Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Catchin' my soul
At about three in the morning last Thursday, I finished a complete draft of the fourth book in my Miniature Mystery series. Whew.
I thought I'd treat myself to some light reading, so I picked up a copy of a rare book catalog from Lakin & Marley Rare Books. The title: Frost and Fire—50 Depressive and Manic-Depressive Writers of Genius . . . a celebration.
Lakin celebrates writers with two things in common: they created some of the most moving and powerful literature in history, and they shared an illness that brought them pain, desperation, and anguish.
Not that all great writers were or are mentally ill, but the phenomenon occurs in disproportionate numbers.
Even if you're not ready to pay thousands of dollars for an unpublished letter of Henry James, Lakin's catalog itself is fascinating reading. Besides reflecting on the well-known cases of disturbed writers like Lord Byron, Sylvia Plath, and Eugene O'Neill, I learned about how Graham Greene liked to play Russian Roulette and how Ralph Waldo Emerson longed for a Farmer's Almanac that would help him chart the moodswings that took him from genius to imbecility and back.
Lakin's descriptions of the temperaments and episodes in the lives of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Ezra Pound, Noel Coward, T. S. Eliot—and more—are brief, but captivating.
The catalog I have is from 1995, but I'm wondering if they still have the Vachel Lindsay letter, "seemingly written during a fully manic episode." It's listed as only $1250.
Lakin's thought-provoking introduction to the catalog ends with a question: (I'm paraphrasing) With today's resources in psychopharmacology and psychotherapy, are we in danger of curtailing literary genius?
(How would I know?)