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Memory after Charcot: Paul Sollier’s visionary work
  1. Julien Bogousslavsky
  1. Dr Julien Bogousslavsky, Department of Neurology, Genolier Swiss Medical Network, Valmont-Genolier, 1823 Glion-sur-Montreux, Switzerland; jb{at}

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At the end of the 19th century, memory was more a topic for philosophers than for neurologists. Charcot’s wrote only one lesson addressing memory dysfunction, but he asked his pupil Paul Sollier to study this topic in greater depth. Today, Paul Sollier seems better known by Marcel Proust’s scholars than by neurologists, because in December 1905, Proust entered a sanatorium to follow a 6 week treatment for “neurasthenia” under his care. According to Léon Daudet, Sollier, along with Babinski, was considered at that time the cleverest pupil of Charcot. Sollier used his knowledge on memory to provoke emotional surges of involuntary memories in his patients. Proust’s novel contains over 1200 allusions to memory, with a specific emphasis on involuntary memory, which appeared largely inspired by Sollier’s theories. Beyond that, Sollier highlighted several other concepts which make him a major and early explorer of memory: learning is based on cellular changes and plasticity, memory is a universal phenomenon of the nervous system, memory and perception centres differ anatomically and neurophysiologically, memory organisation is controlled by the frontal lobe. The rediscovery of Sollier’s extraordinary work on memory should rehabilitate a forgotten, atypical neurologist whose critical interest in psychology may, in retrospect, make him one of the first modern neuropsychologists.

In 1905–1906, the author of “Á la recherche du temps perdu” (“In search of lost time”)1 Marcel Proust (1871–1922) spent 6 weeks in a sanatorium under the care of a now forgotten neurologist, Dr Paul Sollier (1861–1938). Sollier was a pupil of Charcot, who had asked him to work on the topic of memory.2 …

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  • Competing interests: None.

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