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The impact of Melville's manic‐depression on the writing of Moby Dick

Clare Dolman (PhD Student at the Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College, London, UK)
Sarah Turvey (Principal Lecturer at Roehampton University, London, UK)

Mental Health Review Journal

ISSN: 1361-9322

Article publication date: 16 September 2011

Abstract

Purpose

There is evidence to suggest an association between mood disorders, in particular bipolar disorder, and creativity. This paper aims to examine the evidence that the writer Herman Melville suffered from bipolar disorder.

Design/methodology/approach

An interdisciplinary approach is adopted, examining the genetic and biographical evidence as well as textual examples that illustrate the argument in his masterpiece Moby Dick.

Findings

Taking the genetic, behavioural, and textual evidence together, it is concluded that the likelihood that Melville did have bipolar disorder is high.

Research limitations/implications

Retrospective analysis of the biographies and work of deceased writers has acknowledged limitations. Close examination of all Melville's literary output would be useful to either add credence to this theory or refute it.

Social implications

Adding to the evidence that revered writers and artists were on the bipolar disorder spectrum helps people with the condition feel more positive and reduces stigma.

Originality/value

Close literary examination of textual examples of hypomanic writing, combined with a psychological approach to Melville's biography provides evidence that Melville's mental illness contributed positively to his creativity as a writer and is therefore evidence that this condition has some benefits to society.

Keywords

Citation

Dolman, C. and Turvey, S. (2011), "The impact of Melville's manic‐depression on the writing of Moby Dick", Mental Health Review Journal, Vol. 16 No. 3, pp. 107-112. https://doi.org/10.1108/13619321111178050

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited