LIBRARY - Reference(s)

Never Ask Why

The Life-Adventure of Kitty Wielopolska
AT Focus: 
Alexander Technique
210 x 148 mm.
ISBN 8789389050
Mouritz Bibliography
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Biblio ID: 
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Short Description: 
This interview covers most of the life of a teacher who joined F. M. Alexander’s first training course in 1931.
Mouritz description: 
Kitty (Catharine) Wielopolska (née Merrick, 1900-1988) was a friend of Lulie Westfeldt who joined Alexander’s first training course in 1931. This interview was conducted in the late 1970s. Chapter One (40 pages) tells Wielopolska’s early history and considers Westfeldt’s comments about Alexander and the first training course in her book, Alexander – The Man and His Work. (Wielopolska largely disagrees with Westfeldt.) Chapter Two (70 pages) relates Wielopolska’s battle with schizophrenia and her Christian outlook. When the schizophrenia attacks abated, she retrained as a teacher with Peter Macdonald 1969-72, and from 1977 until her death she ran her own training course. Chapters Three (8 pages), Four (10 pages) and Five (8 pages) consider, among other things, how to give the orders (e.g. the importance of verbalising them), a broader vision of the Technique, and orders for the eyes. Unstructured and inconclusive.


From the moment you look at the cover of this book, which depicts Kitty, sitting in a wicker chair, reading at her villa in Italy, you are drawn into her world - and what a fascinating world it is (particularly her inner world). As she was a very private person, we are indebted to Joe Armstrong who, during the late 1970s, in Boston and Tuscany, held conversations with her about her life, and the influence Alexander's work had on her. She experienced some dramatic highs and lows, and Joe is gradually able, through their friendship, to get her to express them.

If you are interested in the personal memories of a passionate, courageous, intelligent woman; or if you are interested in psychiatry and one individual's struggle with schizophrenia; or if you are involved in Alexander work as a pupil, student or teacher; or if you wish to fill in some gaps in the history of the Alexander work since the 1920s on both sides of the Atlantic, - this is a book for you. If, like me, you are intrigued by all these aspects, these conversations are a feast.

Kitty's husband, a Count of the Polish aristocracy, likened her to a grasshopper, as she often jumped backwards in telling a story, so there is no chronological neatness in this book. However, Kitty gradually emerges, and there are strange ironies and coincidences in her story. She was a nurse and midwife, who for a time became a mental patient in the very hospital, in New York, where she had worked; she was due to graduate as a teacher on FM's first training course, but the day before, she was notified that her father had died and she immediately suffered a breakdown (consequently no teaching certificate). Her doctor in English mental hospital in 1935, a Dr Rickman (who heIped Freud out of Vienna), had much earlier written an article in the very same issue of the Atlantic Journal [Atlantic Monthly] that had the article on FM's work entitled The Philosopher's Stone. Following a chance meeting with Rivka Cohen, who suggested she have refresher work with Patrick MacDonald, she did a three-year training with him from 1969-1972 (and gained her teaching certificate); some of her subsequent pupils were prominent Philadelphia psychiatrists.

This book is divided into five chapters, the second being the longest, which deals with her episodes of schizophrenia. They included head banging, physically fighting people and hearing voices, and her treatments, over the years, ranged from strait jacket restraint, insulin shock and electric shock therapy, being left alone, and homeopathy (and thereby hangs another tale!). She had no Alexander lessons during 'bouts', but was sustained by the thought that the Alexander work existed and it was truth. It helped her to hold on to reality, integrated her, helped her to handle terror and gave her something to live for. With great eloquence she says that her friends assumed she was 'a bird with a broken wing'. ÒI was in no position . . . I was not about to let them see that I could 'fly' or had 'flown', in spite of, or, indeed, because of my frequent breakdowns. If they couldn't see it, well, I didn't mind.Ó

