Section 3: Cataloging the Material

Part 2: A comparison with other disorders

42. Fictional characters of psychiatric interest



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42. Fictional characters of psychiatric interest

Characters from literature, it may be argued, not being real people, are therefore

of no value in the discussion of a medical problem. It can scarcely be doubted,

however, that genuinely creative writers have often presented personalities more fully

and more truly than we can readily get to know


them in life. And sometimes minor writers succeed in portraying personalities that seem

to be reliably true. The characters of the novelist and the dramatist are, furthermore,

accessible to all who care to read about them, unlike the patient who has been seen and

studied but cannot be presented personally to the reader. For the purpose of this

discussion I feel that several points can be made by citing fictional characters, some of

whom I believe have been no less faithfully drawn than patients reported in psychiatric

examinations. Whether real people exist like them or not is beside the point, since I do

not mean to use them as evidence to establish any conceptions of psychopathology but

to illustrate personality reactions, whether real or imaginary, which I shall attempt to

relate to the reactions considered in this volume.

Those who spend their lives in serious effort to put down in various forms a

reflection of their human experience must sometimes encounter the psychopath or at

least fragments of such behavior, hints of such an attitude. Abstruse and complex,

psychopathologic features of many types have for centuries emerged in literary creations

and seem to emerge sometimes through an inexplicable insight of the poet, novelist, or

dramatist, who, by his special talent, may successfully convey what he has accurately

sensed in the life about him. What he senses may not be discernible to many and it may

be most difficult to convey by the direct textbook methods. The possibility of help

from this source in efforts to gain understanding of the by no means simple riddle of

the psychopath is a possibility that should not be rejected.

Certain personalities have been described and perhaps exist in actual life, who,

unlike the ordinary criminal, seem to live by hate and cherish destructiveness not so

much to gain power or material benefits but because they grow to love hate and

destructiveness. The character Heathcliffe as presented in Wuthering Heights by Emily

Brontë might be chosen as a puzzling example of misanthropy, ruthlessness, and

maladjustment which has little in common with ordinary viciousness. Heathcliffe works

to destroy others and to destroy what is generally regarded as happiness for himself as

well. He unquestionably falls within the scope of psychopathology, a strange, terrible,

and compelling figure. But he has little specific kinship with the personalities discussed

here. He is strong, he is persistent, and his emotion, however distorted, appears greater

by far than that of the average man. He never loses his imposing dignity, even though

this dignity might be regarded as a dignity of evil. He remains integrated, not only

superficially but profoundly. The personalities described in this book, in contrast, show

no consistent pursuit of what might be called evil; their exploits are fitful, buffoonish,

and unsustained by any obvious purpose. Consistent


hatred of others is not a guiding line in their life scheme. And in Heathcliffe we find

evidence of more than ordinary love for Kathy, of love that appears to be genuine and

changeless despite the fact that it is a major factor behind his destructiveness.

It is not common to find in literature characters that could be grouped with the

patients studied here. Creative artists have often presented the villain, the psychotic, the

psychoneurotic, the erratic genius, the weak, the strong, the wise, and the stupid; but we

seldom find in imaginative writing anyone who could fit the picture that emerges as we

consider the histories in this book. Often, however, we find characters who in some

aspect or in some phase of their activities suggest what we have seen in the psychopath,

and we find others no less abnormal whose qualities may be used in contrast.

Iago27,71 in Othello, perhaps the most interesting and ingenious creation of

vindictiveness known to man, carries out his schemes of hate and treachery without

adequate motivation in the ordinary sense. In King Lear the cruelty of Edmund, bastard

son of Gloucester, is plainly pathologic. Herr Naphta in Thomas Mann's The Magic

Mountain, although a professional Christian in holy orders, is addicted to destructiveness

despite his great intellectual powers. All these characters are consistent, effective, and

despite their interesting psychiatric aspects, remote front the psychopath.

