Developed from a lecture William Styron gave at a symposium on affective disorders at Johns Hopkins University, Darkness Visible was first published as an essay in the December 1989 issue of Vanity Fair. The title derives from Milton’s description of hell in Paradise Lost. The slim book chronicles Styron’s battle with depression, which consumes him shortly after his sixtieth birthday. Styron begins his story in October 1985 when he flies to Paris to receive the prestigious Prix Mondial Cino del Duca. During this trip the writer’s mental state begins to deteriorate rapidly. Using a mix of anecdotes, speculation, and reportage, Styron reflects on the causes and effects of depression, drawing links between his own illness and that of celebrities and writers such as Virginia Woolf, Randall Jarrell, Albert Camus, Romain Gary, Primo Levi, Ernest Hemingway, and Abbie Hoffman. Critically acclaimed for its honesty and Styron’s unflinching examination of his condition, Darkness Visible helped to de-mystify depression at a time when the disease was gaining more visibility in the media. The early 1990s saw the popularization of Prozac, a radically new kind of antidepressant, which was released in 1987 and is now the most widely prescribed antidepressant in the world. Styron’s reputation as an internationallyacclaimed writer, and an older one, also helped the book gain a wide readership.
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