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Melancholia The Western Malady by Matthew Bell

Melancholia The Western Malady


Melancholia The Western Malady by Matthew Bell

Melancholia is a commonly experienced feeling, and one with a long and fascinating medical history which can be charted back to antiquity. Avoiding the simplistic binary opposition of constructivism and hard realism, this book argues that melancholia was a culture-bound syndrome which thrived in the West because of the structure of Western medicine since the Ancient Greeks, and because of the West's fascination with self-consciousness. While melancholia cannot be equated with modern depression, Matthew Bell argues that concepts from recent depression research can shed light on melancholia. Within a broad historical panorama, Bell focuses on ancient medical writing, especially the little-known but pivotal Rufus of Ephesus, and on the medicine and culture of early modern Europe. Separate chapters are dedicated to issues of gender and cultural difference, and the final chapter offers a survey of melancholia in the arts, explaining the prominence of melancholia - especially in literature.


'Matthew Bell's knowledge of Western historical and cultural traditions is far-reaching, deep, and employed to great advantage in this compelling book. His account of the place of melancholy within these traditions, and its links to self-consciousness, are original and provocative, making Melancholia: The Western Malady a worthy successor and complement to earlier writing such as Jackson's great Melancholia and Depression.'
Jennifer H. Radden, Professor Emerita, University of Massachusetts, Boston

'Matthew Bell has written an important depth-historical and interdisciplinary study linking melancholia and depressive disorders in the West to a distinctive culture of self-consciousness. A book like this comes once in a generation to challenge established paradigms and to engage scholars in the humanities, social sciences and psychiatry about the distinctive history and nature of melancholia as a uniquely Western malady.'
Julius H. Rubin, Professor Emeritus, University of Saint Joseph and author of Religious Melancholy and Protestant Experience in America (1994) and Tears of Repentance

, Christian Indian Identity and Community in Colonial Southern New England (2013)

About the Author

Matthew Bell is Professor of German and Comparative Literature at King's College London. His main areas of research are eighteenth-century literature and thought, and the history of the human sciences. He is the author of The German Tradition of Psychology in Literature and Thought, 1700-1840 (Cambridge, 2005).

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Book Info

Publication date

1st December 2016


Matthew Bell

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Cambridge University Press


230 pages


Social, group or collective psychology
History of medicine
Social & cultural history
General & world history



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