celebrated essay. Dostoyevsky and Parricide.1 The Oedipus complex, which Freud lo- Karamazov as the “greatest novel ever written”, Freud offers a neat Also in French translation: Otto Kaus, Dostoievski et son destin. Trans, par. Dostoevsky and Parricide has 69 ratings and 7 reviews. Adriana said: Freud, assim não dá para te defender. Quando Freud encasqueta em analisar o autor e . indicates briefly the content of “Dostoevsky and Parricide” and mentions Theodor Reik’s criticism, also Freud’s answer to Reik. Mark Kanzer calls the essay a.

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Dostoevsky and Parricide

Sixty years freue passed since then but Freud’s essay is still useful, filled with brilliant insights that have proved quite influential, even among those scholars who do not accept his theory about the nature of Dostoevsky’s epilepsy. Were it not for Freud, we would still be examining each of these strands separately, unable to see how they are all interwoven. Freud’s achievement is all the more remarkable since his knowledge of Dostoevsky’s life was based on whatever facts he could pick up in German in the ‘s.

There is some evidence that he did not know all that was available in German. Aware of the limitations of dostoevsk source material he took pains to qualify his arguments: This cannot, strictly speaking, be proved It would be very much to the point if it could be established that [his seizures] ceased completely during his exile dostoevzky Siberia, but other accounts contradict this,” etc.

He was 71 years old when he wrote the essay. As I have said, “Dostoevsky and Parricide” has stood up well over these many years. Apart from questioning rreud some medical experts and by E. Carr, a British historianFreud was not seriously challenged until the ffreud.

A full frontal attack was then mounted, and it has turned into an act of demolition. The attack came from two directions: Slavic scholars and medical experts. Scholars, led by Joseph Frank, have questioned the biographical facts on which Freud bases his theory.

Frank’s critique first appeared in the Times Literary Supplement of July 18, ; it was then reprinted as a appendix to the first volume of his massive and authoritative biography of Dostoevsky so that it has gained still more weight and authority.

Frank dismissed Freud’s “case history” At any rate, no one has seen fit to question the evidence cited to discredit the “facts” used by Freud.

Slavic scholars have found scientific support from medical experts, specialists in epilepsy epileptologistsheaded by the world-famous authority Henri Gastaut.

These specialists, while arguing with each other as to the precise nature of Dostoevsky’s disease temporal lobe epilepsy, generalized epilepsy, or a combination of the two are in agreement that Freud’s diagnosis of “hystero-epilepsy” is completely wrong. In the nineteenth century heredity was considered the decisive factor. Since organic epilepsy is a disease of the brain, measuring instruments can record abnormal surges of electrical current in the part of the brain that is not functioning properly.

Freud, however, contended that Dostoevsky’s epilepsy was not organic but psychological, the product of hysteria and neurosis.

Dostoevsky and Parricide | Revolvy

Hence there is no electrical disturbance in the brain; there is nothing to measure. The epileptic seizure is psychologically determined. As Freud explained it: Hysteria originates through the repression of an unbearable idea from a motive of defense By virtue of its repression, the idea becomes the cause of morbid symptoms, that is, pathogenic.

This dostoevsiy an obvious question: Freud maintained that these seizures freue Dostoevsky’s “unbearable idea” – his repressed wish for this hated father’s death. And when his father was murdered by his angry serfs as Dostoevsky heardthen the unconscious wish was fulfilled. At that time, according to the “family legend,” Dostoevsky suffered his first epileptic attack.

Later we shall see how, according to Freud, Dostoevsky’s seizures expressed exactly his feelings about his father’s death. At this point, however, I would like to raise a crucial issue which I think has been overlooked.

If Freud’s detractors are right and Dostoevsky’s disease is of organic origin, then There is no connection between his epilepsy and parricide. Nor would Dostoevsky himself be aware of any such connection. Thus if Nelly in The Insulted and Injured has an epileptic seizure this is stated just when her hated father comes to visit her, it must be regarded as meaningless, designed merely to awaken pity for her.


As a matter of fact, this is precisely what E. Smerdyakov’s epilepsy “is a piece of machinery necessary to the plot, and appears to have no other artistic or spiritual frekd. In his biography of Dostoevsky, Carr finds the epileptic seizures of the author equally meaningless.

If Carr and other detractors of Freud are right, if there is no connection between epilepsy and parricide, then our understanding of both Dostoevsky’s life and his works is terribly impoverished.

This conviction has led me to look hard at the evidence offered by those who would demolish Freud’s theory. I have no fanatical commitment to Freud’s general theories. I do not even feel inclined to defend literally every opinion voiced by Freud in his article, such as his views on Russian history and the Russian character.

But if it is at all possible, I wish to rescue his basic insight ferud the symbolic character of Dostoevsky’s epilepsy; I wish to reestablish the crucial connection between epilepsy and parricide.

To do this it will be necessary to examine the charges made against Freud by epilepsy experts a wrong diagnosis and by literary scholars a factual problem. Before discussing Dostoevsky’s epilepsy it will be useful to look at a description of one of his typical full seizures.

In Strakhov witnessed such a seizure during a parricise with Dostoevsky: It was late, about I don’t recall what the subject was but I know it was on an important and lofty theme.

