Directly after the First World War, the self-help manual market exploded, presumably because everybody in Europe was dead or traumatized. It had become a world of Dick Heldars. As “worry began to appear on the book shelves,” O’Gorman writes, “it was ironically clear that it was here to stay.” If self-help books worked to banish worry, one generation of them should have been enough. Take William S. Sadler’s Worry and Nervousness or The Science of Self-Mastery (1914), an early and little-remembered self-help volume. Sadler defines “chronic fear,”—i.e., worry—as “a purely psychic condition characterized by inability to relax the attention when it has once fastened itself on a given idea—usually a persistently entertained fear of some sort.” Strangely paradoxical stuff, and not very helpful either. Rather than offering practical strategies Sadler seemed to think that, if one could understand what ailed you, you might find relief.
Darkly mirroring this sort of talk, the arcane rituals of worry and doubt formed strange twentieth century magics—T. S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, and James Joyce all stretched worry over big frames to make ambitious art about what it is like to live inside a mind.