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Maze, J.R. (1981). Dostoyevsky: Epilepsy, Mysticism, and Homosexuality. Am. Imago, 38(2):155-183.

(1981). American Imago, 38(2):155-183

Dostoyevsky: Epilepsy, Mysticism, and Homosexuality

J. R. Maze

It was not just as a convenient literary device that Dostoyevsky afflicted several of his characters with his own disease, epilepsy, as was the case with another nervous affliction, “brain fever.” He often used the latter arbitrarily to extricate someone from an awkward position, or to keep him or her off the scene for a period, but in the novels, epilepsy seems always to advance the plot because of its intrinsic meaning as a psychological event. As for the author's own epilepsy, his notebooks and letters show that he mused obsessively about the meaning of his attacks, feeling often that they were related to the intensity of his creativity, that they were part of its cost. Further, it is inescapable that such a mysterious and distinctive ailment, one that has always provoked at least a vestige of superstitious awe, would acquire symbolic significance in its possessor's eyes, if indeed that significance were not already a part of its predisposing cause.

Epilepsy, then, has meaning both in the author's work and in his life. Must it be the same in each case? Do we need biographical gleanings about its meaning in his life in order to understand its meaning in his work? Should we not be able to intuit its meaning in the works simply from data internal to the works themselves? There may be no licence whatever to infer from one to the other in either direction.

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