William Styron, unlikely bard of depression.

William Styron, unlikely bard of depression.

William Styron, unlikely bard of depression.

Bringing out the dead.
Nov. 7 2006 11:04 AM

William Styron, 1925-2006

Unlikely bard of depression.

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This was a short piece in a small-circulation magazine; it was hardly a public lashing for Styron. Still, the sentiment was there—you haven't suffered enough—and it is, to a larger degree, a problem with which many depressives must grapple. The illness is not always measurable by traditional medical standards; only the sufferer truly knows the severity of his own sadness, and therefore it can be hard to validate. Ironically, it is sometimes harder to prove the legitimacy of the illness to fellow depressives, some of whom resort to measuring their own pain in numbers of hospitalizations and electric shock treatments. It is disheartening, this jockeying for position as the most downtrodden. As one reader of Smith's essay pointed out in a letter to the editor, "We don't have to start pushing each other out of the nest."

In the fall of 2002, I saw Styron once more at a mental-health conference. I was taken aback again, this time by his strength. He was a different man. Or maybe he was just the man he used to be. Either way, he was there: He had returned physically and emotionally.


In the closing of Darkness Visible, Styron worries that the more optimistic message of Dante's Inferno has been lost with so much focus on the melancholy lines, "In the middle of the journey of our life/ I found myself in a dark wood,/ For I had lost the right path." He then resurrects the forgotten part of that passage, "And so we came forth, and once again beheld the stars." Perhaps now we should do the same for Styron—and also remember him for his courage in the face of terrifying affliction.

Nell Casey is currently working on a book about family caregiving, to be published by HarperCollins in 2007.