his chronic dyspepsia.
The offspring of a grocer who had ruined his business through an ever increasing
‘The World’ and other unpublished works
fondness of brandy, of a woman so physicallyunfit to breed that the birth of their
son had proved her undoing, Paul had ailed from the moment he drew his first
breath. A puling infant, a sickly child, he had known all the galling deprivations that
fall to the lot of a delicate boy, preparing the soil for adult inhibitions. At school he
had been the butt of the strong, and at home the butt of his drunken father.
, real symptoms
seemed to lead to very unattractive outcomes. The point is not to
dismiss these diagnoses as simple hocus-pocus, but to understand them
in their cultural context and the personalized anxiety they caused.
Irina Sirotkina argues that the Russian diagnosis of neurasthenia was
different from the Western diagnosis in which the rapid pace of industrial life supposedly sapped the individual’s life-force. ‘The archetypal
Russian neurasthenic was hard-working, intelligent, often poor and a
physicallyunfit person, oppressed by a lack of freedom and suffering