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Selten, J.C. (1993). Freud and Dostoevsky. Psychoanal. Rev., 80(3):441-455.

(1993). Psychoanalytic Review, 80(3):441-455

Freud and Dostoevsky

Jean-Paul C. J. Selten, M.D.

In 1928 Freud wrote a case history on the great Russian novelist Dostoevsky, “Dostoevsky and Parricide” (Freud, 1928a, 1928b). In this essay he presented a psychodynamic explanation for Dostoevsky's epileptic fits. In the past decades the essay has been criticized sharply. Biographers and literary historians, for instance, reject Freud's handling of his sources (e.g., Frank, 1976; Catteau, 1978; Kjetsaa, 1987). Neurologists have rejected Freud's interpretation of the facts and have devised a new diagnosis (e.g., Gastaut, 1978; Voskuil, 1983; Geschwind, 1984).

Several psychoanalytic studies on Dostoevsky's novels have been published, for instance, on the dreams of Raskolnikov, the protagonist in Crime and Punishment (Lower, 1969; Maze, 1979). Only two publications, however, contain an evaluation of Freud's essay (Reik, 1929, 1975; Schmidl, 1965). It seems that Freud did not value the case history very highly, for in reply to the critical review by Reik he wrote: “I think you are applying too high a standard to this triviality” (Freud, 1928c, 195).

The purpose of this paper is to summarize Freud's essay, to describe some new insights into Dostoevsky's life and illness, and to point out some peculiarities in Freud's argument. (The last part of Freud's essay deals with Dostoevsky's pathological gambling and is not discussed here.)


In the opening lines of his essay, Freud (1928b) highly praises the novelist Dostoevsky.

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