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Classic stories about madness
Posted by: Minicthulhu (IP Logged)
Date: 27 June, 2018 02:51PM
Hello,

I really like good old stories about madness so I would like to ask if anybody can recommend a good story dealing with the subject of insanity. I like Horla by Guy de Maupassant, The Spectre-smitten by Samuel Warren, The Republic of The Southern Cross by Valery Bryusov, The Strange Malady by Aleister Crowley or The Glance by Stefan Grabinski. I am looking something like the afore-mentioned titles; a tale full of eccentricity, mental chaos and lack of reason. :-)

Thanks a lot.

Re: Classic stories about madness
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 27 June, 2018 07:26PM
Perhaps more subtle madness than you look for, but I think Walter de la Mare's story "A:B:O" is completely intense. Emotionally it is like written in a fever dream.

Re: Classic stories about madness
Posted by: Minicthulhu (IP Logged)
Date: 28 June, 2018 11:52AM
A.B.O. is a great story. Speaking of Walter de la Mare, his short story "What dreams may come" really seems to be a fever dream. :-)

Re: Classic stories about madness
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 28 June, 2018 05:10PM
Personally, I'm generally turned off by stories focusing on insane protagonists. "Oh: he's insane, okay, got it."

I'm much more interested in the governess in The Turn of the Screw as (what she pretty evidently is) a woman who took on much more than she was capable of managing, than the Edmund Wilson (I think it is) idea that the poor thing is simply hallucinating due to pathologically repressed longings.

I note btw that Lovecraft's stories are replete with narrators who assert that they are not insane, and/or that what they are about to relate could drive people (even the whole world) insane. But neither of these is the case. I suppose we could take it that the narrator of "The Rats in the Walls" has suffered some kind of mental breakdown and that the rats he seems to hear, in the story's present, are only in his mind. But isn't that about it, as regards Lovecraftian madness?

Re: Classic stories about madness
Posted by: Minicthulhu (IP Logged)
Date: 29 June, 2018 12:41PM
It has always seemed to me the main character in "The Supernumerary Corpse" is not normal and the murder he committed (or he thinks he committed it) is something existing only in his head. :-)

Great stories about insanity are "The Queer night in Paris", "Was it a dream?" and "A Letter from a madman" (proto-Horla story) by Guy de Maupassant and they are very authentic and of great value from a scientific point of view, owing to the fact Maupassant was himself a psychiatric case.

Also "In the mirror" and "When I woke up" by Valery Bryusov are excellent tales dealing with the subject of madness.

I also enjoyed "The Pomegranate Seed" by Edith Wharton which is not strictly about madness but about a man who killed his relative in such a clever and sophisticated way that when his conscience forced him come clean, nobody believed him and because he constantly pissed off the police and authorities by saying he was the murderer, they thought him mad and locked him up in an asylum.

More stories about madness I can remember by heart are "The Mr. Meldrum Mania" by John Metcalfe, "The Magnet" by Barry Pain, "Benlian" and "Rooum" by Oliver Onions.



Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 29 Jun 18 | 12:44PM by Minicthulhu.

Re: Classic stories about madness
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 3 July, 2018 03:41PM
A number of Philip K. Dick's short stories deal with a protagonist's paranoid preoccupations with things that may or may not be real. Two that spring to mind are:

"Out in the Garden" (paranoid husband jealous of his wife's duck).
"Roog" (paranoid dog thinks garbage men are evil space aliens).

Re: Classic stories about madness
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 3 July, 2018 03:56PM
Edgar Allan Poe is famous for protagonists who are arguably mad:

"A Cask of Amontillado"

"The Telltale Heart"

"The Black Cat"

Also I have seen it argued that "The Fall of the House of Usher" is an allegory of madness.

Re: Classic stories about madness
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 3 July, 2018 04:59PM
The concept of the mad protagonist is also related to that of the unreliable narrator. The narrator of "Carmilla", by Sheridan Le Fanu, is sometimes said to be unreliable, though in this case is is more likely the critics who are mad.

Re: Classic stories about madness
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 3 July, 2018 06:30PM
Minicthulhu Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------

> a tale full of eccentricity, mental chaos and lack
> of reason. :-)

The ALICE books and THE HUNTING OF THE SNARK are a definite fit for this part of your request.