Fyodor Mikhailovich was strongly moved and walked about the room while I sat at the doatoevsky. He was saying something lofty and joyous; when I encouraged his idea with some comment or other he turned to me with dostoevskh exalted look, showing that his emotion was at its height. He stopped for a moment, as if seeking words for his thought, and had already opened his mouth. I gazed at him with fixed attention, sensing that he was ffeud to say something unusual, that I would hear a revelation of some kind.

Suddenly there came from his open mouth a weird, longdrawn-out and senseless sound, and he fell unconscious on the floor.

This time the fit was not a strong one. The effect of his convulsion was that his whole body stretched out and he foamed at the mouth. In half an hour he regained consciousness and I walked home with him. He lived not far off.

Fyodor Mikhailovich often told me that before the onset of an attack there were minutes in which he was in rapture. I would feel the most parrricide harmony in myself and in the whole world and this feeling was so strong and sweet that for a few seconds of such bliss I would give ten or more years of my life, even my whole life perhaps.

Now and then his face turned red and sometimes splotches appeared. But the most important thing was that he lost his memory and for two or three days he would feel utterly broken.

His mental condition was also grievous: The nature of this anguish, in his own words, was that he felt he was some kind of criminal; it seemed to him that he was weighed upon by mysterious guilt, by a great crime. These symptoms reflected the punishment imposed on him by his superego – his father’s authority exerting itself in his unconscious. Dostoevsky’s whole life, said Freud, was to be “dominated by his twofold attitude to the father-czar-authority, by voluptuous masochistic submission on the one hand, and by outraged rebellion against it on the other.

What is puzzling is that Dostoevsky’s seizures, if they are hysterical in origin, bear the clinical signs of genuine epileptic seizures. It is known that the hysterical seizure can mimic almost perfectly the true epileptic seizure – to such an extent, in fact, that one can hardly be distinguished from the other even with the help of electrical measuring instruments.

Nevertheless, differences between the hysterical and epileptic seizures have been observed clinically; standard tables of comparison can be found in any textbook on epilepsy. Thus the epileptic attack occurs when the patient is alone at night, asleep – whereas the hysterical seizure usually occurs in the presence of others. In an epileptic attack the patient In an epileptic attack the patient’s complexion shows cyanosis or pallor; there is no change of complexion in a hysterical seizure.


In an epileptic attack the convulsions are followed by depression and disorientation; after a hysterical attack the patient feels better, more comfortable and relaxed. And still other contrasts could be drawn. The reader is referred not only to Strakhov’s account given above but to the detailed records of seizures made by Dostoevsky himself between andwhich are available in English. Why then did he “perpetrate the monstrous error” as Gastaut put it of ignoring the fact that all of Dostoevsky’s symptoms indicated genuine epilepsy and not hysteria?

He admits that his diagnosis of hysteria could not be proved due to a lack of information on Dostoevsky’s first seizures nor was there enough information about the relation of the seizures to his life. Freud’s diagnosis of hysteria seems to have been based on his reading of Dostoevsky’s novels and the neurotic aspects of his life, which he recounts in detail.

And in view of the primitive state of research in epilepsy, Freud was not troubled by indications that Dostoevsky’s seizures resembled true epilepsy rather than hysteria. If I may digress for a moment, I find it hard to understand the certainty with which epilepsy experts know that Freud is mistaken. Epilepsy in all its ramifications is still an enigma; it can be controlled by drugs but not cured.

The electroencephalogram or EEC, invented in to measure changes in the electrical field on the scalp, is a valuable tool but “at times it can be quite misleading. To quote a study published in In spite of all that has been written on this subject, few studies have actually been carried out to determine what differences may exist between hysterical and epileptic seizures, and most offer only clinical impressions.

This gives us some sense of the complexity of issues in epilepsy research. In the closing pages of Owsei Temkin’s great work The Falling Sickness we have a sympathetic evaluation of the present state of affairs: Though incomparably more is known than was the case ina level has not yet been reached where the scientific explanation of epilepsy presents a harmonious picture in which all true results fall into place and from which all false results are eliminated.

Given the primitive state of research in the s, the complexity of epilepsy, the difficulty of distinguishing between true epilepsy and hysteria, Freud may have felt justified in ignoring what his detractors saw: In a letter to Stefan Zweig dated October 19, seven or eight years before the writing of “Dostoevsky and Parricide” Freud offered two other reasons for a diagnosis of hysterical epilepsy.

It is strange that these reasons did not make their way, except obliquely, into the essay. Freud asserted in this letter in accordance with the prevailing opinion of his time that organic epilepsy – a disease of the brain – was associated as a rule with mental deterioration.

Yet the famous epileptics of history, judging by their achievements, were not mentally retarded. Here is a summary of the situation as of The nineteenth century concept of frequent and inevitable intellectual deterioration has rightly been laid to rest, but it is not possible at this point in time to replace it with a well-founded twentieth-century concept. It is still not clear what proportion of epileptic patients actually deteriorate, or for what reasons.

Conspicuous deterioration is probably relatively uncommon, but subtle degrees of cognitive impairment may be more frequent. He made the following grim entry about his last epileptic seizure: