The neurologic content of S. Weir Mitchell's fiction

Elan D. Louis, Stacy Horn, Lisa Anne Roth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Background: Silas Weir Mitchell (1829 to 1914), one of the most important neurologists in American Medicine, was known for his seminal work on the phantom limb syndrome, causalgia, and nerve injuries. He was also a prolific writer of novels and short stories. The neurologic content of this fiction has not been studied. Objective: To assess the extent that references to neurologic topics were present in Mitchell's fiction, whether these neurologic references reflected Mitchell's scientific interests and contributions, and whether his fictional accounts of neurologic topics would precede those in his scientific writings. Methods: The authors read Silas Weir Mitchell's novels and short stories. Results: Seventeen (63.0%) of 27 fictional works contained neurologic references. Fifty-five (69.6%) of 79 references were brief (a single word or sentence). In two works, a neurologic theme was central to the plot. Some of the neurologic content was sophisticated (aphasia, brain laterality). Phantom limb syndrome, causalgia, and nerve injuries were not prominent in his fiction. Neurologic consequences of battle injuries were featured in 10 (37.0%) works. With the exception of "The Case of George Dedlow" (i.e., phantom limb syndrome), Mitchell's fictional accounts of neurologic topics followed his presentation of these topics in the scientific literature. Conclusions: The majority of Mitchell's fictional works contained references to neurologic topics but most contained brief references. The number of references to Mitchell's specific scientific interests (phantom limb syndrome, causalgia) was small, although more generally, references to the neurology of battle injuries occurred more frequently.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)403-407
Number of pages5
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 2006
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology


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