Re: Classic stories about madness
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 3 July, 2018 07:16PM
I don't know if you would say it is literally about madness, but "The House on the Borderland" by Hodgson, is pretty delirious.

Re: Classic stories about madness
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 3 July, 2018 09:51PM
Many tales of demonic possession or visitation could be rationalized as tales of madness. E.g., "Green Tea" and others in that theme by Sheridan Le Fanu.

Re: Classic stories about madness
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 3 July, 2018 09:56PM
"The White People" by Arthur Machen, can be thought of as a tale of madness (and of evil, of course).

Re: Classic stories about madness
Posted by: jdworth (IP Logged)
Date: 3 July, 2018 10:56PM
For that matter, Oliver Onions' story, "The Beckoning Fair One" (arguably the best ghost story in the language) can also be seen as a record of madness or at the very least obsession.

Re: Classic stories about madness
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 4 July, 2018 02:58PM
jdworth Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> For that matter, Oliver Onions' story, "The
> Beckoning Fair One" (arguably the best ghost story
> in the language) can also be seen as a record of
> madness or at the very least obsession.

I was going to mention that one, but could not remember the title. Not sure I agree about it being the best ghost story in the English language, though.

Re: Classic stories about madness
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 4 July, 2018 03:08PM
Another Philip K. Dick example is his novel A SCANNER DARKLY, which is about (drug induced) madness. I believe madness is also a theme in his novel CLANS OF THE ALFANE MOON, though I have not read that one.

Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Angel of the Odd" can be rationalized as a drunkard's delirium. I vaguely recall hints that the protagonist might be mad in Poe's NARRATIVE OF ARTHUR GORDON PYM. In any case, the events described were often quite delirious.

Re: Classic stories about madness
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 4 July, 2018 03:27PM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
> I note btw that Lovecraft's stories are replete
> with narrators who assert that they are not
> insane, and/or that what they are about to relate
> could drive people (even the whole world) insane.
> But neither of these is the case. I suppose we
> could take it that the narrator of "The Rats in
> the Walls" has suffered some kind of mental
> breakdown and that the rats he seems to hear, in
> the story's present, are only in his mind. But
> isn't that about it, as regards Lovecraftian
> madness?

Besides "The Rats in the Walls", a number of other HPL short stories hint at narrators that may be mad. These include: "Hypnos", "Beyond the Wall of Sleep", "Polaris", "Dagon" and "Celephais".

Madness is one of the effects of the depredations of the sinister entity on "The Colour out of Space" and "The Shunned House".

Most of HPL's work hints at madness in one way or another. Azathoth and his emissary Nyarlathotep, among others, metaphorically embody the forces of madness. "Nyarlathotep" is a vision of a civilization being sucked into madness. After Carter meets Nyarlathotep in "The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath", he saves his soul from madness by leaping from the Shantak and falling to Earth.

Re: Classic stories about madness
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 4 July, 2018 06:30PM
Much of Shirley Jackson's horror work is preoccupied with psychological abnormality.

Re: Classic stories about madness
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 4 July, 2018 08:04PM
The protagonist/narrator of M.P. Shiel's THE PURPLE CLOUD is a homicidal maniac.

Re: Classic stories about madness
Posted by: jdworth (IP Logged)
Date: 4 July, 2018 10:35PM
Platypus Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I was going to mention that one, but could not
> remember the title. Not sure I agree about it
> being the best ghost story in the English
> language, though.


Note I said "arguably". At this juncture, I'm not sure one can quite pick "the" best, but I think this one certainly deserves close examination on such a list. The poetic sensibility of the tale, as well as its richness and subtlety, are difficult to surpass, and Onions as a whole is, like de la Mare and (Henry) James, extremely subtle and nuanced as a general thing. The restraint here has been matched by very few stories I've read, even in recent times. I think in particular of Ramsey Campbell's odd "Needing Ghosts", which should also be on this list, should more modern tales be allowed. This is one of the few cases which can almost match L. P. Hartley's blending of humor and horror in "The Traveling Grave" for having the former actually beautifully enhance the latter by the story's end.

