Locked-in: the syndrome as depicted in literature

Prog Brain Res. 2013;206:19-34. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-444-63364-4.00018-1.


Protagonists who are locked-in can be found throughout fiction, probably because being locked-in serves as a strong philosophical metaphor for human existence. In this chapter, three protagonists who are locked-in due to physical/medical reasons will be described. The fictitious stories of Noirtier from The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas and that of Madame Raquin from Thérèse Raquin by Émile Zola are followed by the real-life story of Jean-Dominique Bauby's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Dumas' Noirtier is considered the first description of the locked-in syndrome in literature, and Madame Raquin appears to be locked-in also, but her description leaves many questions. Bauby's autopathography is chosen from many several similar discourses as it contains cross-references to Noirtier, Dumas' prototype of the syndrome, but also because it is of high literary value. The similarities and remarkable differences between these three case reports of this existentialistically important state of being will be highlighted, with an emphasis on the focus of their narratives.

Keywords: Bauby; Dumas; Zola; locked-in; stroke.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • History, 19th Century
  • Humans
  • Literature, Modern / history*
  • Male
  • Medicine in Literature*
  • Quadriplegia / history*