Mr. Micawber in David Copperfield and Tolstoi's Stepan Arkadyevitch Oblonsky in

Anna Karenina are convincing examples of people who do not seem to learn by

experience and who cannot, in important matters, be relied on by others. But neither

shows the active pattern of self-defeat with which we are familiar. Both seem to

represent ordinary human frailties that are much exaggerated. Falstaff (Henry II)

indulges in outlandish excesses with sack, falls into humiliating situations repeatedly

without evincing ordinary shame, and shows himself callous to the appeal of dignity and

honor. Yet we sense in him a strong tide of normal, even if superficial, life, some

Rabelaisian gusto, which makes his follies stand out in sharp contrast to the activities of

the psychopath. He is bent on animal pleasure and coarse merriment whatever they

may cost. We can understand him whether we should like to emulate him or not.

Mr. Burlap in Aldous Huxley's Point Counter Point141 is presented as a pious lecher,

a literary windbag, and a hypocritical opportunist. He impresses the average reader as a

most unpleasant personality, and he is portrayed as lacking many of the emotional

capacities which the psychopath also lacks. His opportunism works to his material

advantage, and he is steady in his aims and in his progress. However inconsistent or

hypocritical his affect, it seems more real than what we see in the psychopath. In the


same novel we find in Maurice Spandrell a man who seems to love cruelty and to love it

best in its most unpleasant forms. Despite his inexcusable practices we feel in him

extraordinary emotional richness and a peculiar but impressive latent integrity which are

in contrast to the cold-bloodedness and viciousness appearing in his outer life. It is

plain that a personality disorder exists, but it is not the type of disorder with which we

are here concerned.

Dostoevski's Prince Myshkin in The Idiot, a person of great wisdom and spiritual

insight, yet eccentric and in some ways inadequate, might be called a psychopath by

writers who use this term loosely for maladjusted or uneven geniuses. He is, however, a

person who feels more profoundly than the ordinary man the very aspects of life to

which our patients are numb.

In the figure of Zuleika Dobson, Max Beerbohm gives an impression not so

much of indicating a personality, even in caricature, as of lightly embodying his fantasy.

This wraithlike figment is used to suggest a carelessness about the fate of others, a

preoccupation with trivialities, an absolute and mysterious incapacity for serious

emotion that, in a way both outlandish and whimsical, echoes something of the

psychopath. She nevertheless succeeds consistently in her aims.21

Ibsen's Peer Gynt, although he, too, belongs perhaps in Elfland and very little in

the ordinary world, shows a capacity for spiritual failure, an almost perverse unreliability,

and an insouciance in self-frustration that suggests a translation of our problem, or

some aspect of it, into poetry.

The children presented by Richard Hughes in A High Wind in Jamaica138 and those

very different children Henry James gives us in The Turn of the Screw suggest an incapacity

for normal feeling, an unalterable, subtle, and sinister resistance to human approach that

might be compared to the callousness of the psychopath. Both authors seem to be

more concerned with general aspects of life or of evil, however, than with a personality


Ferenc Molnar's Liliom,222 an altogether astonishing character to the average

reader or theater-goer, fails all who trust him and fails himself with the prodigious

consistency of a real psychopath. His final manifestation of the old inadequacy, even

after being brought back from the dead to earth, really suggests that the dramatist may

have had in mind something like the psychopath as we know him. His power to arouse

inalienable devotion in women is also as impressive as what we see in real patients.

Liliom's suicide, his capacity to admit his misdeeds with what impresses one as a

measure of sincerity, his warmth, and his depicted strength and fearlessness all stand out

in contrast, however, to the personality patterns discussed in this book.


In Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, the Baron de Charlus, a Masterpiece of

psychopathology no less than of literary creation, would of course be classed as a

psychopath in the broad and once orthodox meaning of the term. This most imposing

and vivid character shows not only homosexuality but a taste for flagellation and other

deviations of the sexual impulse, and he shows them as they can seldom be appreciated

from the reading of textbooks. There is much about Charlus to suggest that he also

shares in some measure the special disorder that we treat here. He seems to care little

for the rights of others or for their suffering. He is found repeatedly in fantastic and

shameful situations. Much of his abnormal behavior becomes more comprehensible,

however, once we grant the authenticity of his abnormal sexual cavings. There are

indications of a real learning and a more nearly sincere culture than in the personalities

we describe here. A paradoxical and fragmentary but not totally false dignity in his

living contrasts with the psychopath's great lack in this respect.

Charlus might justifiably be classed as a partial psychopath, at least. As in some

psychopaths seen clinically, he has specific sex deviations which are basic (as contrasted

with incidental careless acts of perversion) and which readily account for much of his

folly. This figure is depicted as surpassingly haughty in cultural and social aloofness, as a

superesthete who aggressively represents almost an apotheosis of the secondary

defensive reactions pointed out as typical of the real homosexual by Greenspan and

Campbell. 102

Such a figure as Jondrette (or Thénardier) of Les Miserables shows petty

opportunism, little ability to profit by mistakes, an extreme degree of selfishness, and a

talent for failure. Although these are superficially suggestive of the psychopath, I

believe that Jondrette and others like him are conceived as rascals with a better

organized antisocial revolt than what is seen in the psychopath. Svidrigailov in Crime and

Punishment is more strange than Jondrette and appears for a time entirely callous to such

feelings as pity or pride. He finally shows a magnanimity that distinguishes him from

our subject.

Many female characters have been presented by novelists and dramatists as

astonishingly faithless and astonishingly deficient in the stronger, richer emotions. In

some of these th spiritual limitation appears to be absolute and unchangeable. Nina

Leeds of Eugene O'Neill's Strange Interlude was regarded by some critics as shameless,

immoral, and self-seeking to an extreme degree. The still celebrated Scarlett O'Hara in

Gone With the Wind, 221 in some contrast to Nina, fails regularly to respond to sincere

emotion in her lovers and pursues above all else aims that are fundamentally egocentric

and trivial. Nina Leeds, however, seems capable of real feeling toward her first lover,

and her reactions after his death, all of which


are based on strong emotional drives, can be understood without assuming the same

type of disorder postulated in the psychopath. In fact, she shows very little in common

with such a disorder.

Scarlett O'Hara, in my opinion, is a very convincing figure and really shows some

of the emotional impoverishment described here in the patients presented as partial

psychopaths. Her incapacity for a true commitment in love is apparently unmodifiable;

her egocentricity is basic. She seems to be without means of understanding the strong

emotions in those about her or of having adequate awareness of what makes them act

when they act in accordance with principles they value. Unlike the complete

psychopath, she successfully pursues ends that lead to her material well-being and she

avoids putting herself in positions of obvious folly and shame. In her, however, we

sense an inward hollowness and a serious lack of insight.

An interesting feature of Gone With the Wind and one that illuminates an

important distinguishing characteristic of the psychopath can be found in a comparison

between Scarlett O'Hara and Captain Rhett Butler. Although the captain's conduct is

often at variance with most ethical standards, although he evades joining wholeheartedly

in the war effort and even seeks to gain personal profit through complications of the

war, he can hardly fail to give readers the impression of a man warmly and deeply

human. If his objective misdemeanors and other bits of wrongdoing are added up and

balanced against Scarlett's actions in the book, it is possible that his score would be

technically worse and that he would be more liable to legal action and social censure.

Scarlett, as a matter of fact, is kind in the shallower ranges of feeling, rather

consistently considerate about all matters except the most vital. The real contrast

becomes clear when fundamental personal issues are at stake. Here Captain Butler's

nuclear integrity and his valid reactions of love and compassion are communicated not

so much by narration and exposition or by what he directly says as in small reflections

of his essential personality that cumulatively reveal him.