Re: Classic stories about madness
Posted by: Minicthulhu (IP Logged)
Date: 5 July, 2018 07:01AM
Also "The Case of Euphemia Raphash" (1911) by M.P.Shiel is a great story about a man who tries to solve who murdered his sister, only to find in the end he was the culprit of the crime - he had escaped from the madhouse where he had been committed, in a state of mania, killed her and got back again unnoticed. Really great story.

Conte cruels by Maurice Level sometimes deal with psychologically unstable individuals; e.g. "A Madman" (aka A Maniac), "The Debt Collector" or "Fascination (1920).

"The Strange Adventures Of A Private Secretary In New York" (1906) by Algernon Blackwood is a good story about insanity.

"The Separated Room" (1917) by Ethel Colburn Mayne is about a mother who cannot stand her young daughter becomes more important in society than her so she bullies her to such a point the daughter commits suicide. Not strictly about madness but very good psychological story.

Re: Classic stories about madness
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 5 July, 2018 10:08AM
jdworth Wrote:
> Note I said "arguably". At this juncture, I'm not
> sure one can quite pick "the" best, but I think
> this one certainly deserves close examination on
> such a list.

I guess I'll just wait until I meet someone who really thinks it is one of the best ghost stories, and then, when he tells me why, I'll decide what to say then. In the meantime, I thought it was okay.

"Richness" and "subtlety" merely suggests it has alot to say, some of it implied rather than directly stated. But I can't really see that it says more than other ghost stories. I might even call it a bit long-winded.

[re: "The Fair Beckoning One" by Oliver Oniions]



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 5 Jul 18 | 10:10AM by Platypus.

Re: Classic stories about madness
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 5 July, 2018 12:17PM
Some mad people of classic literature:


The title character of Wells THE INVISIBLE MAN.

Ahab from MOBY DICK.

Don Quixote.

Lady MacBeth from "The Tragedy of Macbeth".

Ophelia from "Hamlet", and perhaps Hamlet too.

Reinfeld from DRACULA.

Dr. Jeckyl's alter ego Mr. Hyde.

Prototypical mad scientists Victor Frankenstein and Dr. Moreau.

Re: Classic stories about madness
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 5 July, 2018 12:20PM
Lemuel Gulliver, who arguably was never quite all there, goes quite off the deep end at the end of GULLIVER'S TRAVELS. He also encounters much madness in his travels, especially in Book 3.

Re: Classic stories about madness
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 5 July, 2018 01:47PM
G.K. Chesterton, in his essays and in his fiction, frequently deals with madness and sanity in often ironic ways.

His short story "A Crazy Tale" is an ironic look at the concept of madness.

His novel MANALIVE is about a suspected madman.

The climax to his novel THE BALL AND THE CROSS takes place at an insane asylum. It also involves a desperate leap from the asylum-keeper's flying machine, that reminded me of Carter's leap from the Shantak in "The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath".

I can't recall off the top of my head if THE MAN WHO WAS THURSDAY dealt directly with the idea of madness. But the novel itself was pretty delirious.

His late short story collection THE POET AND THE LUNATICS deals with themes of sanity and madness.

Re: Classic stories about madness
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 5 July, 2018 05:20PM
"Shell Game" (1954) is another Philip K. Dick short story about paranoiacs.

Re: Classic stories about madness
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 5 July, 2018 07:05PM
"The Yellow Wall-Paper" by Charlotte Perkins Stetson. Those unwilling to read it as a ghost story are fond of saying it is about post-partum psychosis.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 5 Jul 18 | 07:07PM by Platypus.

Re: Classic stories about madness
Posted by: Minicthulhu (IP Logged)
Date: 6 July, 2018 07:43AM
Also the protagonists in "Xeluca" and "The House of Sounds" by M.P.Shiel do not seem to be quite normal. :-)

Re: Classic stories about madness
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 6 July, 2018 12:03PM
The teenage boy secretly sealed up in a hidden compartment in his mother's house after she unexpectedly dies, spying out from behind a wallpapered thin screen with peepholes at the newly arrived family, making forages to the kitchen for food when they are out, and having elaborate obsessive fantasies about one of their young daughters being his 'princess' - you may guess the rest - in Jack Vance's Bad Ronald, does not quite seem to be fully normal either.

