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Title: Monomania  
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Subject: Hypomania, Moral insanity, Ishmael (Moby-Dick), Nagging, Philadelphia Wireman
Collection: Historical and Obsolete Mental and Behavioural Disorders
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In 19th-century psychiatry, monomania (from Greek monos, one, and mania, meaning "madness" or "frenzy") was a form of partial insanity conceived as single pathological preoccupation in an otherwise sound mind.[1]:155 [2]:26 Partial insanity, variations of which enjoyed a long pre-history in jurisprudence, was in contrast to the traditional notion of total insanity, exemplified in the diagnosis of mania, as a global condition affecting all aspects of understanding and which reflected the position that the mind or soul was an indivisible entity.[2]:25–6, 31, 39 [3]:243 Coined by the French psychiatrist Jean-Étienne Dominique Esquirol (1772–1840) around 1810,[1]:153 monomania was a new disease-concept characterised by the presence of an expansive idée fixe in which the mind was diseased and deranged in some facets but otherwise normal in others.[1]:157 Esquirol and his circle delineated three broad categories of monomania coherent with the traditional tripartite classification of the mind into intellectual, emotional and volitional faculties.[4]:46 Emotional monomania is that in which the patient is obsessed with only one emotion or several related to it; intellectual monomania is that which is related to only one kind of delirious idea or ideas. Although monomania was retained as one of seven recognized categories of mental illness in the 1880 US census,[5] its importance as a psychiatric diagnostic category was in decline from the mid-19th century.[6]


  • Types of monomania 1
  • Monomania in popular culture 2
    • In literature and film 2.1
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5

Types of monomania

Monomania may refer to:

Monomania in popular culture

In literature and film

Honoré de Balzac describes monomania in Eugénie Grandet:[8]

As if to illustrate an observation which applies equally to misers, ambitious men, and others whose lives are controlled by any dominant idea, his affections had fastened upon one special symbol of his passion. The sight of gold, the possession of gold, had become a monomania.

Additionally, in Balzac's novel Lucien De Rubempre, the title character is referred to as in a hallucinatory state similar to that of a monomaniac.

Monomaniacal fear is explored in great depth in M. E. Braddon's novel, Lady Audley's Secret, through the protagonist Robert Audley, whom the guilty woman accuses of monomania in his relentless attempt to prove her guilt. She describes monomania thus:[9]

What is one of the strangest diagnostics of madness—what is the first appalling sign of mental aberration? The mind becomes stationary; the brain stagnates; the even current of reflection is interrupted; the thinking power of the brain resolves itself into a monotone. As the waters of a tideless pool putrefy by reason of their stagnation, the mind becomes turbid and corrupt through lack of action; and the perpetual reflection upon one subject resolves itself into monomania.

In Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff is described as a monomaniac, obsessing over his reunion with Cathy in the final chapters of the novel.[10]

In Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoevsky, the main character, Raskolnikov, is said to be a monomaniac on numerous occasions.[11]

It is said that Flaubert's hatred of the bourgeois and their bêtise (willful idiocy), that began in his childhood, developed into a kind of monomania.[12]

In a 1993 Outside magazine article about Christopher McCandless that he later expanded into the best-selling book, Into the Wild (which was also made into a film), Jon Krakauer summarizes the portrait of Christopher painted by friends, family, and schoolmates thusly: "McCandless could be generous and caring to a fault, but he had a darker side as well, characterized by monomania, impatience, and unwavering self-absorption, qualities that seemed to intensify throughout his college years."[13]

In Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851), Captain Ahab is a monomaniac, as shown by his quest to kill Moby Dick. One particular situation where he is shown as a monomaniac is in the crew's first encounter with the whale, stating:[14]

But, as in his narrow-flowing monomania, not one jot of Ahab's broad madness had been left behind; so in that broad madness, not one jot of his great natural intellect had perished. ... so that far from having lost his strength, Ahab, to that one end, did now possess a thousand-fold more potency than ever he had sanely brought to bear upon any reasonable object.

In the original French text of Jules Vernes' Around the World in 80 Days, the main character, Phileas Fogg is viewed by his servant Passepartout as a "monomane" for his fixation with winning his bet to complete his tour of the world in the prescribed 80 days.

