A! Magazine for the Arts

Books About Creativity & Mental Illness

January 26, 2011

Mad, Bad and Sad: A History of Women and the Mind Doctors from 1800

Author Lisa Appignanesi takes readers on a fascinating journey through the fragile, extraordinary human mind - from the depression suffered by Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath to the mental anguish and addictions of iconic beauties Zelda Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe. This is the story of how we have understood extreme states of mind over the last 200 years and how we conceive of them today, when more and more of our inner life and emotions have become a matter for medics and therapists.

Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and The Artistic Temperament

"We of the craft are all crazy," remarked Lord Byron about himself and his fellow poets. "Some are affected by gaiety, others by melancholy, but all are more or less touched."

This book is about "more or less touched." it is a book about artists and their voyages, moods as their ships of passage, and the ancient, persistent belief that there exists such a thing as a "fine madness."

Touched with Fire was written by Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, author of the best-selling memoir An Unquiet Mind and and co-author of the definitive medical text Manic-Depressive Illness. A professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Jamison is also the executive producer and writer for a series of award-winning public television specials about manic-depressive illness and the arts.

According to Jamison, "The fiery aspects of thought and feeling that initially compel the artistic voyage - fierce energy, high mood, and quick intelligence; a sense of the visionary and the grand; a restless and feverish temperament - commonly carry with them the capacity for vastly darker moods, grimmer energies, and, occasionally, bouts of madness. These opposite moods and energies, often interlaced, can appear to the world as mercurial, intemperate, volatile, brooding, troubled, or stormy. In short, they form the common view of the artistic temperament...Poetic or artistic genius, when infused with these fitful and inconstant moods, can become a powerful crucible for imagination and experience."