Information in the Degree Programme Tables may still be subject to change in response to Covid-19

University Homepage
DRPS Homepage
DRPS Search
DRPS Contact
DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures : English Literature

Postgraduate Course: Literature, Reading, Mental Health (PG Version) (ENLI11235)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Literatures, Languages and Cultures CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityNot available to visiting students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course examines the relationship between literature and a range of mental health issues. Its primary interest is in the figuration of mental distress:from diagnosable states of acute depression to the implication on mental health of life-events including loneliness and bereavement. The course also tests the correspondence between literature's ability to figure the inner life and the experience of silent reading as itself a feature of that life. During the course, students will examine matters including the spectacle of mental health, the challenges of writing about the inner life, the genres of such writing, the question of mental health therapies especially psychoanalysis and their relation to writing and reading, and questions concerning the aesthetics of mental illness not least in the light of Swinburne's assertion that 'Nothing which leaves us depressed is a true work of art' (1867).
The approach throughout will primarily be literary-that is to say will prioritise attentive critical reading of the texts. But reading will also have a conceptual basis in the broad history and theory of mental health. Students will be introduced to a range of psychological models in classes and in directed reading, including those of psychoanalysis, and to debates about psychology v psychiatry, the categorising of mental illness across time, the historically contingent nature of therapies, and of ideas about what the opposite of mental illness might be.
Course description The association between creativity and madness is ancient. But the entanglements of literature, the experience of reading, and states of 'mental health' are far more diverse. This course examines a range of literary writing, and one autobiography, to explore a variety of mental conditions and topics of mental health as they have appeared in writing from Shakespeare to the present: from murderous insanity to depression; from shell-shock to bipolarity, from life events including loneliness and bereavement to a figurative sense of history itself as a narrative of madness. The module is particularly interested in the languages of interiority; in narratives of 'redemption' and how these draw on established literary and cultural tropes; in the nature of literary forms as they are driven by particular conceptions of mental health/life; and in the question of what it means when we say that we found a book 'depressing'. Paying particular attention to the sustained tragi-comedy of writing about mental health, we will think carefully about the ethics of representation, the moral problems of talking about the figuring of mental health, as we will consider the idea of reading and mental activity itself. The textual construction of mental health 'how a reader might understand the dividing line between healthy and unhealthy'will be explored in a course that examines the peculiarly intimate relationship between narrative, metaphor, and the mind; between mental health and what can be said in words about it; between mental health, the strange intimacies of reading, and the exceptional territory of literature.
On the basis of students' preparatory reading, seminars will be used to discuss the topics above in relation to the set texts. In order to fully prepare for these seminar discussions, students will be required to meet in advance in smaller 'autonomous learning groups' to produce material which will be presented to the class in a variety of forms (written reports posted to the course v.l.e., informal contributions to class discussion, or more formal verbal presentations during the seminar). Active preparation for and participation in class discussion is required, and will be assessed as a part of the student's overall performance on the course.
The structure of reading and analysis on the course is broadly comparative: students will be asked to explore the similarities and differences between the set texts, and examine the various types of analysis made possible by the critical and theoretical modes of reading to which they are introduced. The guided examination of the similarities and differences between the range of texts and approaches studied will help students to develop the analytical skills and knowledge that will be assessed in their essays.
The course is assessed by one essay, completed by Week 12 of the course, and an assessment of students' participation in class and their autonomous learning groups. Written feedback will be provided on each element of assessment, and further oral follow-up feedback from the tutor will be available for anyone who would like it.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Construct original, clear and coherent arguments about literature's figuring of a range of mental health topics and narratives
  2. Analyse literary texts using recognised literary critical methodologies to substantiate and illustrate those arguments
  3. Extrapolate, evaluate and assess ideas from a range of non-literary sources in order to bring them to bear on their analyses of mental health in literature
  4. Evaluate the ways in which conceptions of mental health as represented in literary writing have changed and/or remained constant from the early-modern period to the present
  5. Present orally the results of research undertaken individually and as part of a small group, respond judiciously to such research undertaken by others, and critically evaluate the importance of such material for an understanding of the chief themes of the course
Reading List
Primary Reading: (alternative editions will be suitable)
William Shakespeare, King Lear (Folio) from The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, 2nd edn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005)
Charlotte Brontë, Villette ([1853] Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008)
Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway ([1925] Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000)
James Joyce, ¿The Dead¿ (London: Richards, 1914)
T.S. Eliot, The Cocktail Party (London: Faber, 1948)
Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar (London: Faber, 2005)
W.G. Sebald (trans. M. Hulse) The Rings of Saturn (London: Vintage, 1998)
Kay Redfield Jamison, An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness (London: Picador 1997)

