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September 18, 2009


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I read Peter Ackroyd's biography of Dickens a few years ago. Dickens took his own psychological quirks, twists,turns and obsessions, and molded them into his characters. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is something with which Dickens was doubtless afflicted.

Another famous English writer, Samuel Johnson, whose 300th birthday is today, has been described as the patron saint of OCD. "When I survey my past life, I discover nothing but a barren waste of time, with disorders of the mind very near to madness."- Samuel Johnson

"And as this writer suggests, maybe OCD isn't such a bad thing to have!"

"It's not," says the person with the collection of Tale of Two Cities illustrations.

That being said, I have a hard time with people trying to diagnose historical figures. It seems like Beethoven gets a new diagnosis every year, and Akhenaten has gone through more genetic disorders than anyone should ever have. Part of this is the media's tendency to take scientific musings that are portrayed in their original publications as purely theoretical and report them as fact. Part of this is a lack of understanding of genetics by humanities scholars. So I think for these purposes, the criteria for diagnosis of OCD would have to be defined and it would have to be clearly outlined how Dickens fit them, based on several sources. It would also be interesting to see any arguments against OCD. Did he have a family history of similar behaviour? I'm a little less skeptical when it's based on genetic data, but even that is difficult to obtain and quick to contaminate.

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  • A blog for all things Dickens -- quotes, reflections, adaptations, references and tributes from other authors, and more.

Happy 200th, Mr. Dickens!

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