Why do so many great writers have epilepsy?

An epilepsy gene was discovered in 1996, so it is only a matter of time before genetic counselors offer the option of abortion or embryo destruction to parents of preborn offspring – if they’re not already.
alfred lord tennyson 2.jpgYesterday Holy Kaw drew attention to a fascinating article on How Stuff Works. I had no idea so many of our great writers had epilepsy… and that there’s an explanation.
This is just another example of that which we consider abnormal, or a defect, not necessarily being so, or at least having a sunny side that contributes to the advancement of humanity….

Alfred Lord Tennyson [pictured right] described the experience as “the clearest of the clearest, the surest of the surest, the weirdest of the weirdest, utterly beyond words.”…

Before they happened to Gustave Flaubert, the Frenchman became terrified, writing that he felt “a whirlpool of ideas and images in my poor brain, during which it seemed that my consciousness, that my me sank like a vessel in a storm.”
Lewis Carroll also shared this sense of growing unreality, writing that his made him feel strange, like another person. These descriptions aren’t nightmares or passages from science-fiction novels. They’re attempts to describe what it feels like to a have an epileptic seizure….
Flaubert, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Lord Byron, Dante Alighieri, Sir Walter Scott, Edward Lear, Jonathan Swift – all legendary writers and all epileptics.

alice in wonderland.jpg

The hallucinations, seizures and flood of memories associated with temporal lobe epilepsy influenced some of these writers profoundly. Dickens, Dostoevsky and Flaubert cast characters in their works as epileptics. Carroll’s bizarre, dreamlike fictions, such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, seem to share some characteristics with the above descriptions of seizures. Some critics have argued that the entirety of Alice’s Adventures is a symbolic representation of epileptic seizures.
Besides its tendency to induce hallucinations and other disturbing stimuli, epilepsy has been linked to a condition called hypergraphia, an all-consuming desire to write.
The overwhelming urge to write – and to write constantly – and a form of epilepsy appear to come from the same part of the brain: the temporal lobe. A troubled temporal lobe may then both spur someone to write obsessively and also cause temporal lobe epilepsy….

van gogh.jpg

It’s worth noting that many of these writers, and epileptic artists like Vincent van Gogh, were quite prolific, in some cases over rather short life spans. (Van Gogh, who may have had both epilepsy and bipolar disorder, painted constantly and wrote his brother multiple letters a day.)
Epilepsy and hypergraphia can be accompanied by depression, which for some artists is a bane and for others a challenging source of inspiration. But depression, with its many possible causes, isn’t likely a source of artistic talent. Instead, it often provides a reason for people to sort out their problems through art….

[Tennyson photo via Wikipedia]

11 thoughts on “Why do so many great writers have epilepsy?”

  1. I guess, it’s the silver lining in the clouds of illness.
    Now, the question is, if these writers did NOT have epilepsy, would they be the prolific writers we know today?
    The plain and simple answer is: we don’t know.
    What we do know is IF they had they been aborted because of whatever illnes/ circumstance their mothers encountered during pregnancy..we will DEFINITLEY not know these writers.
    Now, in the 1.5 million of aborted babies every year since 1973, how many of those could have been prolific writers? Again, the answer is we don’t know and, with their untimely deaths, we will never know.
    With Life, there is hope…CHOOSE LIFE.

  2. Well said, RSD! Also, how many doctors, nurses, scientists, etc. could we have had? The scientist who would come up with a cure for cancer may have been aborted…we’ll never know. :(

  3. Don’t Forget St. Paul . . . the most prolific writer of all. And the most famous Jew besides Jesus. He was thought to perhaps have epilepsy . . . becasue some bible passages allude to some episodes he might have had.

