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The Faces of Depression in Literature

Edited By Josefa Ros Velasco

The Faces of Depression in Literature brings together some of the best-known specialists and scholars on the topic of depression in literature worldwide to offer a multidisciplinary approach concerning the philosophical, theological, and literary narratives of depression over time and their approximations to the current, clinical understanding of Major Depressive Disorder. The authors clarify the background of depression by paying attention to its representation through these narratives and revalue them as a means of acquiring knowledge in an interdisciplinary way. This pioneering initiative fills the knowledge gap that still exists concerning the nature of depression from a multidisciplinary perspective that takes into account some cross-cutting narratives. The authors give voice to the forgotten manifestations of depression found in literature, philosophy, theology, and even early medical works. The Faces of Depression in Literature is for graduates and researchers on depression from a cultural and social point of view, including philosophers, historians, cultural theorists, literature and art experts and enthusiasts, as well as artists and writers themselves, specialists in mental health and cognitive psychology, and anyone interested in a better understanding of the human condition.
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2 Depression in Ricardian Dream Visions (Nancy Ciccone (University of Colorado))


2 Depression in Ricardian Dream Visions

Nancy Ciccone

University of Colorado

In Chaucer’s dream vision known as the Book of the Duchess (c. 1368), the narrator wonders how he can still be alive: “I have gret wonder, by this light,/How that I live, for day ne night/I may not slepe.” [“I am amazed, by this light,/how I am still alive for neither day nor night/can I sleep.”] (1987, 1–3)1 He complains of idle thoughts continuously plaguing his mind (1987, 4). Having suffered for eight years, he has lost all discernment: “Joye or sorowe, wherso hyt be/For I have felynge in nothyng.” [“Everything seems the same to me—whether joy or sorrow, wherever it comes from—because I don’t feel anything.”] (1987, 10–11) Whereas modern analyses might consider him suffering from clinical depression, the narrator diagnoses himself as suffering from “melancolye.” (1987, 23) According to Medieval medical discourses, he is correct. Among his ailments is “sorwful imaginacioun” (1987, 14), a primary symptom of the disease.

Most literary scholars, however, diagnose him with lovesickness because Chaucer’s dream visions borrow from French sources that designate unrequited love as causing their narrators’ depressive melancholia. As Peter Toohey (1992, 267) has found, such a medical identification reaches back at least to Galen (c. 130–200 CE). He diagnosed it when an emaciated, feverish woman, who has insomnia, quickened her pulse at the mention of a particular dancer. Galen and other...

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