Secondary Reading:
Sigmund Freud, Art and Literature, Penguin Freud Library, volume 14 (London: Penguin, 1990)

Llewelyn Jones, ¿Psychoanalysis and Creative Literature¿, The English Journal, 23 (1934): 443-452

Charles Lamb, ¿Sanity of True Genius¿ in The Works of Charles and Mary Lamb, ed. E. V. Lucas, 7 vols
(London: Methuen, 1903-1905), volume 2 (available on Google Books). This volume is also available on Project Gutenberg:
Adam Phillips, Winnicott (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1988)

Pamela Thurschwell, Sigmund Freud, Routledge Critical Thinkers, 2nd edn (London: Routledge, 2009)
esp. the chapter ¿After Freud¿

Lionel Trilling, ¿Art and Neurosis¿ and ¿Freud and Literature¿ in The Liberal Imagination: Essays on
Literature and Society (London: Secker and Warburg, 1951)

Edmund Wilson, The Wound and the Bow: Seven Studies in Literature (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1941)

Richard Bentall, Madness Explained: Psychosis and Human Nature (London: Penguin, 2003)

Lennard J. Davis, Obsession: A History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008)

Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison¿(1975: Surveiller et punir: Naissance de la prison, London: Vintage, 1995)

P.M. Logan, Nerves and Narratives: A Cultural History of Hysteria in Nineteenth-Century British Prose
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997)

Emily Martin, Bipolar Expeditions: Mania and Depression in American Culture (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 2007)

Roy Porter, A Social History of Madness: The World Through the Eyes of the Insane¿(London: Grove, 1988)

-------------, Mind-Forg¿d Manacles: A History of Madness in England from the Restoration to the Regency¿(London, Penguin, 1990)

-------------, Madness: A Brief History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002)

Edward Shorter, A History of Psychiatry: From the Era of the Asylum to the Age of Prozac (London: Bass, 1998 edn)

Lewis Wolpert, Malignant Sadness: The Anatomy of Depression (London: Faber, 1999)

Sally Brampton, Shoot the Damn Dog: A Memoir of Depression (London: Bloomsbury, 2008)

Albert Camus, ¿The Myth of Sisyphus¿, Penguin Great Ideas (London: Penguin, 2005)

Emily Colas, Just Checking: Scenes from the Life of An Obsessive-Compulsive (London: Pocket, 2000)

Siri Hustvedt, The Shaking Woman, Or, A History of My Nerves (London: Sceptre, 2010),

Darian Leader, The New Black: Mourning, Melancholia, and Depression (London: Penguin, 2009)

Tim Lott, The Scent of Dried Roses: One Family and the End of English Suburbia: An Elegy ([1996] London Penguin Modern Classics, 2006)

Francis O¿Gorman, Worrying: A Literary and Cultural History (New York: Bloomsbury, 2015)

Adam Phillips, Going Sane (London: Penguin, 2006)
------------------, On Balance (London: Hamish Hamilton, 2010)

John Ruskin, Praeterita, ed. Francis O¿Gorman ([1885-9] Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012)

Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology (L'Être et le néant: Essai d¿ontologie phénoménologique, 1943), trans. Hazel Barnes (New York: Washington Square, 1956)

Arthur Symons, Confessions: a Study in Pathology¿(New York: Fountain Press, 1930)¿harrowing account of his breakdown in Italy.

Andrew Solomon, The Noonday Demon: An Anatomy of Depression (London: Chatto & Windus, 2001)

William Styron, Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness (New York: Random House, 1990)

Virginia Woolf, ¿On Being Ill¿ (1931) in Collected Essays, 6 vols (London: Hogarth, 1967), volume 4, pp.193-203.

Jonathan Bate, John Clare: A Biography (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2003), especially Part 4

Evan Blackmore, ¿John Clare¿s Psychiatric Disorder and Its Influence on His Poetry¿, Victorian Poetry, 24 (1986): 209-28

Diane S. Bonds, ¿The Separative Self in Sylvia Plath¿s The Bell Jar¿, Women¿s Studies, 18 (1990): 49-64 (

Edward Butscher, ed., Sylvia Plath: The Woman and the Work (New York: Dood, Mead, 1977

Thomas C. Caramagno, The Flight of the Mind: Virginia Woolf¿s Art and Manic-Depressive Illness (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992)

Ann C. Colley, Tennyson and Madness (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1983)

Nicholas Dames, ¿The Withering of the Individual: Psychology in the Victorian Novel¿ in Francis O¿Gorman, ed., The Concise Companion to the Victorian Novel (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005), 91-112

Carolyn Dever, Death and the Mother from Dickens to Freud: Victorian Fiction and the Anxiety of Origins (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998)

Lucile Dooley, ¿Psychoanalysis of Charlotte Brontë, as a Type of the Woman of Genius¿, American Journal of Psychology, 31 (1920), 221-272

Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-century Literary Imagination (Yale: Yale UP, 1979)¿see also the important second edition (2000) ruminating on the personal context of this influential book.

