Perfectionism in The Rose of Winslow Street

Elizabeth Camden The Rose of Winslow Street 2 Comments

If you have read The Rose of Winslow Street, you will have met the heroine’s father, Professor Willard Sawyer.  Professor Sawyer is an eccentric inventor who is brilliant, creative, but also deeply insecure and suffers from a crippling sense of perfectionism.  His inability to settle for anything less than a flawless invention has stunted his ability to publish any of his work or release his inventions.   

I got the inspiration for this character from a lovely woman named Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672).  She was an English woman who came over on one of the first ships of Puritans immigrants to America, when the land was a raw, unsettled wilderness.  Her father had been a steward to an English duke, so she grew up in an actual castle….then she found herself living in a crude hut with a dirt floor in Massachusetts.  During those early, difficult years she wrote poetry.  Hundreds and hundreds of poems.  Unbeknownst to Anne, in 1647 her brother-in-law travelled for a visit to England with copies of her poems in tow.  He had them printed and distributed in England, and returned to “surprise” her with news of their publication.

From the distance of over four hundred years, it is difficult to know Anne’s reaction, but in a subsequent poem she wrote of her dismay, bemoaning the flaws in her poems she would never be able to correct now they were released into the world.  Here is a snippet of An Author to Her Book, in which she compares her poems to blemished, imperfect children:

My rambling brat (in print) should mother call.
I cast thee by as one unfit for light,
The visage was so irksome in my sight,
Yet being mine own, at length affection would
Thy blemishes amend, if so I could.
I washed thy face, but more defects I saw,
And rubbing off a spot, still made a flaw.


Poor woman!  Psychiatrists recognize severe perfectionism as a pathology which can cripple a person’s ability to be a productive, functioning person.  Although there is no evidence that Anne Bradstreet suffered from this level of the condition, I exaggerated her anxiety to help me create Professor Sawyer’s brilliant, frustrated persona.   

Lest the excerpt above give you the impression that Anne Bradstreet was a bitter, difficult woman, I thought I would close with my favorite poem by Bradstreet, a joyous celebration in which she shouts her love for her husband, Simon Bradstreet, to the world:

 If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were lov’d by wife, then thee.
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me, ye women, if you can.


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