  4. The Van Gogh painting in blue is titled “The Starry Night.” Though it is likely his most famous work, he painted Starry Night while he was in an asylum in 1889, was released a short time later, suffered a setback at the end of 1889, and in July 1890, he took his own life.
    Also, this painting formed the basis of Don McLean’s song “Vincent.” The following link will give you a more complete understanding of the lyrics (http://www.vangoghgallery.com/painting/starrynightlyrics.html) but knowing what you already know, the lyrics may make more sense now:
    Starry, starry night.
    Paint your palette blue and grey,
    Look out on a summer’s day,
    With eyes that know the darkness in my soul.
    Shadows on the hills,
    Sketch the trees and the daffodils,
    Catch the breeze and the winter chills,
    In colors on the snowy linen land.
    Now I understand what you tried to say to me,
    How you suffered for your sanity,
    How you tried to set them free.
    They would not listen, they did not know how.
    Perhaps they’ll listen now.
    Starry, starry night.
    Flaming flowers that brightly blaze,
    Swirling clouds in violet haze,
    Reflect in Vincent’s eyes of china blue.
    Colors changing hue, morning field of amber grain,
    Weathered faces lined in pain,
    Are soothed beneath the artist’s loving hand.
    Now I understand what you tried to say to me,
    How you suffered for your sanity,
    How you tried to set them free.
    They would not listen, they did not know how.
    Perhaps they’ll listen now.
    For they could not love you,
    But still your love was true.
    And when no hope was left in sight
    On that starry, starry night,
    You took your life, as lovers often do.
    But I could have told you, Vincent,
    This world was never meant for one
    As beautiful as you.
    Starry, starry night.
    Portraits hung in empty halls,
    Frameless head on nameless walls,
    With eyes that watch the world and can’t forget.
    Like the strangers that you’ve met,
    The ragged men in the ragged clothes,
    The silver thorn of bloody rose,
    Lie crushed and broken on the virgin snow.
    Now I think I know what you tried to say to me,
    How you suffered for your sanity,
    How you tried to set them free.
    They would not listen, they’re not listening still.
    Perhaps they never will …

  5. Tom Ambrose,
    Thanks for sharing the video of VanGogh’s paintings accompanying the song, Vincent. Nicely done.

  6. My dear Hannah just turned 9 months old and has had seizures since 16 hours after birth.
    The world is better and more beautiful and just smells sweeter because Hannah is in it.
    I have never met a sweeter-natured baby. She is always happy. I told one of her nurses once that I was concerned that I hadn’t really seen her cry tears. She responded that Hannah is just to sweet to cry.
    Despite all the test and procedures she has gone through she still is loving and forgiving. She will moan during an IV, then soothe easy and give smiles to the IV team!
    She is so snuggly, and many times I have heard a new therapist or nurse comment on how they have a new favorite patient.
    My other children have learned so much from Hannah too. They have learned more about love and about respect for all those created in the image of God. They are very protective of their little sister, despite their own tender ages of 3.5 and almost 2.
    I do pray that God will once again “take the seizures away in His hand” as my oldest put it when Hannah had 5 weeks of seizure freedom. Regardless, we are all blessed by Hannah and know God has good plans in store for her.

  7. Epileptics- represetin’!!
    Actually different kinds of epilepsy correspond with different gene mutations. So it’s a big task trying to find out each specific seizure’s etiology. Hopefully we can find a cure soon.
    My brother, dad and I sent our blood into a researcher at Harvard who was doing research specifically on Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy and they actually found the exact locus where the gene mutation is. Pretty exciting stuff.

  8. My son in addition to Wilson’s Disease, Juvenile Dermatomyocitis and high blood pressure also has epilepsy. He’s on Carbatrol for the epilepsy and does well on it. All togethor he takes 5 different medications in addition to his vitamins. I call the 700 club often and think that has a lot to do with his progress. He will be 20 in October. I think Daniel is a part of the reason I believe so strongly in health care for all American citizens. Had he not had a medicaid card there’s no way he would have made it. At the same time it gave me the chance to see the difference between state run hospitals and private hospitals. He had an excellent doctor at the state runned hospital but some of the other things he had to go through were just not right. He encountered bad situations at the private hospitals too but not on the same scale. That’s why I’m all for health care but I’m for health care where government acts as a facilator of good health care but in no way usurps the rights of medical care providers or of patients. I just keep on praying that what was intended for good actually is good. Those of you that have loved ones with epilepsy I will be praying for you. Please also pray that Daniel will learn to read.

  9. Parents who murder their babies in the name of not wanting to see the child suffer need to watch a video of a dismemberment abortion and be asked if they think the child suffered.
    The ‘altruism’ of such parents is really their own narcissism speaking. It’s THEY who don’t want to suffer, having to alter their lives to accommodate their child’s needs.
    It’s really that simple.

Comments are closed.