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Genius and hypochondria

February 3, 2010 | 12:28 pm


What do Charlotte Brontë, Marcel Proust and Charles Darwin have in common? They were all hypochondriacs, according to Irish author Brian Dillon. In our pages today, Heller McAlpin reviews "The Hypochondriacs: Nine Tormented Lives"; the book, she writes:

... is an intriguing, suavely written blend of medical history and literary criticism, a book that adds to the growing (or metastasizing) field of pathological biography.

Be warned, however, that Dillon's subjects don't neatly fit our modern notion of hypochondria as neurosis. Alice James, Charles Darwin and Marcel Proust were all chronic invalids who obsessed about their health and defined themselves through their illnesses. But they also suffered real pain and organic, if undiagnosed, ailments. ...

Reading Dillon's account of the battles they fought with their minds, bodies and imaginations, one doesn't envy their heightened sensibilities.

Read the complete review here.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo credit: Genista via Flickr