J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 83:994-999 doi:10.1136/jnnp-2012-302716
  • Movement disorders
  • Review

The representation of movement disorders in fictional literature

  1. Hendrik Voss
  1. Correspondence to Dr Hendrik Voss, Schön Klinik München-Schwabing, Centre for Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorders, Parzivalplatz 1, München 80804, Germany; hvoss{at}
  • Received 13 March 2012
  • Revised 6 May 2012
  • Accepted 16 May 2012
  • Published Online First 29 June 2012


This review considers novels, plays and poems dealing with movement disorders in order to show the relevance in the literary context. The motifs are arranged and compared following a modern neurological nosology according to Parkinson syndromes, dystonia, myoclonus, tics, hemifacial spasm, Tourette syndrome, Huntington's disease and hyperekplexia. There is considerable variety in how movement disorders are depicted and how much influence they have on the plot structures. Their usage ranges from a brief reference in order to accentuate aspects of a character's personality or social position, such as in Shakespeare, Dickens, Tolstoy or Galdós; to truly constituting one of the plot's main themes as, for example, with the representation of Lewy body disease in Franzen's The Corrections and Huntington's disease in Vonnegut's Galápagos, Sawyer's Frameshift or McEwan's Saturday. The symbolic connotation of the disease is of major importance, as is its social and psychological impact. Some 20th century authors transfer rhythm patterns of specific movement disorders into the textual structure, including, among others, Beckett.


  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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