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, 14 (2), 100-15

Hallucinations and Pathological Visual Perceptions in Maupassant's Fantastical Short Stories--A Neurological Approach


Hallucinations and Pathological Visual Perceptions in Maupassant's Fantastical Short Stories--A Neurological Approach

Luis-Carlos Alvaro. J Hist Neurosci.


Maupassant excelled as a realist writer of the nineteenth century, with fantastical short stories being an outstanding example of his literary genius. We have analysed four of his fantastical stories from a neurological point of view. In "Le Horla," his masterpiece, we have found nightmares, sleep paralysis, a hemianopic pattern of loss and recovery of vision, and palinopsia. In "Qui sait" and in "La main" there is also an illusory movement of the objects in the visual field, although in a dreamlike complex pattern. In "Lui," autoscopy and hypnagogic hallucinations emerge as fantastical key elements. The writer suffered from severe migraine and neurosyphilis involving the optic nerve, which led to his death by general paralysis of the insane (GPI). Visual loss and visual hallucinations affected the author in his last years, before a delirant state confined him to a nursing home. Our original hypothesis, which stated that he could have translated his sensorial experiences coming from this source to his works, had to be revised by analyzing some of his earliest works, notably "Le Docteur Héraclius Gloss" and "La main d'écorché" (1875). We found hallucinatory symptoms, adopting the form of autoscopy and other elaborated visual misperceptions, in stories written at age 25, when Maupassant was allegedly healthy. Therefore, we hypothesize that they may be related to his hypersensitive disposition, assuming that no pathology is necessary to experience such vivid experiences. In addition, Maupassant's abuse of drugs, as illustrated in "Rêves," could have provided an additional element to outline his painstaking visual depictions. All these factors, in addition to his up-to-date neurological knowledge and attendance at Charcot's lectures at "La Salpêtrière," armed the author for repetitive and enriched hallucinatory experiences, which were transferred relentlessly into his works from the beginning of his career.

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