Life Begins at 40: The Midlife Crisis

GLORY UDOH Written by GLORY UDOH · 2 min read >

Peter Medawar FRS was interested in aging as an unsolved biological problem as he puts it in his inaugural lecture in 1951 and one of the terms that Medawar used to describe the aging process was senescence and that concept of senescence had been popularized by an American psychologist Grandville Stanley Hall in the early 20th century and it came to be one of the key ways in which midlife and middle-age was defined during the early 20th century.

Middle-age came to represent the period between adolescence and senescence; that is why many people refer to it as middle essence. In the late 1970s, an iconic sitcom television series on BBC “the Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin” starring Leonard Rossiter was based on a novel by the English comic writer David Nobs. Reggie Perrin, Reginald Isle and Anthony Perrin was 46 years old; married to his wife Elizabeth living in a near house in the Surrey suburbs. They had two children both growing up leaving their parents living in a house that was perhaps no longer seen as a home.

Reggie commuted every weekday up to Waterloo station; walked across the bridge went to work at sunshine desserts as a middle manager as a bureaucrat and at the start of the novel Reggie is depressed, disillusioned, distressed and disaffected. Disillusioned with his life, disillusioned with his wife, disillusioned with his work and he begins to behave rather randomly. He starts sending off aggressive memos to his colleagues; he tries to have an affair with his secretary he begins to get more irascible.

One day while his is out, he decides that he’s going to collect all his childhood mementos, the memories of his youth and burn them as if he’s trying to eradicate his past and his identity. Reggie decides that he can no longer live like this. He decides there is only two ways: 1. he can either disappear in some way or 2. he can kill himself. So, he drives a van down to a Dorset Beach takes off his clothes leaves on the beach and walks out into the sea naked; he doesn’t drown himself. He walks back up, puts another set of clothes on so that he leaves his old clothes on the beach so people think he’s drowned himself. Puts on a new set of clothes, puts on a wig and takes on a new identity and he becomes eventually Martin Melbourne.

What Reggie Perrin was suffering from the age of forty something was what we would now call and was indeed called then a midlife crisis. Usually a man not exclusively and in this period largely understood to be a male problem; a man between the age about 35 and 45 in that deadline decade realizing that his life was going nowhere disaffected and disillusioned would go off the rails the midlife crisis.

Now the term had been first introduced about a decade earlier by a Canadian social scientists and psychoanalysts Elliot Jax. Jax had come over from Toronto in the second world war and stayed; he was one of the founding members of the Tavistock Institute for human relations. He was Social scientist but also psychoanalyst. He had been analyzed himself by Melanie Klein and had had a practice as a psychoanalyst and what she described was pretty much what Reggie Perrin experienced. He pointed out that, the paradox is that of entering the prime of life, the stage of fulfilment, but at the same time the prime and fulfilment are dated. Death lies beyond.

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