Jean-Dominique Bauby
Photo Credit: Everett Collection

Jean-Dominique Bauby

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

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About Him

Living… locked inside his body. At the age of 42, Jean-Dominique, or Jean-Do as his friends call him, suffered a severe stroke. He was airlifted to a hospital on the coast of France, but it was too late – he is completely paralyzed, only able to blink his left eye. His mental faculties are still in place, and he is left to reminisce about his life, the good times, and the regrets: “The woman I was unable to love, chances unable to seize, moments of happiness that drifted away.”

Profession… editor of French Elle prior to his stroke. Fashionable and sociable, he enjoyed an active life that now seems so far away.

Interests… reading. Among Jean-Do’s favorites are Balzac, and Graham Greene’s “The Honorary Consul.” He especially loves “The Count of Monte Cristo;” he has memorized various passages and was thinking about writing a modern take on the novel with a female protagonist.

Relationship Status… single. Jean-Do has three children – Theophile, Celeste, and Hortense – with Céline Desmoulins, but as he says, “She’s not my wife. She’s the mother of my children.” He carried out several affairs, and ultimately left her for another woman. Now, he regrets mistreating her and their children.

Challenge… writing a memoir from the hospital. He works at a snail’s pace, with the help of his pretty speech therapist Henriette. She works across a letter usage frequency chart until he blinks at the correct letter, and then she marks the letter down. Then they start over. Writing the memoir helps him cope with his condition. “My imagination and memory… are my only way I can escape my diving bell,” he dictates. “I can imagine anyone, anything, anywhere. Now I want to remember myself as I was – handsome, debonair, glamorous, and devilishly attractive.”

Personality… trapped, and angry about it. Jean-Do has an understandably bitter and sarcastic attitude towards his condition. He wants to rain withering invective down upon his doctors, but he cannot. And so the vicious cycle continues. He was nothing like this before the accident – he was more gentle, patient, and most of all, suave.

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