Reading Group: Literature and Mental Health

paintings by Edvard Munch Jealousy

Edvard Munch, Jealousy (1895)


Does art cure our anxieties or exacerbate them? Is there a relation between representations of mental illness and the successful management or overcoming of it? Why and how has creativity been persistently linked to madness?

This reading group explores transforming literary representations of mental health and engages critically with the therapeutic (or non-therapeutic) role of the arts. We aim to bring together a small cohesive cross-period group from a variety of interdisciplinary fields to consider the relationship between literature and forms of mental illness. Drawing from a variety of literary texts (as well as films and paintings!), we discuss how reading and writing have been variously understood as both cures and invitations for different forms of madness, what one means when they say that a work is ‘intense’ or ‘depressing’, and how a genre’s formal features interact with the representation of the inner workings of the mind.

We believe that our critical engagement with representations of mental health in literature can help us understand the role of arts in a world of self-help books and bibliotherapy. As discussions about mental health make their way into the mainstream, we are interested in expanding our understanding of how literature and mental health interact and how we might use literary and cultural texts as a frame of reference to understand social and historical ideas about mental distress.

This reading group is open to all interested members of the University and meets on alternate weeks to collectively discuss and workshop ideas. See below for details of upcoming meetings.

Venue: Seminar Room A, Faculty of English, St Cross Building

Ahead of each session, we circulate a set of thematically linked short readings to stimulate fruitful discussion.

Link for readings:

Contact information:

To join our mailing list, to suggest any texts or any other queries, please contact any of the convenors:

Madhurima Sen - DPhil candidate, Faculty of English (

Heeyeon Kim- DPhil candidate, Faculty of English (