Narratives of Failure in Literary Depictions of Mental Illness

Investigator: Roman Bischof, M.A.

Literary representations of mental illness or ‘madness’ have always been closely linked to the concept of failure. Traditionally, the ‘mad person’ is depicted in Western literature as someone who fails to meet social expectations regarding ‘normal’ behaviour and attitudes. In recent decades, however, the perspective has shifted towards a focus on society’s failure to understand and accommodate people experiencing various kinds of mental distress. Taking a close look at recent British and American novels, this project will trace competing narratives of failure in connection with mental illness and examine how these narratives contribute to shaping the concept of mental illness itself. Additionally, the project will discuss the inevitable failure of literature (and representation in general) to capture the experience of mental distress.