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The fiction writers it is trendy to be small-talking about.

Empirical statements going as far as back as the Greek Antiquity put it that there is an intimate connection between madness and (poetic) genius. The ages to come simply followed along the same track, with no attempt to build a corpus of examples-the statement was somehow taken as a datum. In late 19th century, however, Cesare Lombroso (1891), Francis Galton (1869), and Havelock Ellis (1904) came up with a wide range of examples to build up the case in the same vein.

The second step was taken in mid-20th century by Adele Juda (1949) who found that 33% of her sample (113 German artists, writers, architects, and composers) had a history of psychiatry. Colin Martindale (1972) then found that 55% of 21 eminent English poets born between 1670 and 1809, and 40% of 21 eminent French poets born between 1770 and 1909 had some kind of "acute" psychopathology: breakdown, phobia, suicide, alcoholism, and (sic!) homosexuality.

The third, decisive step was taken by Nancy C. Andreasen (1987; 2005) in an anamnestic study conducted on 30 writers and Kay Redfield Jamison (1989; 1993) in a biographical study conducted on 36 eminent British poets, to be followed shortly by Trethowan (1977), Schildkraut, Hirschfeld & Murphy (1996), Post (1994; 1996), Ludwig (1994; 1995), Enachescu (1977), Cosman & Pirvu (2013). The common conclusion in all these studies is that the artistic personality has a by far larger psychopathology than the normal population.

There were also dissenting voices, to be sure, the most vocal of them being, to the best of our knowledge, Albert Rothenberg (1990)-what is curious about him, however, is that the "humanistic" view he professes is subversively contradicted by his own examples.

We will be acting on two basic assumptions, viz: 1) there is a literary personality within the domain-specific artistic personality; 2) the literary personality is itself domain-specific, coming into poetry, fiction, drama, non-fiction in descending order as far as psychopathology is concerned.

Given the special quality of our sample, we expect significantly higher figures for psychopathology incidence, i.e. higher than Arnold Ludwig's 77% (1995) and Bogdan C.S. Pirvu's 74.54% (unpublished thesis).

Soirees litteraires or salons (litteraires) tend to get a rather frivolous connotation today, when people forget, all too easily, that they marked the beginnings of Romanian literature and, by and large, European literature-for what else were, for a start, the so-called revues culturelles, societes culturelles and courants litteraires ? And then the so-called ecoles and cercles ? Their principle was one and the same: to put it bluntly, birds of a feather flock together. People met in cafes and pubs, perhaps on the left bank of the Seine, and let it be ... Or they met at Pogors house in Iasi, at Gertrude Steins salon in Paris or in Bloomsberry near London, and they went on to be known as the Junimea Circle, the Lost Generation or the Bloomsberry Group. It's the way the Impressionists, the Imagists or the Fugitives were born.

Most of these salons, truth to say, never rose into literary prominence, like the one orbiting Queen Elizabeth of Romania, whose penname was Carmen Sylva. But their cultural significance can never be undervalued. We generally talk about eminent men-of-letters, but national cultures / literatures are more than that ...

We might, and perhaps we ought to get further into this topic, but we won't do it for the time being. Suffice to say that our sample consisted of H"15 year-old soirees litteraires, based in Iasi, Cluj, Craiova and respectively Bucuresti, totalling [approximately equal to] 70 members, more or less equally distributed by sex, the average age being [approximately equal to] 60. The 21 fiction writers we will be referring to are shown by the soiree files to be their most "popular" concerns. And, come to think of them, we have strong reasons to believe that the "concerns" were not always based on aesthetic criteria-small talk and good old gossip played a hand, more often than not. Well, we actually anticipated that much, a significantly higher figure for psychopathology.