Jo Gill, ed.,¿The Cambridge Companion to Sylvia Plath (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2006)¿includes a chapter on The Bell Jar

Sean Haldane, ¿Clare¿s Madness¿, PN Review, 30 (2004): 42-6

Ian Jack, ¿Phrenology, Physiognomy, and Characterisation in the Novels of Charlotte Brontë¿, Brontë Society Transactions, 15/80 (1970): 377-91

Karl Miller, Doubles: Studies in Literary History ([1985] London: Faber,¿2008)¿includes material on Plath

Lorri G. Nandrea, ¿Desiring Difference: Sympathy and Sensibility in Jane Eyre¿, Novel, 37 (2003): 112-34

Francis O¿Gorman, ¿Modernism, T.S. Eliot, and the ¿Age of Worry¿¿, Textual Practice, 26 (2012): 1001-19

Robin Peel,¿¿The Bell Jar¿manuscripts, two January 1962 poems, Elm, and¿Ariel¿, Journal of Modern Literature, 23 (2000): 441-54

Roy Porter, ¿All Madness for Writing: John Clare and the Asylum¿, in John Clare in Context, ed. Hugh Haughton, Adam Phillips, and Geoffrey Summerfield (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994)

Dean Rapp, ¿The Reception of Freud by the British Press: General Interest and Literary Magazines, 1920-1925¿, Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 24 (1988), 191-201

Branimir M. Rieger, ed., Dionysius in Literature: Essays on Literary Madness (Bowling Green: Bowling Green State University Press, 1994)

Glenn Rohrer, ed., Mental Health in Literature: Literary Lunacy and Lucidity (Chicago: Lyceum, 2005)

Jacqueline Rose, The Haunting of Sylvia Plath (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1992)
Sally Shuttleworth, Charlotte Brontë and Victorian Psychology, Cambridge Studies in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture¿(Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996)

Helen Small, Love¿s Madness: Medicine, the Novel, and Female Insanity, 1800-1865 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1996)

Allen Thiher, Revels in Madness: Insanity in Medicine and Literature (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004)

Stephen Trombley, All that Summer She was Mad: Virginia Woolf and her Doctors (London: Junction, 1981)

Linda W. Wagner-Martin, The Bell Jar: A Novel of the Fifties (Twayne¿s Masterworks Studies; No. 98) ([London]: Twayne, 1992)

Ted Winslow, ¿Bloomsbury, Freud, and the Vulgar Passions¿, Social Research, 57 (1990): 785-819
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills As an outcome of having studied this course, students will benefit from having developed a range of personal and professional skills commensurate with the range of SCQF Level 11 characteristics:
Knowledge and Understanding: students will have had the opportunity to demonstrate their detailed knowledge of the specialised field of literary depictions of mental health as well as their critical understanding of a range of the principal concepts of literary analysis in relation to the course material;
Applied Knowledge, Skills and Understanding: in their work for class discussion, presentations and formal assessment tasks, students will have been able to practice the application of these theories and concepts in their construction of arguments about the course material;
Generic Cognitive Skills: in completing assessed essays and class presentations, students will have practised identifying, defining, conceptualising and analysing complex problems and issues germane to the discipline;
Communication: through participating in these tasks students will also have demonstrated the ability to communicate ideas and information about specialised topics in the discipline to an informed audience of their peers and subject specialists;
Autonomy and Working with Others: students will also have shown the capacity to work autonomously and in small groups on designated tasks, develop new thinking with their peers, and take responsibility for the reporting, analysis and defence of these ideas to a larger group.
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Sarah Bernstein
Tel: (0131 6)51 1296
Course secretaryMr Michael Butler
Tel: (0131 6)51 1513
Help & Information
Search DPTs and Courses
Degree Programmes
Browse DPTs
Humanities and Social Science
Science and Engineering
Medicine and Veterinary Medicine
Other Information
Combined Course Timetable
Important Information