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Our thanks to the Arts and Humanities Research Council for funding the Madness and Literature Network. Each year the AHRC provides funding from the Government to support research and postgraduate study in the arts and humanities, from archaeology and English literature to design and dance. The range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK. Further information on the AHRC is available on their website.

This project builds on a current project with The Leverhulme Trust on the representation of madness in post-war British and American Fiction. Membership to the Madness and Literature Network is free - Please register under ‘New User Registration’. Benefits of membership include the possibility of attending our invitation-only seminars, being kept fully informed of developments in the broad field of Health Humanities here at Nottingham, and the opportunity to submit fully peer-reviewed book reviews to our database, which will be accredited to the submitting reviewer.

Please note, you are welcome to use these resources and the website for teaching or other purposes, however please do drop us a line and let us know how you are finding the site, or any suggestions you may have for improvements. Paul Crawford. Thank you.

Bibliography of First-Person Narratives of Madness in English (5th edition)

The 5th edition of the Bibliography of First-Person Narratives of Madness in English is available for download (PDF)

1st International Health Humanities Conference: Madness and Literature was held at Nottingham 6th - 8th August 2010

1st International Health Humanities Conference: Madness and Literature was held at Nottingham 6th - 8th August 2010. See 'Seminars and Conference' for further details.

1st International Health Humanities Conference: Madness and Literature - Conference Programme

Revealing Read

My Life In Orange

By Tim Guest


For the majority of Tim Guest’s childhood he lived in communes of ‘the orange people’, followers of Indian guru Bhagwan Rajneesh. This involved moving back and forward to England, Germany, India and North America, often without his parents present. Despite the utopianism, this instability, neglect, and lack of boundaries, was bound to create problems. By the time his mother “abandons orange”, he ends up in a London school with overt mental health problems. It is easy to see why people, like Guest’s mother, fell for Bhagwan. She wanted to escape a Catholic up-bringing, seeing the nuclear family and the state as oppressive. She held a doctorate in psychology, but heard voices, and this included the voice of Bhagwan. A quotation from the text, when she informs people she is “taking orange” is telling:

The Marxists thought co-opting Eastern philosophy was intellectual imperialism. The feminists were outraged that her consciousness had fallen so low that she was carrying a picture of a man around her neck. Her therapist acquaintances warned she was projecting her primary love-object in an unconscious bonding with an omnipotent fantasy and that was bound to end in catastrophic negative counter-transference. Her hippie friends thought it was a hassle to have to dye so many clothes. (p. 13)

There is comedy, and a lot of truth in all these comments. Guest manages to lay bare the deep longings of a son chasing his mother. He gets deformed feet in the process, standing so much on tiptoe amongst thousands of orange people, searching for her amongst the crowds. This is heart wrenching, but not mawkish. The book fully evokes the 1970s and 1980s. Perhaps you have to be once removed from the world, as in a commune, to understand it. From shrinking Monster Munch crisp packets under the grill, to almost worshipping the colour visor on a Lego spaceman, Guest encapsulates the ontological essence of being a boy in this period. He is the rebel, but no hero, as when he narrates when, to look cool to his mates in England, he pretends to not know the girl with thick glass and on crutches who he had been friends with in Germany.

The book also contains evocative black and white photographs, which, from Guest’s perspective reveal how his father and mother had been forever searching elsewhere. She believes in the subversions of R.D. Laing, that the mad might be sane, and vice versa. Laing invited her home, but we don’t learn if she accepted! Bhagwan’s beliefs changed like the wind, and the level of scandal and corruption that led to the fall of the main commune in Oregon, including terrorist plots and mass poisonings, is startling. All Guest wants is a home. What is even more shocking is that even after his mother has given up orange, they are always on the move. He eventually gets her to face what she has done to him, forces her to settle, and, ironically, through using techniques probably learnt in Bhagwan’s communes, there is reconciliation and hope.

As Guest puts it, according to R.D. Laing, when one looks into the mother’s face one sees oneself, and to be seen by the mother confirms existence. Guest’s mother embraced Bhagwan, and her looking away to Bhagwan meant that she abused her son. Guest refuses to confirm that actual child sexual abuse took place in Oregon, when asked by an official. This is despite eight year olds bragging about having sex. His own depth of loss is clear. Guest’s ability to evoke the external world of time and place, in various countries, with the inner more complex world of childhood, is immense. 


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The School of English Studies
in collaboration with the Schools of Nursing and Sociology and Social Policy

MA in Health Communication
(by web-based distance learning)

Meeting the challenges of communication - The MA programme in Health Communication provides a unique opportunity to investigate language and communication in various health care contexts. The course gives students a thorough grounding in the concepts, theories and research methods used in this area.

MA in Health Communication PDF Leaflet


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