Honore de Balzac (1799-1850)

n his "manic expansiveness," he alternated "orgies of work with orgies of pleasure"; and both were so extreme as to be pathological. "When working, his programme was: dinner at 6 p.m., bed till 1 a.m., work till 8 a.m., rest till 9.30, then a cup of coffee, and work again till 4 p.m. From 4 till dinner at 6 he might receive visitors, or go out of doors, or have a bath. Then the cycle would start again; and he could keep this up for weeks. Whilst working, he ate and drank little; but these frugal periods alternated with gargantuan feasts in which he would empty four bottles [of wine] without apparent effect, and gorge himself to repletion on oysters and cutlets" (Storr 1991). On the other hand, he referred to himself as "being born to unhappiness." Manic-depressive illness in addition to a histrionic personality disorder (Maurois 1965), for what else in his over-anxiety to please?

Herman Melville (1819-1891)

A "psychological autopsy" conducted on Malcolm Melville's death ("from a pistol shot wound in [his] right temporal region") came up with the overwhelming consensus (16 out of 18) that his death would today be certified as a suicide. "A rather overpowering terror of his father, coupled, not illogically, with a sense of impotent hostility toward him" is likely to have been the main source of his "isolated desperation." His father's behaviour, especially when in the throes of his creative process came down to a "ritualized, emphasized, exaggerated aggression." (Shneidman 1976)

Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881)

In his mid-20's already showing the first signs of epilepsy (Alajouanine 1963), most of them generalized seizures (Gastaut 1984), many of them with a dominant (mesio-)temporal lobe origin (an "ecstatic" aura, the twilight state possibly associated with forced thinking, a pallor prior to the generalization, a postictal dysphasia). In later life, progressive memory impairment. IGE, or partial epilepsy coexisting with IGE, or most likely, TLE-perhaps left mesiotemporal. (Rossetti & Bogousslavsky 2005)

Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880)

The diagnosis of "neurosis" ("hysteria") was initially suggested (Sartre 1971). The diagnosis of "occipital epilepsy," given precedence of late, seems to have been caused by an arteriovenous malformation responsible for the recurrence of the seizures, or by an occipitotemporal cerebral atrophy responsible for the writer's reading difficulties in his infancy (Jallon & Jallon 2005). The visual seizures ("candles which [are] dancing in my eyes and which prevent me from seeing"; "a tangle of filaments, or a burst of fireworks, passing before my eyes") grow convulsive in time, the writer's mind becomes "a whirl of thoughts and images," and his consciousness "flounder[s], like a ship in a storm"; he plays with madness "as Mithridate played with poisons"-his reason, "although battered and worn, prevails," for a while at least.

Mihai Eminescu (1850-1889)

Of the Eminescu siblings, eleven in all, three died in infancy or early childhood. A fourth one died in his teens and, again, we have no way of knowing what he may have developed in terms of psychopathology. As for the other seven, they all had a psychiatric history, three of them going as far as to commit suicide. Small wonder, then, that Titu Maiorescu found the reasons for the poet's [manic-depressive] illness in his "fateful heredity". (Cosman & Pirvu 2013)

Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893)

When 20, infected with syphilis by a beautiful boating companion (Hayden 2005). 6 or 7 years later, a "sawbones" gave him the verdict and now, "for 5 weeks I have been taking four centigrammes of mercury and thirty-five centigrammes of potassium iodide a day, and I felt very well on it. Soon mercury will be my staple diet. My hair is beginning to grow again... the hair on my arse is sprouting ... I've got the pox! at last! the real thing! not the contemptible clap, not the ecclesiastical crystalline, not the bourgeois coxcombs or the leguminous cauliflowers-no --no, the great pox [...], the majestic pox, pure and simple; the elegant syphilis ... I've got the pox ... and I am proud of it, by thunder, and to hell with the bourgeoisie. Hallelujah, I've got the pox, so I don't have to worry about catching it any more, and I screw the street whores and trollops, and afterwards I say to them, 'I've got the pox'." (Quetel 1990)

Joseph Conrad (1857-1924)

