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Manic depression in literature: the case of Virginia Woolf
  1. Katerina Koutsantoni
  1. Correspondence to Dr Katerina Koutsantoni, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, B3.06 Addictions Sciences Building, 4 Windsor Walk, London SE5 8AF, UK; katerina.koutsantoni{at}


The steady growth of the discipline of medical humanities has facilitated better understanding of the symptoms and signs of mental health conditions and the feelings of the humans experiencing them. In this project, the arts have been seen as enabling re-engagement of the practitioner with the patient's own perceptions and feelings. With respect to the association between creativity and bipolar disorder in particular, work within medical humanities has meant that mentally ill creative individuals have been subject to scientific scrutiny and investigation, rather than continuing to be viewed as naively romanticised cases of mental illness. This paper is an attempt to supplement traditional literary criticism by examining Virginia Woolf's history of bipolar disorder through a medical humanities lens. I will provide an overview of Woolf's history of manic-depressive episodes, their symptoms and manifestation, look back on her circumstances during their occurrence, and observe the author's losing battle to salvage her identity in the throes of the disease. The aim is to offer further insight into Woolf's psychopathology and to gain some understanding of the causes and progression of the condition that led to her death by suicide.

  • Bipolar disorder
  • manic-depressive illness
  • depression
  • mania
  • hypomania
  • cyclothymia
  • lithium
  • rest cure
  • Virginia Woolf
  • subjectivity
  • intersubjectivity
  • dialogism
  • literary studies
  • psychiatry

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.