Psyche on the page: conference to examine relationship between madness and literature

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27 Jul 2010 01:32:29.433
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The use of fiction for educating clinicians, the way in which literary portrayals of madness can inform the public, and the narrating of madness through poetry will be among the topics discussed as part of an international conference being hosted by The University of Nottingham.

A range of high profile speakers and eminent experts from around the world will present novel ideas on some of history’s most famous literary names, their characters and their experiences and depictions of mental illness at the 1st International Health Humanities Conference in August.

Focussed on the topic of madness and literature, the conference will turn the spotlight on the link between creativity and mental illness and how fiction, poetry and film has through the centuries transcended the social stigma associated with maladies of the mind.
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The conference is the first event of its kind in the world to bring together people from a medical and psychiatric background with literary and humanities experts, alongside users of mental health services and their carers, to promote collaboration and to enhance the human elements of clinical care.

The term ‘madness’ has been used deliberately to align the network more with broader literary and historical scholarship than with a narrower clinical focus which would be implied by a term such as ‘mental disorder’.

The event has been developed as part of the Madness and Literature Network led by academics at Nottingham, which encourages debate between academics, clinicians, mental health service users and carers on what benefits literature can have in developing empathy skills and offering broader insights into mental illness than are available in a clinical textbook. The Madness and Literature Network, founded by Professor Paul Crawford, Charley Baker, Dr Brian Brown, Dr Maurice Lipsedge and Professor Ronald Carter, is a partnership between The University of Nottingham, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, The Institute of Mental Health, De Montfort University, and was informed by work conducted with generous funding from The Leverhulme Trust.

Paul Crawford, the world’s first Professor of Health Humanities, who leads mental health at the University’s School of Nursing and is co-founder of the Madness and Literature Network, said: “I am delighted that The University of Nottingham is leading the way internationally in developing a more inclusive approach to how the arts and humanities disciplines can inform healthcare.

“This approach, which we have called Health Humanities, is the evolution of Medical Humanities. It seeks to bring the insights, value and benefits for well-being from non-science disciplines to a wider community of health professionals, carers and self-carers. This is the dynamic driving the success of the Madness and Literature Network which is rapidly becoming a key resource globally in this field.”

Among the topics being debated at the three-day event will be:

• Male starvation as an expression of psychological turmoil in Wilkie Collins’ Armadale and Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights.
• The way in which Conan Doyle’s early Sherlock Holmes stories portray an eclectic mix of mad male experiences in the form of hysteria, criminal insanity and drug abuse.
• Representations of Autistic Spectrum Disorder through Hollywood films including Rain Man, Shine and A Beautiful Mind.
• Comedy, madness and psychiatry in works of ‘fiction’ by Will Self.
• Poetry as a therapeutic tool in psychotherapy.
• The enduring link between the moon and lunacy and its potential basis in mental science and psychiatry.
• Trauma theory as a psychological approach to the literary criticism of Tennessee Williams’ plays.
• The use of the World Health Organisation’s ICD-10 classification of mental and behavioural disorders to diagnose mental illness in Shakespeare’s King Lear and Hamlet.

Local interest will come from Dr Pete Goward from Sheffield Hallam University who will speak on themes of madness in Nottinghamshire-born D. H. Lawrence’s novella The Virgin and the Gypsy and a trip to Newstead Abbey, the ancestral home of the Romantic poet Lord Byron, whose potential experiences with madness have been the subject of scholarly speculation for many years.

The keynote speeches will be delivered by Kay Redfield Jamison and Elaine Showalter. Jamison is the Dalio Family Professor in Mood Disorders, Professor of Psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Co-Director of the Johns Hopkins Mood Disorders Center. Co-author of the standard medical text on manic depressive (bipolar) disorder, she will speak about her experiences of writing her memoirs recounting her own manic depressive illness. Showalter is a leading literary scholar, who has written extensively on gender and madness in literature, hysterical epidemics in contemporary society and a range of women writers, among other topics. Professor Showalter will be speaking on The Grand Delusions and the metaphorical use of such psychiatric symptoms in a range of fiction.

Television and stage actress Celia Robertson will talk, as one of four plenary speakers, about researching the extraordinary story of the two lives of her grandmother — she found fame in the 1930s as exciting teenage poet Joan Adeney Easdale who was discovered by Virginia Woolf, but her life was blighted by mental illness and ended as Sophie Curly, a half-frightening, half-pitiful figure on the streets of Nottingham who harangued officers at the local police station and spent her pension on beer and lace. Other plenary speakers are Tess Jones, Neil Vickers and Mark A. Radcliffe.

The 1st International Health Humanities Conference: Madness and Literature will take place at The University of Nottingham from Friday August 6 to Sunday August 8 and is funded by a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council as part of the Madness and Literature Network. Further information on the Madness and Literature Network can be found on the web

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Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 100 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and the Times Higher Education-QS World University Rankings.

More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to RAE 2008, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranks the University 7th in the UK by research power. In 27 subject areas, the University features in the UK Top Ten, with 14 of those in the Top Five.

The University provides innovative and top quality teaching, undertakes world-changing research, and attracts talented staff and students from 150 nations. Described by The Times as Britain's “only truly global university”, it has invested continuously in award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. Twice since 2003 its research and teaching academics have won Nobel Prizes. The University has won the Queen's Award for Enterprise in both 2006 (International Trade) and 2007 (Innovation — School of Pharmacy), and was named ‘Entrepreneurial University of the Year’ at the Times Higher Education Awards 2008.

Nottingham was designated as a Science City in 2005 in recognition of its rich scientific heritage, industrial base and role as a leading research centre. Nottingham has since embarked on a wide range of business, property, knowledge transfer and educational initiatives ( in order to build on its growing reputation as an international centre of scientific excellence. The University of Nottingham is a partner in Nottingham: the Science City.

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More information is available from Professor Paul Crawford on +44 (0)7507 649364, or Charley Baker at;

Emma Thorne Emma Thorne - Media Relations Manager

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5793 Location: University Park

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