With manic-depressive swings, paranoid delusions and violent outbursts, his father attempted suicide by taking morphine and atropine. His wife saved him this time but, when seeking professional help he saw it as proof of her plotting against him-he killed her and shot himself to death. The writer himself was to attempt suicide (by shooting himself in his chest)-perhaps overcome by the "breakdown" that was never late in coming the minute he finished writing a novel, actually a little before completing the revision (Ludwig 1995). His diagnosis comes complete with his fetishistic interest in shoes, hair and fur, with his professed fear of dominant women, regarded as "phallic" creatures. (Storr 1991)

Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

Developing a severe asthma at 9, mainly the result of his over-intense feelings for his mother. Leading the salon life of a wealthy young man about town; motherless in 1905, spends most of his time in his much talked-of, cork-lined bedroom on the Boulevard Hausmann. Sleeping by day and writing by night. Having plenty of homosexual affairs, preceded by heterosexual ones. Paying to have rats beaten / tortured with hatpins, thus reaching orgasm; fascinated by the show of slaughtered animals. Homosexuality, voyeurism and sadism. Dying exhausted with overwork, overdosed with medicines. (Ludwig 1995)

James Joyce (1882-1941)

Drinking bouts. The urethritis in 1904 made Dr Oliver Stjohn Gogarty worry in case he had meningo-vascular syphilis (Lyons 1973). The arthritis in 1907 (diagonsed as "rheumatic fever" at the time) may suggest the newly-featured Reiter's syndrome (Lyons 2004) that includes urethritis and, not to forget, iritis whose differential diagnosis includes the congenital syphilis that might just as well have put an end to his elder brother's misery. Dr Hartmann, a Paris ophthalmologist, actually found therein the cause of his eye troubles (Ellmann 1982), which were not late in coming, so that an iridectomy was performed in 1917. A disabling attack of acute glaucoma then occurred in less than one year. The 1930 operation on his left eye for tertiary cataract was something of a success, but blindness did not fail to come, eventually. His son was alcoholic, his daughter was schizophrenic and died at St Andrew's Hospital, Northampton.

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)

When her mother died-her first severe mental breakdown; when her father died, in 1904-her second, complete with a suicide attempt by jumping out of a window; when she got married-her third, lasting for two years. She finally filled her pockets with stones and walked into deep waters (Cosman 2008). One of her two suicide notes read: "I feel certain that I'm going mad again. I feel [I] can't go thru another of those terrible times. And I shan't recover this time. I begin to hear voices. (Jamison 1999)

Franz Kafka (1883-1924)

The overpowering sense of guilt from which he suffered took origin from being always made to feel inadequate and in the wrong in comparison with his father." His failure to face marriage and, grosso modo, his schizoid sense of inner weakness and inadequacy came from the same comparison; to recognize in his father "just everything together, good and bad just as it is organically united in [him], viz strength and contempt for others, health and a certain excess; eloquence and standoffishness, self-confidence and dissatisfaction with everybody else, superiority to the world and tyranny, knowledge of the world and distrust of most people in it, and then advantages with no disadvantages attached, such as industry, endurance, presence of mind, fearlessness." "Of all these qualities I [have] comparatively almost nothing," the writer put it, not without some sense of envy. (Storr 1991)

Agatha Christie (1890-1976)

A long writing block when her husband asked for divorce. She hardly ate and slept, she didn't do anything about her visibly deteriorating appearance. About a month later, her car was found abandoned and ... no trace of her. Ten days later she resurfaced in a hotel and was completely lost: she did not know who she was and she did not recognize her husband. Her memory was finally recovered in the course of psychiatric therapy. (Ludwig 1995)

Francis Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)

Throwing himself, always with his wife Zelda, into a round of parties, dances and drinking. In the late 20s he himself was a hopeless alcoholic, while Zelda was hopelessly struggling with mental illness. She was having terrifying hallucinations, hearing loud noises and feeling the "vibrations" of everyone she met. People's bodies seemed to be distorted, and her communications became incoherent (Ludwig 1995). She claimed to be in direct contact with Christ, William the Conqueror, Mary Stuart and Apollo. Dr. Eugen Bleuler diagnosed her as schizophrenic, and in the years to come she was in and out of mental hospitals.