It might be argued that of the two, Scarlett, as depicted in the novel, is on the

whole a more conforming person, one who can better avoid conduct which will bring

about social retaliation. Without attempting a judgment based on ethical absolutes,

which is not the province of this book, a significant contrast can be shown between

what appears to be the inmost core of each. As indicated already, the fictional Scarlett

O'Hara would be a poor representative of the clinical psychopath, but limitations in her

personality so effectively brought out in the novel seem closely related in quality to the

more disabling deficit that I believe is fundamental in the enigmatic disorder.


Anyone concerned at all with psychiatry is likely to find in Jenny Hagar Poster

Evered of The Strange Woman (Ben Ames Williams)295 detail and concreteness familiar in

the direct study of patients but hard to put into medical histories. In that she does not

respect the rights of others and particularly in that she reacts in anything but a normal

way in the deepest personal relations, Jenny might be proclaimed a psychopath whose

deviation is extraordinarily complete. Sharply distinguishing points emerge when we

consider the persistent purposiveness, the strong and sustained malice with which this

woman works to destroy all happiness for children, husbands, and paramours. A

conscious brutality prevails. Destructive impulses are directed consistently by open


In contrast with this picture of a well-organized paranoid life scheme we find the

typical psychopath not consistently seeking to inflict major disaster on anyone. More

characteristic is the psychopath's pettiness and transiency of affect (both positive and

negative) and his failure to follow a long-range plan, either for good or for evil. The

emotional damage he may (and often does) inflict on others, mate, parents, children, is

not, it seems, inflicted for any major voluntary purpose or from a well-focused motive

but from what weighs in at little more than whim or caprice. He does not seem to

intend much harm. In the disaster he brings about he cannot estimate the affective

reactions of others which are the substance of the disaster. A race of men congenitally

without pain sense would not find it easy to estimate the effects of physical torture on

others. A man who had never understood visual experience would lack appreciation of

what is sustained when the ordinary person loses his eyes. So, too, the real psychopath

seems to lack understanding of the nature and quality of the hurt and sorrow he brings

to others.

In contrast to anything of this sort, Jenny shows a rather accurate awareness of

how it is going to hurt as she skillfully, and in response to consistent impulse, pursues

her plans. All this is very typical of severe paranoid reactions seen clinically. Jenny is

also depicted as having components of overt sadomasochistic deviation. Elements of

callousness (from incomplete comprehension) are probably necessary for such

reactions. Followed far enough inside the surface of action and consciousness, such

callousness might be found based on similar pathology to that which constitutes the

psychopath's basic incompleteness. As clinical pictures, nevertheless, there is more to

contrast than to identify the two life schemes.

To illustrate a feature of what I shall subsequently try to formulate as the

psychopath's real underlying condition, the remarkable character of Adrian Harley in

George Meredith's The Ordeal of Richard Feveral 212 offers an excellent example. This

"wise young man" makes a very successful


and comfortable adjustment to life in its exterior aspect. He is, of course, no

psychopath in the full sense as this disorder is described here. He is a most shrewd,

urbane, and learned person. His learning is, furthermore, in the humanities. Yet his

incapacity to feel the actual living, the tragedy and joy that are so real to Richard and to

Lucy Desborough, is absolute. He does not apparently intend to be cruel but, perhaps

chiefly because of a particular blindness, his shrewdness is used consistently to bring

about disaster. He is entirely without insight and remains unable to see that he has

seriously damaged others. No schizophrenic could be less cognizant of what existence

means to Richard and Lucy than Adrian Harley as he stands with them on a terrace in

the Isle of Wight chanting Greek hexameters into the sunset. If we consider such an

emotional limitation as that seen in Scarlett O'Hara or in Adrian Harley as similar to

what is seen in the psychopath, we must admit that many persons regarded as normal

show less marked limitations of the same sort. This, I believe, is entirely true, just as

many ordinary persons are slightly schizoid or slightly cyclothymic.

