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[Perspectives] Heartsick on the open sea

In the prologue to her new book, Robert Lowell: Setting the River on Fire a Study of Genius, Mania, and Character, Kay Redfield Jamison describes a scene from 1845 in which a carriage brings Lowell’s great, great grandmother, Harriet Brackett Spence Lowell, to the McLean Asylum for the Insane near Boston, MA, USA. Just over 100 years later, Lowell himself would be treated for “manic depressive psychosis” multiple times at McLean Hospital. Harriet Brackett Spence Lowell returned home after 3 years in the asylum, but she was never the same, and Jamison quotes her son, the poet James Russell Lowell: “there thou sittest in thy wonted corner / Lone and awful in thy darkened mind”.

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