William Faulkner (1897-1962)

In 1937: "He was so drunk that he fell against the steam pipe in the bathroom, burning his back severely. He lay there, face down on the floor, clad only in his shorts, oblivious to the icy November wind blowing through an open window, until anxious friends got the [hotel] management to open the door, and found him. They helped him to bed and summoned a doctor." And again, in 1951: "At one point he was so drunk that he fell down the stairs, banging himself up [...]. He lay on a couch in a stupor, his face covered with bruises and contusions, his body battered and bloated [...]. He pleaded for a drink, tossed and mumbled deliriously. [As] he couldn't control his bodily functions, [his editor] had virtually to carry him to the bathroom" (Oates 1987). His father was severely alcoholic himself. (Rothenberg 1990)

Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)

Grappling with drinking, insomnia, violent outbursts, free-floating feelings of dread and guilt. In the end swallowing the muzzle of a 12-gauge shotgun and pulling the trigger (Evans & Farberrow 2003). His father, brother, sister and granddaughter, plagued by mental instability and manic-depression, killed themselves, as well.

Yasunari Kawabata (1899-1972)

Tormented by feelings of guilt. Found dead with a gas conduit in his mouth--the room commanded magnificent views of both oceans and mountains. (Evans & Farberrow 2003)

Graham Greene (1904-1991)

Waging war against his "hopelessness of the years" with alcohol and the "perverse exhilaration and risk of Russian roulette." When he was nineteen, for example, he removed his brother's revolver from the cupboard and walked deep into the beech woods nearby: "I slipped a bullet into a chamber and, holding the revolver behind my back, spun the chambers round ... I put the muzzle of the revolver into my right ear and pulled the trigger. There was a minute click, and looking down at the chamber I could see that the charge had moved into the firing position. I was out by one ... This experience I repeated a number of times ... The revolver would be whipped behind my back, the chamber twisted, the muzzle quickly and surreptitiously inserted in my ear beneath the black winter trees, the trigger pulled." (Jamison 1999)

Cesare Pavese (1908-1950)

The cadence of suffering has begun, Every evening at dusk, my heart constricts until night comes ... Now even the morning is filled with pain." Asthmatic, shy and sexually insecure, he finally checked in at a hotel and took a fatal overdose of sleeping pills. (Jamison 1999)

Malcolm Lowry (1909-1957)

Organically unhappy and physically dependent on alcohol. Living in an isolated alcoholic hell, not being able to write and actually not feeling "normal" unless maintaining a certain level of intoxication. Dying in a "misadventure" involving alcohol and sodium amytal tablets. (Evans & Farberrow 2003)

Truman Capote (1924-1984)

Homosexuality. "No one will ever know what [novel writing] took out of me. It scraped me down to the marrow of my bones. It nearly killed me. I think, in a way, it did kill me. Before I began it, I was a stable person, comparatively speaking." "Not entirely true," one might comment, the story going that he was the class mascot and the butt of jokes, with his many affected mannerisms. Anyway, "free floating anxiety" in childhood, along with claustrophobia and a fear of abandonment. A drug-related problem (addiction to various tranquilizers and mood-altering drugs, such as barbiturates and Valium) by his 40s; by his 40s too, an alcohol-related problem, his drinking being out of control. Depression in his late 40s: "Every morning I wake up and in about two minutes I'm weeping. I just cry and cry. And every night the same thing happens. I take a pill, go to bed ... and suddenly I start to cry. There's just so much pain somebody can endure. How can I carry it around all the time ? In his 50s, paralyzing anxiety and the fear of dying. "He began taking lots of Tuinal, continued to snort cocaine heavily and had many hospitalizations for alcoholism and delirium tremens" (Ludwig 1995). His mother was an alcoholic and eventually committed suicide with an overdose of Seconal.

