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Bookend: Novelist Maud Casey Turns to Early Days of Psychiatry For Inspiration

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In this edition of Bookend — our regular glimpse into the region’s literary lives — Jonathan Wilson sits down with novelist Maud Casey. Casey spent much of her childhood in the D.C. area, and after shipping off to college up north, and spending time on the West Coast. She’s back, and says she’s here to stay.

Casey teaches creative writing at the University of Maryland, and has just published her fourth novel -- a historical work inspired, in part, by the birth of the science of psychiatry.

She spoke with Jonathan in the courtyard of her apartment building in Woodley Park.

On the real-life inspiration for the novel, Albert Dadas

“He walked in a kind of semi-trance state throughout large parts of Europe. He always had a home in Bordeaux — this was 1886, at the dawn of psychiatry. He would walk sometimes 50 miles at a time without eating, without sleeping. And he would arrive in this public square or that one – often in countries away from home, and he wouldn’t know how he got there. So he was pretty tired, and upset. And after years and years and years, he took himself to an asylum in Bordeaux, where he encountered a doctor, and the doctor treated him. The story itself was so gripping and odd, and this idea of being lost in the world, and lost to yourself I found very moving.”

Writing her first historical novel

“It has opened me up to this idea of being more in conversation with the world – being more in conversation with so-called ‘real stories.’ Historical fiction is a big tent, and this book that I’ve written, you know, it’s not a mirror reflecting that historical moment. But my hope is that I’ve captured the atmosphere – that I’ve captured the gist of that moment. And more than anything my hope was to create a visceral experience for the reader that allows the reader to enter into an unusual sensibility and an unusual way of moving through the world.”

Growing up with parents who were accomplished writers

“Writing — it’s a secretive vocation. So having people wander around, mumbling to themselves and locking themselves in rooms for long periods of time demanding silence didn’t actually shed a lot of light on the process. That said, my house was full of books – I was constantly read to – there was a sense that my parents truly taught me the value of the imagination.”

"Frost Bit" by Mello Music Group from Odd Seasons / "Closed Doors, Open Floors" by Wytold from My Regards / "Summer Wind" by Stephen Kummer from Cocktail Party Jazz

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