The 19th-century writer Edgar Allan Poe would often write tales in which the narrator and protagonist would suffer some form of monomania, becoming excessively fixated on an idea, an urge, an object, or a person, often to the point of mental and/or physical destruction. Poe uses the theme of monomania in:

In H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, the time traveller states that "To sit among all those unknown things before a puzzle like that is hopeless. That way lies monomania."[15]

In "The Tomb", a 1917 short story by H.P. Lovecraft, the pledge by the character of Jervas Dudley to break into an ancient family crypt is said by a physician to have been "the beginning of a pitiful monomania."[16]

In The Last of Chéri, by Colette, Pal considers Chéri to be a monomaniac.[17]

In The West Wing, incoming White House Chief of Staff Joshua Lyman is described as being monomaniacal in his dedication to public service, as displayed by singularly focusing on his political work at the expense of his personal life and relationships.[18]

In "The Six Napoleons", by Arthur Conan Doyle, where the criminal was thought to be suffering from monomania because he was repeatedly smashing the busts of Napoleon.

In The Count of Monte Cristo, by French author Alexandre Dumas, Abbe Faria is believed to suffer from a monomania regarding the treasure he always spoke of to the persons of Château d'If, the political prison in which he was detained.

See also


  1. ^ a b c  
  2. ^ a b Eigen, Joel Peter (January 1991). "Delusion in the Courtroom: The Role of Partial Insanity in Early Forensic Testimony". Medical History 35 (1): 25–49.  
  3. ^ Berrios, German E. (1996). The History of Mental Symptoms: Descriptive Psychopathology Since The Nineteenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  
  4. ^ Valverde, Mariana (1998-10-28). Diseases of the Will: Alcohol and the Dilemmas of Freedom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  
  5. ^ Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-IV-TR (4th ed.). American Psychiatric Society. 2000. p. xxv.  
  6. ^ Berrios's note states: "Monomania was a diagnosis invented by Esquirol which achieved certain popularity, particularly in forensic psychiatry. It was never fully accepted by those not belonging to Esquirol's school and after severe attack during the 1950s, it gradually disappeared." The reference to the 1950s is a typographical error and it should read the 1850s. This is evident from a reading of the section of Berrios's text which this note informs, the secondary and primary sources that Berrios uses to support this detail and other secondary and primary literature on the topic. For instance, at an earlier point in Berrios's text he writes: "...Esquirol's 'monomania' did not fare well ... and was killed in 1854 at a meeting of the Société Médico-Psychologique ..." Berrios, German E. (1996). The history of mental symptoms: descriptive psychopathology since the nineteenth century. Cambridge University Press. pp. 426, 447, 453 n. 50.  
  7. ^ "Which came first, the condition or the drug?". London Review of Books. 32 No. 19. 7 October 2010. pp. 31–33. This development started at the beginning of the 19th century with Esquirol’s ‘affective monomanias’ (notably ‘lypemania’, the first elaboration of what was to become our modern depression) 
  8. ^ Honoré de Balzac (2008). Eugenie Grandet (Reprint ed.). Wilder Books. p. 130.  
  9. ^ Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1862). Lady Audley's secret (8th ed.). Oxford University. p. 269. 
  10. ^ Graeme Tytler (1992). "Heathcliff's Monomania: An Anachronism in Wuthering Heights". Bronte Society Transactions 20 (6): 331.  
  11. ^ Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1886). Crime and Punishment. Vizetelly & Co. 
  12. ^ Edmond Gosse (1910). "Flaubert". In Hugh Chisholm. The encyclopædia britannica: a dictionary of arts, sciences, literature and general information, Volume 10 (11th ed.). University of Cambridge. p. 483. 
  13. ^ Krakauer, Jon (January 1993). "Death of an Innocent: How Christopher McCandless lost his way in the wilds". Outside. 
  14. ^ Herman Melville (2008). Moby-Dick - Or, the Whale - Volume I (Abridged ed.). Jesson Press. p. 231.  
  15. ^ H.G. Wells (1895). War of the Worlds. 
  16. ^ H.P. Lovecraft (1917). The Tomb. 
  17. ^ Colette (1926). The Last of Chéri. 
  18. ^ The West Wing, Episode 7.19: "Transition". Original airdate: April 26, 2006.

External links

  • Marina Van Zuylen, Monomania: the flight from everyday life in literature and art, Cornell University Press, 2005, ISBN 978-0-8014-4298-8
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