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Hamilton, J.W. (2004). Perceval's Psychosis Revisited. Free Associations, 11(1):89-103.

(2004). Free Associations, 11(1):89-103

Perceval's Psychosis Revisited

James W. Hamilton

A Patient's Account of His Psychosis, 1830-1832, written by John Perceval and published in 1838 and 1840 in two volumes, is a remarkable chronicle of a severe regressive experience. In an introduction to a revised edition, entitled Perceval's Narrative (1961), which combines the essence of the original work under one cover, Bateson interprets Perceval's psychopathology in terms of double-bind theory and intrafamilial scapegoating. Asserting that: ‘To evaluate a psychosis is perhaps impossible’, he goes on to say ‘that the psychosis [Perceval's] is more like some vast and painful initiatory ceremony conducted by the self’ and that his eventual restitution was due to ‘mysterious unconscious processes’. In this paper, an attempt will be made to understand Perceval's illness within the context of psychoanalytic ego psychology, emphasizing the aetiological role of object loss and the failure to mourn.

At the age of 27 in July, 1830, Perceval left Oxford University, where he had briefly been an undergraduate, and went to Row and Port Glasgow in Scotland to get involved with a radical evangelical sect known as the Irvingites who spoke in tongues and were alleged to perform miracles. However, because he became progressively more disturbed, he was asked to leave the group and travelled to Ireland. On December 16 in Dublin, he had to be restrained in his room at a local inn until he could be transferred, in January, to an asylum operated by a Dr Fox in Bristol where he was a patient through May, 1832.

Perceval's first book begins: In the year 1830, I was unfortunately deprived of the use of reason. This calamity befel me about Christmas The Almighty allowed my mind to become a ruin under sickness delusions of a religious nature and treatment contrary to nature. My soul survived that ruin.


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