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How Did Ivan Goncharov's Secret Illness Develop? - Great And Terrible
How Did Ivan Goncharov's Secret Illness Develop? - Great And Terrible

The series of articles on genius and insanity continues with the pathography of the famous writer Ivan Goncharov (1812–1891), the author of Oblomov's unforgettable image. He bored many of his contemporaries with his normality. But what was behind this? Did the writer suffer from any mental disorder and was it reflected in his work? Over time, everything secret becomes apparent

Documents, memoirs of contemporaries, the writer's correspondence are studied and conclusions are drawn by psychiatrist Alexander Shuvalov.

Oddities in the behavior of the future writer

The mental heredity of Ivan Goncharov was clearly "tarnished" in nature. According to his nephew, their family was "mentally ill and unstable." The unequal age marriage of Father Goncharov, whom his family considered “an abnormal melancholic,” with a young girl exposed his offspring to a certain psychopathological risk.

Confirmation of this fact is the illness of Goncharov's brother, Nikolai, who gave the impression of “a mentally ill person; he often sat in front of two greasy candles for hours and spoke loudly to himself. He was constantly brooding."

From childhood, the future writer was distinguished by strange behavior. He "did not like to advertise his personality", which was hampered not only by his provincial origin, but also by his innate self-doubt, secrecy of character and morbid suspicion

It is curious that the young Goncharov enjoyed success with women, knew how to look after them and be interesting. “But usually he did not complete his courtship, some kind of caution, distrust of himself and others kept him from getting along with a woman or marrying a girl. If his subject got married, then some unjustified jealousy of the rival flared up in him,”writes Leonid Yuferev.

Some fellow writers were very negative about Goncharov. But this "lazy and greedy" official was not so unambiguously bad. In 1852, Goncharov sailed from St. Petersburg to the mouth of the Amur, circumnavigating Africa and South Asia, and then traveled all over Siberia along the Siberian roads in winter, returning to St. Petersburg. And in 1855 he published an interesting book about his journey - the famous "Frigate" Pallas ". An act that few other writers would have dared to do.

Hermit of his own accord

Let us focus on the writer's psychopathological disorders and the alleged diagnosis.

Goncharov lived "almost anchorite, in a rather boring environment, all the time in the same gloomy apartment on Mokhovaya, in the courtyard, on the first floor, into which the sun did not penetrate." He avoided public meetings, did not like to be photographed and remained a bachelor.

Due to painful experiences, Goncharov maintained relations only with people close to him, and spent the last 20-25 years of his life almost as a hermit

Against the background of such a characterization, the last will of the writer is no longer surprising: "Not to publish his personal correspondence and to judge him only by his literary works."

Who "stole" the ideas of Goncharov's books?

But back to the early years of the writer. If in his youth, everyone was struck by his excessive impressionability and exceptional observation, which formed the basis of his creative works, then over the years, features of neurasthenia and the first signs of painful ideas of "persecution" grew in character.

If it were not for the scandalous "literary quarrel" between Goncharov and Turgenev - both were already well-known writers in Russia - then the strangeness of our hero's character would not have been discussed so widely and openly.

The writer Pyotr Boborykin recalled: "The author of" The Break "suspected Turgenev of stealing the idea of Bazarov's face from him, since his own nihilist had been conceived by him long ago, before the appearance of" Fathers and Sons ". Goncharov saw in many ways, which then came from the pen of the Parisian naturalists, friends of Turgenev, the digging under him; I even found my own plots and designs of faces with them."

Turgenev, of course, was indignant and in a letter to the literary historian Leonid Maikov wrote: “Imagine that he repeatedly attacked me with reproaches that I convey the whole essence of his conceived, still supposed works to the French novelists Flaubert, Daudet, Zola and others! Goncharov told me not jokingly that I sent spies to him, they spy on what he was writing, steal the sheets covered with writing from his table and send them to Paris.

This is no longer an increased suspiciousness and not an obsession. This is a delusional state

Affective and delusional experiences are clearly traced in the writer's letters to friends. Since the mid-fifties of the 19th century, correspondence has shown that psychotic experiences are increasingly emerging in his character.

“He sees the intrigues of enemies everywhere, he is seized by a real persecution mania. He is incessantly tormented by the fear that some kind of complex intrigue of imaginary friends is being conducted against him somewhere, mocking him in silence, and they all set themselves the goal, especially Turgenev, Auerbach, and others, to steal the content of his novel in order to get ahead in print ".

In the letters, the writer's references to his "suspiciousness", "delirium", "nervous breakdowns", fear of going crazy or seem crazy to others appear

At this time, Goncharov's partial criticism still persisted.

Best friends become stalkers

Let us turn again to the letters of Goncharov, in one of them he writes: “Some snares are spread around me, in which they catch me like a hare and hound me with dogs. And hunted down - you will see. And yet I will be more right than many."

We see how the typical picture of persecution delirium unfolds, with accompanying defensive actions. Therefore, Goncharov hides the manuscript from the "enemies", wrapping it in "blue paper", sealing it and putting it on the bottom of the suitcase.

He has to be constantly on his guard. Depression and delusional feelings keep him busy

Gradually, best friends become accomplices of the persecutors. Goncharov writes in his work “An Unusual Story”: “So, for example, I saw that I was being followed on the streets - and I guessed who it was, although these individuals used such a maneuver that they didn’t care about me. But I had only to turn around, and I always recognized the one who was following."

Goncharov's paranoid schizophrenia develops in a classical way. There is an initial period, which is protracted and similar to a clinic of sluggish schizophrenia. At the age of 45, the first affective-delusional attack occurs with syndromes characteristic of schizophrenia: the paranoia syndrome proceeds with a gradual expansion of the circle of actors, and delusional experiences become more complicated in dynamics and at the peak of activity turn into paranoid syndrome.

At the end of the fifties, one can note the emergence of a worldview shift, the symptoms of an emotional-volitional defect intensify, and a pronounced autism of the individual develops

Muse comes in between attacks

But what about the mechanism of Goncharov's literary creation, whose novels, as some literary critics believed, "even tired of their normalcy"? Here, readers will also find a lot of interesting and unexpected things. Goncharov writes: “… faces haunt me, pester me, pose in scenes, I hear fragments of their conversations - and it often seemed to me, God forgive me, that I was not making this up, but that all this was in the air around me and I just needed watch and ponder."

In the summer of 1856, in Marienbad, the writer experienced a strange alienation of creative activity. With Goncharov, this manifested itself in the form of "dictation" with the appearance of the presence of an outsider, from whom the text comes. " This impairment of consciousness is called depersonalization in psychiatry.

The writer literally begins to adapt to the course of his illness, predicting creative activities for the state of productive "summer hypomania", when his delusional feelings temporarily subsided

So, according to the memoirs of the lawyer and statesman Anatoly Koni, in 1868, "sowing at the" Cliff "after various hesitations, in two weeks wrote sixty-two sheets in a circle in his small and small handwriting." We meet with a frequent example of a kind of adaptation of a creative person to his mental disorder.

Goncharov was afraid that his sudden death would make his archive accessible, which he could not allow for delusional reasons. Therefore, after suffering a stroke at the beginning of 1889 (two years before his death), he burned almost all his correspondence, notes, memoirs, unpublished translations and manuscripts of his works of art.

Presumptive diagnosis: paranoid form of schizophrenia with a progressive type of course


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