I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (novel)

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I Never Promised You a Rose Garden
AuthorJoanne Greenberg
CountryUnited States
GenreAutobiographical novel
PublisherHolt, Rinehart & Winston
Publication date
April 16, 1964[1]

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (1964) is a semi-autobiographical novel by Joanne Greenberg, written under the pen name of Hannah Green. It served as the basis for a film in 1977 and a play in 2004.


The character of Dr. Fried is based closely on Greenberg's real doctor Frieda Fromm-Reichmann, and the hospital on Chestnut Lodge in Rockville, Maryland. While at Chestnut Lodge, Greenberg described a fantasy world called Iria to her doctors, quoting poetry in the Irian language. However, some of Greenberg's doctors felt that this was not a true delusion but rather something Greenberg had made up on the spot to impress her psychiatrist. One doctor went so far as to state that Irian was not an actual language, but was a form of bastardized Armenian.[2] However, according to Gerald Schoenewolf, Irian was a conlang invented by Greenberg at an early age to prevent her father from reading her poetry, and had its own writing system resembling Chinese characters.[3] Fromm-Reichmann wrote glowing reports focusing on Greenberg's genius and creativity, which she saw as signs of Greenberg's innate health, indicating that she had every chance of recovering from her mental illness.

Similar to what occurred in the novel, Greenberg was diagnosed with schizophrenia. At that time though, undifferentiated schizophrenia was often a vague diagnosis given to a patient or to medical records department for essentially non-medical reasons, which could have covered any number of mental illnesses from anxiety to depression.

Two psychiatrists who examined the book's description of protagonist Deborah Blau say that she was not schizophrenic, but rather suffered from extreme depression and somatization disorder.[4]

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  1. ^ "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (advertisement)". The New York Times. April 16, 1964. p. 35. "Published Today".
  2. ^ "Alberta Szalitza, who had seen Joanne in a series of strikingly unsuccessful sessions during Frieda's vacation, was far less taken with Greenberg's creativity. She insisted to colleagues that Irian wasn't really a language, just "a poor set-up of some words that were similar to Armenian" that Greenberg had put together from having had Armenian friends. Szalitza seemed irritated that Frieda ignored the fact that Joanne translated the same words differently on different days and showed other inconsistencies in her use of this so-called language (minutes of staff meetings; Szalitza interview)." Gail Hornstein, To Redeem One Person Is To Redeem The World: A Life of Frieda Fromm-Reichmann (Free Press 2002), pp. 425-426.
  3. ^ Gerald Schoenewolf, Turning Points in Analytic Therapy: From Winnicott to Kernberg, chapter 4, "Curing Schizophrenia: Joanne Greenberg and Frieda Fromm-Reichmann." Jason Aronson, Inc., 1990.
  4. ^ Sobel, Dava (February 17, 1981). "Schizophrenia In Popular Books: A Study Finds Too Much Hope". The New York Times.

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