William Styron (1925-2006)

What I had begun to discover is that, mysteriously and in ways that are totally remote from normal experience, the gray drizzle of horror induced by depression takes on the quality of physical pain. But it is not an immediately identifiable pain, like that of a broken limb. It may be more accurate to say that despair, owing to some evil trick played upon the sick brain by the inhibiting psyche, comes to resemble the diabolical discomfort of being imprisoned in a fiercely overheated room. And because no breeze stirs this caldron, because there is no escape from this smothering confinement, it is entirely natural that the victim begins to think ceaselessly of oblivion." Psychiatrists unfortunately maintain "their stubborn allegiance to pharmaceuticals in the belief that eventually the pills will kick in," but the writer is convinced that he should have been in hospital weeks before. "For, in fact, the hospital was my salvation, and it is something of a paradox that in this austere place with its locked and wired doors and desolate green hallways-ambulances screeching night and day ten floors below-I found the repose, the assuagement of the tempest in my brain, that I was unable to find in my quiet farmhouse. (Styron 1990)

I dwelt alone in a world of moan

If displayed along three axes (psychiatric, neurological, somatic), the illnesses of the aforementioned writers (21 in all) are:

* psychiatric illness (17 cases, 80.90%; cf Fig. 1): Honore de Balzac, Truman Capote, Agatha Christie, Joseph Conrad, Mihai Eminescu, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Graham Greene, Ernest Hemingway, Yasunari Kawabata, Malcolm Lowry, Guy de Maupassant, Herman Melville, Cesare Pavese, Marcel Proust, William Styron, Virginia Woolf;

* neurological illness (2 cases, 9.52%; cf. Fig. 1): Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Gustave Flaubert;

* somatic illness (2 cases, 9.52%; cf. Fig. 1): James Joyce, Franz Kafka.

Given that the neurological illness is epilepsy, which is often relocated to psychiatric wards, the figure for psychiatric illness could well go as far as 99.23% (20 cases); also, given that the somatic illness is syphilis, the percentage becomes 100%. It's not too much of a surprise, though. Soirees and salons have their choice of writers who are eminent, indeed-and, in addition, are debate-friendly, accessible to people who are not obligatorily literary-minded; in other words, writers who, for biographical reasons, might as well incite small-talk and paparazzo shows.

The "trendy" writer is then the "eminent" writer with a twist. If the latter is worth talking about for exclusively aesthetic reasons, the former invites debates for biographical reasons, as well. It is why the percentage of psychopathology is significantly higher for such trendy writers-it's the sheer truth, psychopathology is always a debate a la mode. And it's the sad truth now, psychopathology is, in varying degrees, a hardly missing component of the writing / creative process.


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Bogdan C.S. Pirvu Iuliu Hatieganu University of Medicine

Ioana Cosman Babes-Bolyai University

Ioan Florin Diaconu George Enescu Arts University

Adrian Brunello Romanian Academy, Iasi

Andrei Hurdubei Alexandru Ioan Cuza University

Cristina Prisacariu Grigore T. Popa University of Medicine

Ciprian Danielescu Grigore T. Popa University of Medicine

Ionut-Horia T. Leoveanu Iuliu Hatieganu University of Medicine

Doina Cosman Iuliu Hatieganu University of Medicine

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to,,,,,,,,

Fig. 1. Psychiatric, neurological and somatic illness
in trendy writers (in %)

psychiatric      80.9
(17 cases)

Neurological     9.52
(2 cases)

somatic          9.52
(2 cases)

Note: Table made from bar graph.
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Title Annotation:The Poe legacy
Author:Pirvu, Bogdan C.S.; Cosman, Ioana; Diaconu, Ioan Florin; Brunello, Adrian; Hurdubei, Andrei; Prisaca
Publication:Romanian Journal of Artistic Creativity
Date:Dec 22, 2014
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