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J Hist Neurosci. 2006 Mar;15(1):22-30.

Charcot in contemporary literature.

Author information

  • Neurological Sciences and Pharmacology, Rush University Medical Center, IL 60612, USA. cgoetz@rush.edu

Abstract

Charcot and his medical observations remain an enduring topic of scientific study in neurology, but he is also the topic of modern literary works. This essay examines the depiction of Jean-Martin Charcot (1825-1893) as a character in late-twentieth-century literature as an index of the contemporary nonmedical literary public's interest in neurology and Charcot. It focuses on three contemporary works that involve Charcot as a central figure with comparison between primary source documents and the rendered context, character development, and plot lines of these literary works. The two French novels [Slumbers of Indiscretion and Dr. Charcot of the Salpêtrière] and one American play [Augustine (Big Hysteria)] approach Charcot and neurology with differing levels of historical accuracy. All create a figure of authority, each with a different coloration of the balance between power and its abuse. Two focus almost exclusively on his work with hysteria and inaccurately amplify Charcot's concern with symbolic sexual conflict as the origin of hysteria and fictionalize more extensive interactions with Freud than historical documents support. The three works demonstrate that Charcot retains an enduring fascination with an enigmatic personality, a controversial career, and a pivotal role in the development of studies involving the brain and behavior. Neurologists should not look to these works as replacements for more seriously composed historical studies, but as enrichments anchored in the imaginative possibilities of Charcot and his fin de siècle era.

PMID:
16443570
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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