Re: Classic stories about madness
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 7 July, 2018 07:00PM
From all these posts I am beginning to think that most of supernatural and fantasy fiction can be said to be about madness on a basic level. At least in real life, anyone claiming to have had a supernatural experience, or rising rapturous around elves and dragons, will be considered mad by the majority of conventional society, and consequently will be ostracized.

Re: Classic stories about madness
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 7 July, 2018 09:46PM
"Memoirs of a Madman" a/k/a "Diary of a Madman", by Gogol, is quite amusing. I would guess it is far too amusing to be a realistic depiction of madness. It's not a morbid madness, anyway.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 7 Jul 18 | 10:17PM by Platypus.

Re: Classic stories about madness
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 7 July, 2018 10:20PM
Knygatin Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> From all these posts I am beginning to think that
> most of supernatural and fantasy fiction can be
> said to be about madness on a basic level. At
> least in real life, anyone claiming to have had a
> supernatural experience, or rising rapturous
> around elves and dragons, will be considered mad
> by the majority of conventional society, and
> consequently will be ostracized.

Not everything that "can be said" is the truth. If an author does not intend a fantasy to be a depiction of madness, then it does not matter of some critic chooses to see it differently.

Re: Classic stories about madness
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 7 July, 2018 10:28PM
Knygatin Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> The teenage boy secretly sealed up in a hidden
> compartment in his mother's house after she
> unexpectedly dies, spying out from behind a
> wallpapered thin screen with peepholes at the
> newly arrived family, making forages to the
> kitchen for food when they are out, and having
> elaborate obsessive fantasies about one of their
> young daughters being his 'princess' - you may
> guess the rest - in Jack Vance's Bad Ronald, does
> not quite seem to be fully normal either.


I have not read "Bad Ronald". I do recall other Vance villains. Their most usual mental defect is a sort of narcissistic moral myopia. But sometimes a character will literally believe himself to be God. I think there may be a number of such, but the only one I can think of off the top of my head is the lost sibling from the end of (IIRC) NIGHT LAMP.

Re: Classic stories about madness
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 8 July, 2018 10:10AM
Platypus Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I do recall other
> Vance villains. Their most usual mental defect is
> a sort of narcissistic moral myopia.

Yes, you pinpoint it exactly. Such characters are often given very prominent space in Vance's novels, and we readers have to endure their longwinded egoistic harangues (not seldom dealing with money and fortune, and intended to be amusing). That's what I find most unsympathetic about Vance's work. But on the other hand, I love his fantasy elements (those moments they do occur, more in some books than in others).

Re: Classic stories about madness
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 10 July, 2018 12:42PM
Knygatin Wrote:
> Such characters are
> often given very prominent space in Vance's
> novels, and we readers have to endure their
> longwinded egoistic harangues (not seldom dealing
> with money and fortune, and intended to be
> amusing). That's what I find most unsympathetic
> about Vance's work.

You just reminded me that there was another villain in NIGHT LAMP, one who gave a grand speech elucidating his philosophy, before committing a senseless mass murder. I'm sure I've seen others in this vein, but other than NIGHT LAMP, most of my Vance reading was long ago.

I don't recall sharing your negative reaction to such episodes. Vance's outlook can come across as a bit amoral, and I found it reassuring that he is willing to draw the line somewhere, by mocking the nihilistic solipsism of such villains.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 10 Jul 18 | 12:44PM by Platypus.

Re: Classic stories about madness
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 10 July, 2018 05:43PM
Platypus Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I don't recall sharing your negative reaction to
> such episodes. Vance's outlook can come across as
> a bit amoral, and I found it reassuring that he is
> willing to draw the line somewhere, by mocking the
> nihilistic solipsism of such villains.


Yes, well, when their despicable behaviors are sprinkled with a generous dose of fantasy I can bear with it. I especially enjoyed the horrible fate of the villain Attel Malagate by the end of Star King. That is on a comparable level to CAS's sardonic culminations.

