Chapter 5 - Epilepsy in Literature

It has been claimed that a significant number of writers, including Gustave Flaubert, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Lord Byron, Dante Alighieri, Sir Walter Scott, Edward Lear, and Jonathan Swift, were affected by epilepsy. However, with the exception of Flaubert, Dostoevsky, and Lear, there is little evidence to support these claims. For example, it has been suggested that Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘difficult’ personality was due to his being an ‘epileptic’, whereas in fact he experienced blackouts caused by binge drinking, but there is very little evidence that he suffered from epilepsy. It seems likely that Dickens had severe renal colic that caused him to collapse occasionally. Speculation that Byron had epilepsy is based on the single line stating that he ‘fell prey to violent convulsions’ when, at the age of 16 years, he heard that a woman he loved was thinking of getting married….

Chapter 6 - Epilepsy in works of art and in artist

It is probably in Christian Renaissance works that the negative perceptions of epilepsy are most clearly expressed. Such preoccupations centred upon demonic possession and the need to ‘cast out’ the demon and make the possessed person ‘clean.’ This was illustrated by using symbolism, and required skill in depicting a twisted torso or face. The challenge to pictorial art was in representing an evolving process, namely the seizure, in a static form, namely the painting. Ladino and her colleagues conducted a comprehensive search of articles and reviews focusing on artistic depictions of epilepsy. They classified these within the following periods: Greek, Early Christian, Renaissance, early Latin American, modern, and contemporary. The methodology used by Ladino and her colleagues to search Western medical databases inevitably resulted in a cultural bias, with an overemphasis on Western Christian religious art and an under-representation of the depiction of epilepsy in Eastern pictorial art. Here we shall explore the presentation of epilepsy in pictorial art using Ladino’s epochs, but we shall aim to spread our net a little more widely.

CHAPTER 7 - Epilepsy on the Moving Screen

Whereas pictorial art does not nowadays reach a particularly wide public – art galleries being mainly visited by art historians, potential purchasers, parties of schoolchildren, and the elderly – the moving picture has considerable influence as a medium for social and public health education. However, it has also depicted people with epilepsy more graphically and in some respects judgementally. In this chapter we shall consider the portrayal of epilepsy in cinema films and on television. Below is an extract.