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Madness in Literature: Bedlam to the Present

ENGL 102.401
fulfills requirements:
Elective Seminar of the Standard Major

How do we define what is normal and what is pathological? Who in society is best suited to determine mental health and illness? And how can we determine when someone needs or deserves to be institutionalized?  These are some of the questions we will address in this course, using fictional and non-fictional accounts of insanity from the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries.  We will seek to understand popular and professional explanations of mental disorders rooted in cultural, religious and intellectual frameworks, as well as the perspectives of madmen and madwomen themselves.  In reading works of literature by authors such as Jonathan Swift, William Cowper, John Keats, Virginia Woolf, Ann Sexton, and Rainer Maria Rilke, we will examine mental health related topics including: the rise of the asylum; the dictates of moral management; the economies of incarceration and care; and the pathologies of sexuality, class, and gender in defining insanity and its treatment.  As a defining feature of this course, we will be paying special attention to the often overlooked presence of the insane in poetry.