Friday, March 16, 2012

The fraud that was "Sybil"

Who hasn't read or heard of "Sybil"? When I was in college back in Mumbai (this was in the late Seventies), the book had many avid fans who were apparently fascinated by this harrowing story of a young woman with 16 that's right, 16 different personalities.

There was also a 1976 drama film, based on the book, which starred Sally Field as "Sybil". It was aired that year as a made-for-television miniseries.

And there was a remake in 2007.

Two years later, in September 2009, Commitscion Madhura Chakravarty wrote a feature about the book in the college newspaper (see below).

Under the rubric "Books You Should've Read", Madhura discussed a few aspects of the book that made it a compelling read. "Sybil's ... dismantled identity is a result of severe mental and child sexual abuse by her schizophrenic mother," Madhura wrote. "... her narrow-minded, bigoted, religious family won't let her see a doctor."

And then Madhura paid tribute to author Flora Rheta Schreiber's skill in narrating Sybil's story: " is Schreiber's gripping style of narrative, complex plot, and exploration of human vulnerability that makes this book such a compelling read."

Little did Madhura, or I or anyone else for that matter, know that the whole "Sybil" tale was an elaborate fraud committed by three women: the psychiatrist who was treating "Sybil, "Sybil" herself, and a writer who appeared to be only too willing to believe everything she was told by the duo.

I was stunned at what I discovered in Sybil Exposed. If you have read or heard of "Sybil", you will be aghast, too.
  • Want to know more? Read "Memory, lies and therapy (How three women fabricated the most famous case of multiple personality disorder and damaged thousands of lives)" by Laura Miller on Salon.

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