Madeline Bemis and Alice Matthews are interwoven as they enter into a relationship as patient and doctor...and ultimately as two friends. The drowned man at the center of the mystery is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of a lifetime of psychological distress by a woman out of touch with her feelings. And what ultimately happens to Mrs. Bemis in Sedgwick's powerful, uplifting work becomes a shining testament to compassion and the ability of the heart to heal.

The Education of Mrs. Bemis
by John Sedgwick

  • Publication Date: April 29, 2003
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial
  • ISBN-10: 0060512598
  • ISBN-13: 9780060512590