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Epilepsy in the process of artistic creation of Dostoevsky

Elsevier España
DOI: 10.1016/j.nrleng.2011.05.007
  • Dostoevsky
  • Epilepsy
  • History Of Neurology
  • Literature
  • Medical Humanities
  • Narrative Based Medicine
  • Dostoievski
  • Epilepsia
  • Historia De La Neurología
  • Humanidades Médicas
  • Literatura
  • Medicina Basada En La Narrativa
  • Literature
  • Medicine


Abstract Introduction Fyodor M. Dostoevsky (Moscow, 1821-Saint Petersburg, 1881) suffered epilepsy throughout his full literary career. The aim here is to understand his condition in light of his novels, correspondence and his contemporaries’ accounts as well as by later generations of neurologists. Development From Murin and Ordynov (The landlady, 1847) to Smerdyakov (The brothers Karamazov, 1879-1880), Dostoevsky portrayed up to six characters with epilepsy in his literature. Apart from making an intelligent use of the disease by incorporating it into his novels, his seminal idea –that a moment of happiness is worth a lifetime– was probably inspired by his epileptic aura. Through epilepsy, Dostoevsky also found a way to freedom from perpetual military servitude. The first symptoms of the epilepsy presented in early adulthood (late 1830s to early 1840s), but he was only diagnosed a decade later. In 1863 he went abroad seeking expert advice from Romberg and Trousseau. In the first retrospective study of Dostoevsky's literary epilepsy, Stephenson and Isotoff noticed the influence of Carus’ Psyche (1848) in the preparation of his characters, whilst his epilepsy has inspired later generations of epileptologists. Conclusions Dostoevsky offers an insight into the natural history of an epilepsy, which in contemporary scientific terms would be classified as cryptogenic localisation-related epilepsy of probable temporal lobe origin. Above all, Dostoevsky's case illustrates the good use of a common neurological disorder by a remarkable writer who transformed suffering into art and a disadvantage into an advantage.

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