Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness

Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness

by William Styron

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Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best nonfiction books of all time

A work of great personal courage and a literary tour de force, this bestseller is Styron's true account of his descent into a crippling and almost suicidal depression. Styron is perhaps the first writer to convey the full terror of depression's psychic landscape, as well as the illuminating path to recovery.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780679404026
Publisher: Random House Large Print
Publication date: 04/16/1991
Edition description: Large Print
Pages: 176

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 Légion 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.


Roxbury, Connecticut, and Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts

Date of Birth:

June 11, 1925

Date of Death:

November 1, 2006

Place of Birth:

Newport News, Virginia

Place of Death:

Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts


Davidson College and Duke University, both in North Carolina; courses at the New School for Social Research in New York

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Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 44 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
After all the hype I'd heard about 'Darkness Visible', I found it a bit disappointing. Styron is clearly a great writer- few would dispute that. Nonetheless, I found his description of the subjective feeling and experience of depression to be somewhat lacking. Of course, it's very difficult to describe any subjective mental state, but nonetheless I didn't find his attempt too compelling. On the other hand, the book is very well-written and stylistically pleasing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've read alot of great children's books such as Ella Enchanted, Destiny, Defender of the small, and The Time Warp Trio books, but I've never read a 'sophisticated and grown up' book before. I'm twelve, how else should I describe it? I do think this book is good. I had a hard time understanding what it meant at first, but later on I understood that no one who has not been afflicted with isnomnia will truly know the full depth of madness and emptiness that they feel. Styron, with intimate details, creates an illistration for us.
YoyoMitch More than 1 year ago
Depression is a disease that is hidden, horrific and is the fourth leading cause of death in America. Because the cause of their suffering is not apparent, most who suffer this affliction have to deal with the mis-understanding of others thus adding to the pain already present. How to describe the experience of this pain to others who have not been personally touched by it is akin to trying to explain the taste of chocolate to someone who has never heard of candy. Mr. Styron uses his impressive writing talents to achieve the near impossible with this short memoir, detailing the experience of major depression with such clarity that the reader will “feel” the darkness. The author’s depression, as he reflects on his life late in the book, began as a young man.  He noticed it was worsening early in 1985 but the symptoms were so familiar to him by then that its’ severity seemed to have sneaked up on him.  After a trip to Paris, where he was given a national award, a trip that was tortuous due to his worsening condition, he contacted and saw a psychiatrist. This particular M.D. was either: 1) incompetent, 2) woefully unfamiliar with Major Depressive Disorder and/or 3) needed to change professions. Mr. Styron’s degrading was swift, dramatic and nearly fatal. He relates the encounter with such clarity that the reader begins to understand the appeal suicide has on those suffering from this disorder. Fortunately, he received the help he needed before he followed the Siren’s call of the Big Sleep. It took a seven-week inpatient hospital stay for him to find the stability he needed to recover. This is not an easy book to read, nor is it one that should be avoided.  For those who know the Noon Day Demon personally, it will be a familiar visit with an unwelcomed guest. For those who are connected with those who are suffers, the pain will be in the realization of the depth of anguish their loved ones suffer. For those who have no personal experience with this disease, the uneasiness will be reading a real life horror story. Everyone who reads this book will be well served in learning some of the “what to do” and “what not to do” in response to depression and its symptoms. The author is fortunate in that he could afford a seven-week inpatient stay to address his illness. To have the resources Mr. Styron had is something that few have available or could afford. There are other recourses for those who are dealing with this issue readily accessible within most communities. Medications that effectively relieve most of the symptoms of depression, for the majority of those so afflicted, are commonly available and are constantly being improved.  Mental health professionals offer therapy that can help the depressive in addition to, or in lieu of, the medication.  This book rightfully earned Mr. Styron recognition both for his writing and for his topic.  He lived long enough to personally receive the accolades and his death was due to his age, not his own hand.  This is the ending message of Darkness Visible – one can overcome such mental darkness and walk in clarity.
Holly_George More than 1 year ago
A good read! Could totally relate to what the author was saying/ describing. Reading this was like having a chat with a good friend. Would recommend it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Full marks for Styron coming out at a time when depression needed a smart poster boy -- because mental illness does a great job dividing our world. However, it simply isn't true (as per the publisher's claim) that Styron is the first to convey the full terror of depression -- Hemingway and Chekhov immediately come to mind with their short stories, for instance, that don't actually name depression or madness, but evoke it's cruelties beautifully. Styron certainly has done a magnificent job with this memoir, in large part because he keeps everything understated (certainly restrained). His book invites serious reflection, and it's worth considering his bursts of anger as symptomatic more than didactic. I also recommend IN THE GHOST COUNTRY as another interesting book that intimately follows a man's descent into a haunted madness as he walks to the South Pole. A stunning fall to the bottom of the world indeed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I’m grateful that I never suffered from depression as severe as described in this book.
sailornate82 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderfully conceived and written account of Styron's struggle with depression. Despite the voracious honesty and exceptional narration construction, I think the most impressive aspect of the this short work is the bare-bones writing, which makes the 84 pages of text feel more like a thoughtful whisper.