One of these friends was Lulie Westfeldt. Kitty had been instrumental in introducing the Alexander work to her. Lulie had suffered polio when young, had had surgery on her ankle and was physically crippled. She became a trainee with Kitty on F.M.'s first training course and in 1964 wrote a book about her experiences. This was the first book on the Technique that I myself read, before I had any lessons, so I was intrigued by Kitty's references to Lulie and what she had said about FM. Sometimes, Lulie had been quite hard and unfair on FM, in Kitty's view. Kitty comes across as the wiser and more magnanimous of the two. One might say, in these two books, the full psychophysical range of the work is described, Kitty's being the more psycho, and Lulie's the more physical, understanding. Kitty's view of the Work (as she always preferred to call it) was that thinking of the meaning of the words of the directions puts us in danger of our interpretation dominating the body. Lengthening and widening the back was, for Kitty, the Òback's responsibilityÓ. Kitty, herself, became a trainer of Alexander teachers for the last ten years of her life.

She expresses great gratitude to FM for taking her on his training course in the first place, knowing she had had a breakdown. She regarded him as a genius in the realm of human behaviour. Her sentiments were these: ÒThere are not a great many ways now, if you haven't money, to find adventure in life. But here you have it right here in your own room, in your selves! A tremendous life adventure.Ó

This book is an odyssey and an adventure too. Please read it.

1. Westfeldt, L. (1998) F. Matthias Alexander. The Man and his Work, Mouritz.

2002 © Jean Clark. Reproduced with permission.

This edition © Mouritz 2008-2014. All rights reserved.

Kitty Wielopolska, geb. Merrick, war eine hochqualifizierte Krankenschwester in Boston. Sie wurde auf die Alexander-Technik aufmerksam duch die phänomenalen Veränderungen im Gesundheitszustand einer ihrer Patientinnen, nachdem diese in London Unterricht bei Alexander hatte. Sie war so fasziniert dass sie alles daran setzte, Alexander und seine Methode so bald wie möglich selbst kennen zu lernen. Ab 1926 hatte sie jährlich 10 Stunden mit Alexander in London. Ihre Begeisterung war so gross, dass sie ihre Freundin Lulie Westfeldt überredete, auch Unterricht bei Alexander zu nehmen. Beide traten schliesslich in den 30er Jahren der ersten Ausbildungsklasse von Alexander bei.

Kitty erlitt jedoch ein dreiviertel Jahr, bevor sie nach England fahren und die Ausbildung bei Alexander beginnen wollte, einen Anfall von Schizophrenie. Ihre grösste Sorge war, dass unter diesen Bedingungen Alexander sie nicht mehr akzeptieren würde. Doch er stand zu seinem Wort und sie konnte die Ausbildung bei ihm machen. Einen Tag, bevor sie ihr Lehrerdiplom bekommen sollte, erreichte sie ein Telegramm mit der Nachricht vom Tod ihres Vaters und sie erlitt einen weiteren Anfall.

In diesem Buch erzählt Kitty Wielopolska ihre aussergewöhnliche Geschichte in Form eines Gesprächs mit Joe Armstrong. Fast 10 Jahre dauerte es, bis sie endgültig geheilt war. Danach durchlief sie ein zweites Mal die Ausbildung, diesmal bei Patrick MacDonald und erhielt 1972 ihr Lehrerdiplom.

Im ersten Teil des Buchs erzählt sie ausführlich über die Ausbildungsklasse bei Alexander mit Schwerpunkt auf Lulie Westfeldts umstrittenem Buch ( "F.M. Alexander, The Man and his Work "). Den Rest des Buchs widmet sie ihren bewegenden Erfahrungen und ihrer Auseinandersetzung mit Schizophrenie, ihrem Heilungsprozess und welche Rolle die Alexander-Technik dabei für sie spielte.

Die Einführung in die Alexander-Technik von Joe Armstrong, die der Geschichte von Kitty Wielopolska voran gestellt ist, ist eine der besten die ich bisher gelesen habe. Ein sowohl menschlich als auch fachlich interessantes und spannendes Buch.

2002 © Jan Pullmann. Reproduced with permission.

This edition © Mouritz 2008-2014. All rights reserved.