Diagnosing Tolstoy with non-existent madness

A new article on the founder of criminology, Cesare Lombroso, recounts the curious tale of how he met War and Peace author Leo Tolstoy to confirm his theory on how genius and madness were linked.

Among other things, Lombroso was convinced that mental ‘degeneration’ was reflected in the face and so could be seen externally.

The meeting, it seems, didn’t go well.

…he intended to meet Tolstoy, whom he regarded as the greatest living writer, in order to test his theory on the relationship between genius and madness… Indeed, Lombroso imagined Tolstoy as being of “aspetto cretinoso o degenerato” [“cretinous or degenerate appearance”] (like Socrates, Ibsen, Darwin and Dostoyevsky among others), as illustrated by one of his portraits published in the 6th edition of The Man of Genius…

…Once there, the Italian criminologist began his naturalistic observation with a view to verifying his theory first-hand. Indeed, he managed fully to confirm his hypothesis of the relationship between genius and degeneration, in that, in his view, Tolstoy proved to be affected by an “epileptoid psychosis”, a sign of a hereditary mental illness that was detectable both in his forebears and in some of his children. It was not a happy meeting.

On his part, Tolstoy reacted to Lombroso’s visit by confiding to his diary his contempt for Lombrosian theories (August 27, 1897: “…Lombroso came. He is an ingenuous and limited old man”: cf. Mazzarello, 2001: 983). Mazzarello (2005), who chronicles the visit extraordinarily well, makes an important connection when he notes that, in the days following Lombroso’s visit, Tolstoy would write the pages of his novel Resurrection, in which he depicts a public prosecutor’s harangue that is imbued with Lombrosian ideas; the President of the Court rebukes the official for “going too far”, while another colleague concludes that he is “a very stupid fellow”.

The great writer described his struggles with depression later in life but despite Lombroso’s instant diagnosis of “epileptoid psychosis” he was never known to have experienced psychotic episodes.
 

Link to locked academic article on Lombroso.

3 Comments

  1. Brian
    Posted December 23, 2011 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    That sounds very interesting, but ARGH at locked academic articles!!

    • Posted December 26, 2011 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      It does sound interesting but if it was of any importance it would be open source.

      People only publish in closed source because either they don’t want to be read, or they want to claim prior art in patent disputes.

  2. Uncle B
    Posted December 23, 2011 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

    Factors found outside the given accepted structures, the outliers, the self-constructed by observation views, they fall in the realm of madness. Witches burned, heretics too, all thought and spoke hidden truths later to be discovered and accepted, adopted, embraced by the masses after much pain, denial,and final recognition.
    A Stuck on oil America is about to witness a paradigm shift base on these notions as there foremost genius, refused even entrance into the ‘American Nuclear Club’, goes with his fortunes to China seeking first a nuclear system to turn waste fuel from conventional reactors into heat and little or no waste, then the natural progression to using safer, cleaner, Thorium to fuel reactors – yielding no poisonous wastes, no humanocidal plutonium, only very efficient reduction of fuel to heat – http://www.theoildrum.com/node/4971 tells of China’s thirst for this remarkable technology and in this the aftermath of the Fuckoshima disaster,the monument and final tombstone for the American nuclear Club’s absolute obsession with Uranium fissioning, marks a point of change in the history of modern man and an unacceptable truth in America – burn me at the stake, but this truth will love on, Call me insane, again, China will succeed, the idea will survive. Even Marx predicted the concentration of wealth at the top, the death of Capitalism. Did any body listen, did anybody hear what he really had to say? Again McCarthyism closed minds stopped thinking, and the Sheeple were controlled.
    beware America! Time now for open minded thinking, and change – massive gut wrenching paradigm shifts in the next decades for all mankind.


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