Lida Prypchan
4 min readApr 2, 2019


Reader of Dostoevsky [1907] Emil Filla

The artist is, in and of himself, an unusual case — not only worthy of deep study but should also trigger admiration in us. The artist is a different being whose inner voice requires him to lead a life different from the one led by the common man. He will suffer and enjoy his torment, that vital imperative that leads him to travel down unusual paths. On this point, Freud believes that what makes the artist choose paths that are different from those of other people is sublimation; this is what channels the power of his libido along courses different from the usual in order to vent the tensions of his psychic content.

Freud published a book called ‘Psychoanalysis of Art,’ in which he presents analysis of the work of five artists: Jensen, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Goethe — and Dostoyevsky.

In his book, ‘Dostoyevsky and Parricide,’ Freud declares himself to be a layman in matters of art, a layman who feels more attracted by the qualities of the artwork than by its techniques. He is attracted by them because he feels overpowered by them and what is intriguing to him is that they are beyond his comprehension. He does, at least, find an explanation for this fascination — what he calls “the intention of the artist.” Freud believed artists are neurotics fleeing from an unsatisfactory reality and taking refuge in a fantasy world, from which — unlike the mentally ill — they can find their way back. For Freud the sexuality of the artist has a great influence — but — he knows to admit this is not the only source of art and that psychoanalysis has thrown little light on the technique of art as such.


Freud distinguishes four facets in the rich personality of Dostoyevsky: the poet, the neurotic, the moralist and the sinner. Of these the last three are the ones accessible to psychoanalysis, as it lays down its arms when faced with the first.

Freud studied various aspects of the Russian writer’s life: his criminality (based on his literary production), his Oedipus complex (his desire to kill his father, dwelling deep within him) and the reaction that these desires produced in him — epilepsy, which in this case Freud defines as being of the affective type.

At first Freud is tempted to consider him a criminal but he encounters great resistance: Dostoyevsky harbors, unlike a criminal, a huge capacity for love and a great need for love — he is an extremely kind and humane man even in circumstances where he should feel hatred and revenge. What moves Freud to think of Dostoyevsky as a criminal is his choice of literary topics -he prefers selfish, violent and murderous characters — as well as some real life events including having sexually abused a prepubescent girl. His instinct for destruction appears as oriented in his life against himself — and creates a huge guilt complex in him.

Dostoyevsky’s case is complicated by the presence of his neurosis which Freud suggests was the basis of his epilepsy. Dostoyevsky uses epilepsy as a means to redeem his parricidal desires. This man, Dostoyevsky, is bisexual — according to Freud’s study — with an Oedipus complex. Faced with this problem two alternatives are proposed: kill the father in order to possess the mother — or — play the female role in order to win over the father. Both, however, lead to the same dead end which is the punishment he would receive if discovered — castration. These desires create a guilt complex in him which manifests itself in his epileptic seizures, during which he felt a state similar to death. This is what Freud deduces, basing himself inter alia on a peculiar fact — Dostoyevsky’s attacks began in real life at age 18 after the murder of his father.

In his great work, ‘The Brothers Karamazov,’ the aforementioned parricide is shown. Two brothers. One of them commits the crime and it is precisely this one to whom Dostoyevsky attributes his illness, as if to admit that the neurotic and epileptic person in him was parricidal. The work continues with the report to the courts and in it the famous mockery of psychology — nothing but a cover-up of Dostoyevsky’s true intentions. Surely his mockery is aimed at the courts! He cannot be mocking psychology as this is only important to the person who deeply desired the crime.

Dostoyevsky’s sympathy with the offender goes far beyond compassion. For him, the criminal is like a savior — he takes upon himself the burden that others would have had to bear otherwise. Moreover, one should be grateful to him since if he had not done it, one would have had to.

In short, Freud opines, “there is identification on the basis of identical murderous impulses.” It is beyond doubt, Freud is telling us, that Dostoyevsky’s choice of literary topics was based on this identification and he used it to bequeath to us his poetic confession.



Lida Prypchan

Psychiatrist & Writer — Writing and meditating at the intersection of psychiatry, philosophy, Buddhism and the arts. More information at