The representation of movement disorders in fictional literature

J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2012 Oct;83(10):994-9. doi: 10.1136/jnnp-2012-302716. Epub 2012 Jun 29.


This review considers novels, plays and poems dealing with movement disorders in order to show the relevance in the literary context. The motifs are arranged and compared following a modern neurological nosology according to Parkinson syndromes, dystonia, myoclonus, tics, hemifacial spasm, Tourette syndrome, Huntington's disease and hyperekplexia. There is considerable variety in how movement disorders are depicted and how much influence they have on the plot structures. Their usage ranges from a brief reference in order to accentuate aspects of a character's personality or social position, such as in Shakespeare, Dickens, Tolstoy or Galdós; to truly constituting one of the plot's main themes as, for example, with the representation of Lewy body disease in Franzen's The Corrections and Huntington's disease in Vonnegut's Galápagos, Sawyer's Frameshift or McEwan's Saturday. The symbolic connotation of the disease is of major importance, as is its social and psychological impact. Some 20th century authors transfer rhythm patterns of specific movement disorders into the textual structure, including, among others, Beckett.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Chorea
  • Dystonia
  • Hemifacial Spasm
  • Humans
  • Huntington Disease
  • Medicine in Literature*
  • Movement Disorders*
  • Narration
  • Parkinson Disease
  • Tic Disorders
  • Tourette Syndrome