Peter Wolf

Danish Epilepsy Centre – Dianalund, Denmark.

Professor and Doctor of Medical Science

LECTURE: The epilepsies of Dostoyevsky and Machado de Assis.

It appears like a curious coincidence that, towards the end of the 19th century, two writers who are considered champions of their respective national literatures, Dostoyevsky of Russia and Machado de Assis of Brasil had epilepsy, most probably temporal lobe epilepsy. However, the way both authors dealt with their condition could not have been more different. Dostoyevsky did not hide his diagnosis and used epilepsy amply in his fiction, creating such impressive characters with epilepsy as Prince Myshkin, Kirillov or Smerdyakov, and amply using his seizure experiences for literary purposes.

Machado tried his best to keep the diagnosis a secret (without success) and never talked overtly about seizures and epilepsy in his writings. But his seizure experiences obviously were too fascinating not to describe them, and complex partial seizures can be identified in two of his novels, Brás Cubas and Quincas Borba. This seizure type was so little know that there was no risk his readers would understand that these experiences were epileptic. Quincas Borba (1891) has several features which can be understood as an homage to Dostoyevsky’s Idiot (1869).