In the literature of this century such characters as Jeeter Lester of Tobacco Road

(Erskine Caldwell)38 and Pop-Eye (Sanctuary by William Faulkner)78 deserve brief

consideration. The first of these seems to learn little indeed by experience. He is

callous to many situations involving himself and others that the ordinary man could

scarcely bear. Jeeter Lester impresses me, however, as very little akin to the psychopath.

His shiftlessness and resignation are entirely passive. He is to some extent a natural

victim of his surroundings. He shows no active drive toward such folly and failure as

lure the psychopath, but merely an aimless drifting. He is, despite all his frailties and

follies, somehow warm with humanity.

The other figure, Pop-Eye, is depicted as a malign and vindictive man who

pursues criminal aims successfully though somewhat peculiarly. His delight in watching

the girl he has chosen for himself ravished by another man is extraordinary in the annals

of orthodox criminal taste but is comprehensible in terms of voyeurism and masochism

and especially in view of his own sexual impotence. An incompletely overt

homosexuality is perhaps even more strongly contributory to this choice of role.

Although there are features in common, he does not belong among the personalities

discussed here.

In Don Birnam, hero of The Lost Week-End (Charles Jackson),145 we find a

psychiatric presentation of remarkable force. Beneath the surface of alcoholic addiction,

very complicated and subtly distorted causal factors reveal themselves. Eventually a

picture emerges in which important features of the psychopath are discernible. There

are also contrasts. In Birnam


awareness of major frustration is more clear, and anxiety and despair are not

successfully avoided. What has happened and is still happening is bizarre and terrifying

to the subject since he retains some important degree of insight. When measured

against the typical psychopath, this rather remarkable fictional creation suggests another


Several times recently, patients in early, incomplete schizophrenic reactions have

impressed me with varying degrees of ability to see or sense the strangeness and gravity

of the processes operant within themselves. In sharp contrast to the ordinary patient

with schizophrenia, in whom unawareness and indifference characterize the subject's

attitude to all that is so obviously grotesque or tragic to the observer, these patients

reacted to some degree as if with the fear, bewilderment, and horror that might be

expected in one who recognizes such changes as occurring within himself. Many

schizophrenics may show anxiety, alarm, and other strong affective reactions toward

other matters, particularly toward delusional projection. This very different atypical

residue of insight struck me not only as a remarkable feature but as one affording the

observer an unusual viewpoint, the viewpoint of seeing, to some degree, this

indescribable process through the eyes of the subject. Ordinarily the disintegration in

schizophrenia is such, in specific quality whatever the degree, that the patient does not

see the changes in himself with sufficient accuracy to react to them vividly or with

anything like the emotional responses of an ordinary person.

In Don Birnam a good many things are revealed as within or near his own

comprehension which suggest what may lie beneath the reactive patterns of the

psychopath but, if there, are so far beneath that the typical psychopath is unaware of

them and indifferent. The observer also has peculiar difficulty in gaining direct access

to what may be beneath the surface. Although it may not be accurate to give the

unqualified diagnosis to this marvelously interesting fictional patient, it is undeniable

that he shows very convincingly, important features of the psychopath.

A literary creation who impreses me as remarkably like a psychopath in the full

sense is Dostoevski's senior Karamazov, father of the wonderful and puzzling brothers

who themselves offer so much of interest to the psychiatrist. The elder Karamazov is

not only free from major human feelings, but he also drives actively at folly. He shows

a greedy relish for the very sort of buffoonery and high jinks that the psychopath seeks.

He has no regard apparently for consequences and cannot be persuaded by reason or

appealed to by sentiment. He appears superficially to be a man of strong passions, but

in my opinion this is only an appearance. He does not pursue selfish or vicious ways

consistently in the aim of self-interest. He immerses himself in indignity for its own

sake. He does outrageous things, especially


to his son Dimitri, yet he is not adequately motivated by consistently vindictive or cruel


The personality and behavior of Mildred as she appears in Of Human Bondage

(Somerset Maugharn)204 also have features that are difficult to reconcile with anything

except this disorder, and this disorder in a serious degree. To petty, affective

promptings this girl responds appropriately as a rule. All the stimuli that in the normal

person evoke serious and lasting responses she perceives little more than a blind man

perceives the sunset.

