Touched with Fire  

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[...] his raptures were
All air and fire which made his verses clear;
For that fine madness still he did retain,
Which rightly should possess a poet's brain.

--Michael Drayton on Christopher Marlowe, epigraph

"Jamison presents proof of the biological foundations of this disease and applies what is known about the illness to the lives and works of some of the world's greatest artists including Lord Byron, Vincent Van Gogh, and Virginia Woolf." --from the publisher

"We of the craft are all crazy," remarked Lord Byron about himself and his fellow poets. "Some are affected by gaiety, others by melancholy, but all are more or less touched." This book is about being "more or less touched"; specifically, it is about manicdepressive illness-a disease of perturbed gaieties, melancholy, and tumultuous temperaments-and its relationship to the artistic temperament and imagination. It is also a book about artists and their voyages, moods as their ships of passage, and the ancient, persistent belief that there exists such a thing as a "fine madness."--Touched with Fire (1993) by Kay Redfield Jamison, incipit

"Robert Lowell and John Berryman, along with their contemporaries Theodore Roethke, Delmore Schwartz, Randall Jarrell, and Anne Sexton, were-among other things-"stalked" by their manic-depressive illness. Mercurial by temperament, they were subject to disastrous extremes of mood and reason. All were repeatedly hospitalized for their attacks of mania and depression; Berryman, Jarrell, and Sexton eventually committed suicide."--Touched with Fire (1993) by Kay Redfield Jamison |}

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Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament (1993) is a book by Kay Redfield Jamison that examines the relationship between bipolar disorder and artistic creativity. It contains a number of case histories of dead people who are described as probably having suffered from bipolar disorder. In Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament, she shows how bipolar disorder can run in artistic or high-achieving families. As an example, she cites Lord Byron and his ancestors.


Since time immemorial, there has been a common belief, although without empirical basis, that many famous historical figures gifted with creative talents have been affected by bipolar disorder. Many of these have been retroactively "diagnosed" as suffering from bipolar disorder after their deaths based on letters, correspondence, contemporaneous accounts, or other material, most notably in Kay Redfield Jamison's book Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament. Touched With Fire presents the argument that bipolar disorder may be found in a disproportionate numbers of people with creative talent such as artists, comedians, musicians, authors, performers, poets, and scientists, and some credit the condition for their creativity.

Several recent clinical studies have also suggested that there is a correlation between creativity and bipolar disorder, although it is unclear what the relationship is between the two.

Particularly strong links have been identified between creativity and mood disorders, particularly manic-depressive disorder (aka bipolar disorder) and depressive disorder (aka unipolar disorder). In Touched with Fire, Kay Redfield Jamison summarizes studies of mood-disorder rates in writers, poets and artists. She also explores research that identifies mood disorders in such famous writers and artists as Ernest Hemingway (who shot himself after electroconvulsive treatment), Virginia Woolf (who drowned herself when she felt a depressive episode coming on), composer Robert Schumann (who died in a mental institution), and even the famed visual artist, Michelangelo.

See also

creativity, bipolar disorder


  • Jamison, Kay Redfield (1993): Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament, New York, The Free Press. ISBN 0-02-916030-8

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