Re: Classic stories about madness
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 10 July, 2018 06:44PM
"The Adventure of the German Student", by Washington Irving, is arguably a tale of madness. It is a theme of Irving's ghost stories that they all tend to have "rational explanations" of one sort or another, and/or be told by unreliable narrators. And the "rational explanation" that suggests itself here is rather obvious.

Re: Classic stories about madness
Posted by: Nils (IP Logged)
Date: 17 August, 2018 06:26AM
The story "Der Irre" by the german expressionist writer and poet Georg Heym is - in german literary review, that is - considered to be a masterful piece on the topic. I see that some works of Heym were translated into English while I'm not sure if "Der Irre" were included (must be something like "The madman" or "The lunatic" in case it was translated).

Re: Classic stories about madness
Posted by: Minicthulhu (IP Logged)
Date: 22 August, 2018 01:04PM
Thanks a lot. A short story collection (containing "The Madman") by Georg Heym ordered today. Cannot wait to read it. :-)

Re: Classic stories about madness
Posted by: Nils (IP Logged)
Date: 23 August, 2018 03:51AM
Nice! I hope you will like it.

I've thought about your request and could give some more hints from my specific perspective on german literature, if you like.

- "Der Trinker" by Hans Fallada. The novel is available as "The Drinker". Fallada is considered a canonical author of social realism ("Neue Sachlichkeit") and was struggling himself his whole life with episodes of psychic disorder, drug addiction and alcoholism. All this he put together on a very high level in "The Drinker" which was written in the early 40's while he was staying in a medical institution ("Trinkerheilanstalt"). Though the novel is not entirely about madness, it is heavily included.

- "Bahnwärter Thiel" by Gerhart Hauptmann. It's available as "Lineman Thiel". In this novella of naturalism, Hauptmann describes the slow drift of Thiel into madness. Issues of duty, class distinction, religion and supression of emotions are covered here. Very good, as far as I can remember it.

- A certain air of madness definatley waves through some works of Franz Kafka. The classic novel "Der Process" (available as "The Trial") and the short story/novella "Die Verwandlung" ("The Metamorphosis") are both works of an literary excellence which is seldom achieved. In the novel, the protagonist Josef K. is going mad by getting sucked into an intransparent system of executive law. Is gets arrested and he doesn't know why, he is put in the dock without getting told why and so forth. In the novella, young Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning and must witness his own transformation into a bug. But is all this real?

- Another classic but rather heavy recommendation would be "Die Blendung" by Elias Canetti, available as "Auto Da Fé". It's about a scientist of sinology who has a certain flaw in his dealings with other people, some kind of social disorder one could say. He drives himself (as well as he is driven) into madness in his flat which is mainly his private library.


Maybe some of this could be of interest for you.

Re: Classic stories about madness
Posted by: Minicthulhu (IP Logged)
Date: 5 September, 2018 12:38PM
Ok, I have read some of Heym´s stories. Really weird stuff, he makes no bones about describing excrements or likening urine to wine ... "The Lunatic" (Der Irre) is a good story, bizzare, morbid, trying to describe what is going on inside the head of a homicidal maniac.

Re: Classic stories about madness
Posted by: Nils (IP Logged)
Date: 6 September, 2018 02:57PM
Glad to hear that you like it.

Re: Classic stories about madness
Posted by: Minicthulhu (IP Logged)
Date: 7 September, 2018 06:21AM
Yes, I like it. Now I have read all the stories. There is another story about madness in the book which is I think way better than "The Lunatic." It is called "Der Dieb" (The Thief) and it´s the best piece of the collection.

Re: Classic stories about madness
Posted by: Nils (IP Logged)
Date: 7 September, 2018 03:40PM
Sounds good. I've never read this one.

Re: Classic stories about madness
Posted by: Minicthulhu (IP Logged)
Date: 5 October, 2018 03:31AM
Last night I read a great story about madness called "The Scarlet Flower" (1883) by Vsevolod Garshin. It takes place in an asylum and the main character is a lunatic who believes the scarlet flowers growing in the asylum garden contain all the evil of the world so he tries to get them and destroy them. A great insight into the mind of a mentally deranged individual.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 5 Oct 18 | 03:32AM by Minicthulhu.



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