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Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness Paperback – January 8, 1992


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 84 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1 edition (January 8, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679736395
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679736394
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.4 x 0.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (283 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,713 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In 1985 William Styron fell victim to a crippling and almost suicidal depression, the same illness that took the lives of Randall Jarrell, Primo Levi and Virginia Woolf. That Styron survived his descent into madness is something of a miracle. That he manages to convey its tortuous progression and his eventual recovery with such candor and precision makes Darkness Visible a rare feat of literature, a book that will arouse a shock of recognition even in those readers who have been spared the suffering it describes.

From Publishers Weekly

A meditation on Styron's ( Sophie's Choice ) serious depression at the age of 60, this essay evokes with detachment and dignity the months-long turmoil whose symptoms included the novelist's "dank joylessness," insomnia, physical aversion to alcohol (previously "an invaluable senior partner of my intellect") and his persistent "fantasies of self-destruction" leading to psychiatric treatment and hospitalization. The book's virtues--considerable--are twofold. First, it is a pitiless and chastened record of a nearly fatal human trial far commoner than assumed--and then a literary discourse on the ways and means of our cultural discontents, observed in the figures of poet Randall Jarrell, activist Abbie Hoffman, writer Albert Camus and others. Written by one whose book-learning proves a match for his misery, the memoir travels fastidiously over perilous ground, receiving intimations of mortality and reckoning delicately with them. Always clarifying his demons, never succumbing to them in his prose, Styron's neat, tight narrative carries the bemusement of the worldly wise suddenly set off-course--and the hard-won wisdom therein. In abridged form, the essay first appeared in Vanity Fair.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

William Styron (1925-2006) , a native of the Virginia Tidewater, was a graduate of Duke University and a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. His books include Lie Down in Darkness, The Long March, Set This House on Fire, The Confessions of Nat Turner, Sophie's Choice, This Quiet Dust, Darkness Visible, and A Tidewater Morning. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the Howells Medal, the American Book Award, the Legion d'Honneur, and the Witness to Justice Award from the Auschwitz Jewish Center Foundation. With his wife, the poet and activist Rose Styron, he lived for most of his adult life in Roxbury, Connecticut, and in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts, where he is buried.

Customer Reviews

Thank you, Mr. Styron, for sharing your story with us.
N. Robinson
I recommend this book for anyone who suffers from depression, anyone who loves someone with depression, or anyone who is a fan of Styron's.
Michelle C
To someone with depression, you feel like you are right there with him - a comforting thought.
Michael J. Gosling

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

378 of 390 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Largen on December 2, 2004
Format: Paperback
William Styron is perhaps best known for his bestselling novel, Sophie's Choice, which was converted to screenplay and released as an Academy award-winning motion picture starring Meryl Streep. Many critics acknowledged Styron's seemingly natural ability to evoke a sense of bitter, submerged despair through subtle understatement. The reviewers who lauded his work had no way of predicting that Styron would eventually become afflicted with a more personal misery, a depression so severe it would drive him to suicidal obsession.

Styron's harrowing struggle with clinical depression is the subject of his non-fiction bestseller, Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness (Vintage Books, 1992). In a mercifully brief 84 pages, Styron eloquently demonstrates how the most brutal and debilitating stages of psychotic depression often hurl patients into an existential nightmare from which the only perceived escape is death (and according to Styron, this misperception constitutes one common, potentially lethal distortion of thought in depressed patients).

Darkness Visible opens with a pointed epigraph from the book of Job. This reflects Styron's perception that like Job's trials, depressed patients are beset by something inexplicable and powerful that threatens to destroy the fruits of their life and labor, the relationships they hold dear, and their very understanding of spirituality. Like Job, depressed patients struggle to find cosmological meaning in their suffering. And like Job, depressed patients who petition God to provide this meaning for them may only receive partial answers or worse yet, a silence that reverberates from an expansive, ominous void.
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121 of 123 people found the following review helpful By J. Michael Stevenson on March 1, 2000
Format: Paperback
When this book was recomended to me by a friend and fellow depression sufferer, I was skeptical. Depression is not easy to describe, even to my psychiatrist. As I started to read, though, I realized that not only had Mr. Styron managed to share his experience of the nebulous monster that is depression, but he was able to lead me to a greater understanding of my own struggles with it. I passed the book along to a friend who had stood by me in the long nights but had never experienced the illness first hand. His impression was very different from mine, in part because he read it as a reference, but more so because he could not personally relate. Perhaps the greatest lesson this book delivers, then, is that understanding depression may only be possible (if it is possible at all) by those who have experienced it. If you suffer from depression, this book may help to remind you that you are not alone. If you don't, it may only enable you to further understand (though not completely) the disruptive, pervasive nature of the disease.
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206 of 219 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 10, 1998
Format: Paperback
My one-line summary is a cliche, of course, but entirely appropriate; after all, if fatigue is but one of depression's many demons, what person suffering from this affliction is going to have the energy to read a lot? (Darkness Visible is, fortunately, about eighty pages long. I think it's great fortune that the book is short.)
I think it's important that this book was written by an author of the same stature as famous writers who did take their lives. The difference is that Styron came out on the other side of this malady, saw it for what it was. At times he makes remarkable observations on depression, worthy of a clinician in a psychiatric hospital; for example, when he writes sentences such as, The physical symptoms of this affliction trick the mind into thinking that the situation is beyond hope.
As with many, Styron's physical predisposition to depression (a), led to (b) feelings of despair, hopelessness, and suicidal thoughts, which further fed the symptoms and perpetuated the disease.
This literary work helps dispel the idea that depression is "fashionable" and that suicide among the literati is "cool."
His "no holds barred" discussion honors those who fight this affliction.
(By the way, the title is from John Milton's epic "Paradise Lost," "darkness visible" is one of many ways Milton described the Hell into which Satan and his demons were tossed.)
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86 of 93 people found the following review helpful By Michael J. Mazza HALL OF FAME on May 25, 2002
Format: Paperback
"Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness" is an autobiographical work in which distinguished novelist William Styron recalls his battle with clinical depression. A lean 84 pages, this is a straightforward and eloquent book.
In an author's note, Styron explains that this book started out as a lecture given at a symposium sponsored by the Department of Psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. The lecture was developed into a "Vanity Fair" essay before ultimately becoming this book.
Styron describes depression as "an insidious meltdown" of the mind, a "tempest in my brain." He reflects on the depression and suicide of other individuals whose lives had touched his. He describes in detail his own struggle with suicidal thoughts. Also covered are the medications he took, as well as his hospitalization and therapy.
Styron's book is both a fine piece of literature and a very informative window into a particular mental illness. Styron has been in the pit of despair, but has survived; I commend him for his courage and candor in sharing his experience in "Darkness Visible." Recommended companion text: Audre Lorde's "The Cancer Journals," about a poet's battle with breast cancer.
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