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Listen: A Self-Help Book? Writing and Reading The Anatomy of Melancholy

Robert Burton composed The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621) partly because he was a sufferer of melancholy. He said that he wrote to keep himself occupied and as a form of therapy, ‘to ease my mind by writing’. Yet writing was also a symptom of his affliction: ‘one must scratch where it itcheth’. In this session, we’ll explore how Burton came to write his great work – the task of most of his adult life. We’ll learn how he saw writing and reading as therapeutic activities for mental affliction, while also recognising their risks for those prone to solitude and self-isolation. Reading about melancholy could make sufferers feel better, but it could also aggravate the symptoms. And we’ll hear from some of the early readers of the Anatomy who found themselves entertained, consoled, and perplexed in equal measure by this unique work.

This talk took place on Saturday 26th January.

About the speaker

Dr Mary Ann Lund is Associate Professor in Renaissance English Literature at the University of Leicester. She is the author of Melancholy, Medicine and Religion in Early Modern England: Reading ‘The Anatomy of Melancholy’ (Cambridge University Press, 2010). She was a guest on Radio 4’s In Our Time on The Anatomy of Melancholy (2011), and more recently has contributed to the 10-part Radio 4 programme The History of Delusions (2018). She is the editor of Volumes 12 and 13 of The Oxford Edition of the Sermons of John Donne.