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The Art of Literary Biography$
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John Batchelor

Print publication date: 1995

Print ISBN-13: 9780198182894

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198182894.001.0001

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Psychiatry and Literary Biography

Psychiatry and Literary Biography

(p.72) (p.73) 5 Psychiatry and Literary Biography
The Art of Literary Biography


Oxford University Press

This paper is based on three premisses. The first is that detailed causal psychoanalytic interpretations of the character and behaviour of deceased persons, in terms of what may have happened to them in early childhood, are intrinsically unreliable. The second premiss is that, in contrast, ideas and concepts originally derived from psychoanalysis have become so incorporated into intellectual discourse that biographers automatically employ them without always realizing whence they came. The last premiss is that, although psychoanalytic causal interpretation has not been as useful a tool for the biographer as the early Freudian disciples hoped, clinical psychiatry has provided biographical insights into literary figures which are invaluable and often unappreciated. It specifically examines how far descriptive, clinical psychiatry, rather than psychoanalysis, can be of service to the biographer. The conclusion considers an entirely different psychiatric disorder. In short, the literary biographer is entitled to reject psychoanalytic interpretations of character based upon suppositions about infantile experience and misperception which cannot be authenticated.

Keywords:   psychiatry, literary biography, behaviour, psychoanalysis, biographer

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