Her positive responses to the trivial, the cheap, and the vulgar are

understandable in view of the affective limitations so memorably revealed. It is not

through savage and violent impulses that she mangles or destroys, but because only

mild affect is necessary for action when the larger emotional consequences are invisible.

They are invisible not through lack of rational foresight but through specific and more

profound defects of evaluation. It is not at all necessary to assume genuine cruelty of

any magnitude in Mildred as she reviles the man who has so convincingly demonstrated

love for her and whom she wounds as only he could be wounded by the final epithetcripple.

So far as she can tell, she is doing little more than what anybody might do if

moderately irked.

Like the full psychopath, Mildred cannot continue to provide successfully for her

material needs. Unlike what is typical, she does not appear to be especially clever or to

have great superficial charm and promise. Nevertheless, she illustrates, perhaps even

more accurately than Karamazov the father, some of the features that seem to be

fundamental in our subject.

I have seldom seen in fiction so complete and so faithful a portrayal of the

psychopath as in the character Rags in The Story of Mrs. Murphy (Natalie Anderson

Scott).256 No attempt is made to explain why this man behaves as he does. He is

revealed, not by efforts at description and exposition, but with rare fidelity in the

concrete rendering of his behavior. The author of this book understands something

fundamental about the true psychopath that often is notably lacking in textbook

accounts. This is communicated in a form singularly impressive and worthy of careful


One would not ordinarily expect to find among the comic cartoon strips of the

daily newspapers enlightening information about psychiatric disorder. Nevertheless, in

the widely published strip "Judge Parker," an excellent presentation of the psychopath

has been made to the public in the unforgettable character Sandra Deare. It is

remarkable that so accurate and informative a treatment of such a problem could be

given in this medium. This can be better understood when it is known that the creator

of "Judge Parker" is a psychiatrist, Dr. Nicolas Dallis,218 who uses a pseudonym to

indicate his authorship. I believe that this serious and wonderfully effective


portrayal of the psychopath has served an important purpose in conveying to the public

valuable knowledge about the psychopath's peculiar status and perplexing problems.

In many respects the most realistic and successful of all portrayals of the

psychopath is that presented by Mary Astor in The Incredible Charlie Carewe.16 The

rendition is so effective that even those unfamiliar with the psychopath in actual

experience are likely to sense the reality of what is disclosed. The subject is superbly

dealt with, and the book constitutes a faithful and arresting study of a puzzling and

infinitely complex subject. Charlie Carewe emerges as an exquisite example of the

psychopath - the best, I believe, to be found in any work of fiction.

The Incredible Charlie Carewe should be read not only by every psychiatrist but also

by every physician. It will hold the attention of all intelligent readers, and I believe it

will be of great value in helping the families of psychopaths to gain insight into the

nature of the tragic problem with which they are dealing, usually in blindness and



Next: Section 3: Cataloging the material, Part 2: A comparison with other disorders, 43. The psychopath in history


Energy Enhancement          Enlightened Texts         Psychopath           The Mask Of Sanity



Section 3, Part 2


  • Psychopath Hervey Cleckley THE MASK OF SANITY, Section 3: Cataloging the material , Part 2: A comparison with other disorders, 29. Purpose of this step
    Psychopath Hervey Cleckley THE MASK OF SANITY, Section 3: Cataloging the material , Part 2: A comparison with other disorders, 29. Purpose of this step, Some material has been presented in which manifestations of the disorder occur. It is our task to arrange it in such a way that its features can be seen clearly and compared with the features of other disorders. Such a step should be helpful in our efforts to recognize what we are dealing with and to evaluate it. Let us compare these patients known as psychopaths with others showing clinical illness and deviated reactions or patterns of living. Significant details should emerge, differentiation should become clearer, and distinguishing features of our subject should become more apparent at





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