Even if one has little or no experience with chronic melancholia, this is a very illuminating and enjoyable read.
1morechapter on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In this short memoir chronicling the author¿s own bout with depression, Styron gives us a glimpse of the pain and madness of the disease. Styron not only provides us with details of his own illness, but also expounds on the suicides and/or depression of other authors. He also gives guidelines and suggestions for action to those who have a loved one suffering with the disease.Styron was the author of Sophie¿s Choice and the Pulitzer Prize winning The Confessions of Nat Turner. He died in 2006 at the age of 81 from pneumonia.
dianemb on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I would recommend this book to anyone who has a close friend or family member suffering from major depression. It contains the most accurate description of the incredible suffering endured than any other book I've read.
MacsTomes on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I didnt rate this book; the intimate nature of this essay, its deep introspection makes it defficult to assign a rating to it. I found the book helpful in my own life, yet very painful to read.
RRHowell on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As a personal memoir of depression by a superb writer this is an extraordinarily useful book for giving someone insight into what depression feels like.
SmithSJ01 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There are definitely more in depth books on the market about this topic but I think this a good short insight into depression. 3.5 stars would be more apt but not quite 4 as I felt it needed to focus more on feelings and emotions than it did. However as the title is 'Darkness Visible' then it is right, the book looks at the visible tangible feelings he felt and also the visible signs/symptoms to those around him.The book is about Styron's plummet into the world of depression and ultimately on to the brink of suicide. Whilst I haven't read any of this author's work (and in fact I might take a look at them now) I did find his account of his depression touching and insightful. I got the feeling he maybe only published this story because others thought it was a good idea, rather than making the decision himself - I may be wrong, but that was my impression from the introduction.
jianlyn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Beautifully written memoir about a famous writer who suffered from depression
BruderBane on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As a fellow sufferer and ardent supporter of mental health issues, I found Mr. Styron¿s autobiographical essay on depression to be edifying. His use of such rich descriptive narrative and his propensity to be especially forthright engenders those people who aren¿t afflicted with depression to have true sentience for his own situation and those who are similarly afflicted. If you are interested in the experiences and nuances of mental illness, read this short and electrifying piece of literature.
Crowyhead on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a brief, beautifully written memoir of one person's experience with depression. One thing I really appreciated about this book is the unflinching way Styron looks at and discusses suicide. Even very good books about depression dance around this topic; it's very difficult to discuss. But Styron looks at it head-on and to some extent demystifies it.
mausergem on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a book about depression and William styron's attempt to fight it. He begins with an anecdote about his behavior in Paris where he had gone to receive a literary award. He ends up contradicting the benefactress, losing the cheque and forming firm beliefs of his not returning to Paris ever again. Starting at the beginning his troubles started when he develops nausea of alcohol (he being a long term alcohol consumer). His describes his gradual slide into the depths of melancholy. On the verge of suicide he decides to seek professional help and gets hospitalized where he stays for seven weeks and gets better.He describes the disease as a "brainstorm" with loss of his normal circadian cycle, constant anxiety and a gloom set on all things around him. This is a very short book and thankfully so. You won't want to read 500 pages of lamenting, would you?!
joemmama on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a tiny book, but it is one of the most powerful descriptions of depression I have ever read. "A Memoir of Madness" is the perfect subtitle for this book.In October of 1985, Styron is in Paris to accept an award, when he realizes he is plunging into a deep, dark depression. He ends up hospitalized, and with the help of many professionals, he regains his sanity.With the use of actual suicides, from Randall Jarrett, the poet, to Abbie Hoffman, he examines the causes and the effect it has on the mind. The despair that grows deeper with each hour, until it seems there is no end to it.Styron stopped drinking, and blamed his rapid descent into the deep dark hole of depression on this fact.As one who has suffered and battled with depression, I fully understood his despair, and the thoughts that tormented him. I applauded his recovery, and was cheered by the thought that there is a light at the end of the tunnel (and it's not the oncoming train).I received this from Net Galley for review. Thank you!
mjscott on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Author explains very clearly and emphatically how mental illness is trivialized in our culture. Expectations are lowered if you've broken your jaw, but if you are depressed you are expected to work, socialize, as usual. Otherwise hard to emphasize with him. Noonday Demon far better.
kraaivrouw on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is my second read of this book and it's been a long time between. I read it in 1985 during the tail end of a long-term crash I survived and it was resonant, although painful - the latter is why I haven't read it again 'til now. Styron suffered from a gruesome acute episode of depression, but I've always thought that crash was the culmination of years of depression kept more or less at bay by alcohol. I suffer from chronic depression and panic disorder and have my whole life so I know a bit about all the things one does to stave the uglies off. I've always found Styron particularly difficult to read, although he writes beautifully, because most of his work is suffused with melancholia and affects my mood in ways that aren't necessarily healthy for me. Nonetheless, this memoir captures the feeling of depression (and the thinking) very well.Depression has its own individual flavors depending on who you are, but the worst of it is the sluggish mind and the total incapacitation. It's life-threatening (and, trust me, you know it and that's really scary until it isn't). It's prevalent at the holidays which generate expectations that are very hard to fulfill leaving many stranded on its shores.Darkness Visible isn't a cheerful book, but it's a brave one. Beautifully written it will give you insight into a landscape I hope none of you ever see.
bibliobibuli on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a very slim volume, just 84 pages long, which started life as a lecture given at a symposium sponsored by the Department of Psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. It was later developed into a piece for Vanity Fair before being published as a book.Styron was hit by serious depression at the age of 60, and describes most evocatively his own struggle with the life-threatening illness from first symptoms, through his treatment, his brush with suicide, hospitalisation to eventual cure. Along the way he includes the stories of friends and others so afflicted - many of them also writers.It's the honesty of the book that makes it so compelling. It was one of the first "insider" accounts of depression, and captures extremely well just what it feels like. (You have to have been there to know.) I agree with him that the word "depression" is totally inadequate, sounding more like a mild case of the blues rather than something that fills your soul with dread and despair.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent piece of literature. An individual personal account of his experience with a disease of the brain, or disease of the soul (psyche) an ancient disease, but which to this day remains mysterious.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Really provides a good insight on depression, treatment for the disease and discusses some psychopharmcological interventions.
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