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In 19th century psychiatry, monomania (from Greek monos, one, and mania, mania) is a single pathological preoccupation in an otherwise sound mind.[1] Emotional monomania is that in which the patient is obsessed with only one emotion or several related to it; intellectual monomania is that which is related to only one kind of delirious idea or ideas. In 1880, monomania was one of the seven recognized categories of mental illness.[2] After the 1950's monomania was no longer used as a technical term in psychology,[3] and does not appear in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.[4] However, a number of disorders once classified under monomania survive as impulse control disorders or conduct disorders or delusional disorders.

Types of monomania

Monomania may refer to:[citation needed]

  1. Paranoia: Delusions of persecution
  2. Kleptomania: Irresistible urge to steal
  3. Pyromania: Impulse to deliberately start fires
  4. Idée fixe: Domination by an overvalued idea, for example, "staying thin" in anorexia nervosa
  5. de Clerambault's syndrome (erotomania): Delusion that a man or woman is in love with the patient. This can occur without reinforcement or even acquaintanceship with the love object.

In general terms, many of the disorders previously classified as monomania[5][6] now are identified as varieties of impulse control, conduct, or delusional disorders.[7]

Monomania in literature

The 19th century writer Edgar Allan Poe would often write tales in which the narrator and protagonist would suffer some form of monomania, becoming excessively fixated on an idea, an urge, an object, or a person, often to the point of mental and/or physical destruction. Poe uses the theme of monomania in:

  1. "The Black Cat" (a man fears his cat and kills it, adopts another cat, kills his wife, and is then punished by the cat)
  2. "The Oval Portrait" (about a painter who is obsessed with painting his wife)
  3. "Berenice" (about a madman who wants to marry his sick cousin only for her beautiful teeth)
  4. "The Masque of the Red Death" (a prince fears a terrible disease but finally gets ill from the red death and dies)
  5. "The Tell-Tale Heart" (a madman is obsessed with an elderly man's "vulture eye")
  6. "The Fall of the House of Usher" (The main character Usher is obsessed with the fear of death)

It is said that Flaubert's hatred of the bourgeois and their bêtise (willful idiocy), that began in his childhood, developed into a kind of monomania.[8]

In the novel Lucien De Rubempre by Honoré de Balzac, the title character is referred to as in a hallucinatory state similar to that of a monomaniac.

Balzac describes monomania in Eugenie Grandet:[9]

As if to illustrate an observation which applies equally to misers, ambitious men, and others whose lives are controlled by any dominant idea, his affections had fastened upon one special symbol of his passion. The sight of gold, the possession of gold, had become a monomania.

Monomaniacal fear is explored in great depth in M. E. Braddon's novel, Lady Audley's Secret, through the protagonist Robert Audley, whom the guilty woman accuses of monomania in his relentless attempt to prove her guilt. She describes monomania thus:[10]

What is one of the strangest diagnostics of madness--what is the first appalling sign of mental aberration? The mind becomes stationary; the brain stagnates; the even current of reflection is interrupted; the thinking power of the brain resolves itself into a monotone. As the waters of a tideless pool putrefy by reason of their stagnation, the mind becomes turbid and corrupt through lack of action; and the perpetual reflection upon one subject resolves itself into monomania.

In Crime and Punishment, by the renowned Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky, the main character, Raskolnikov, is said to be a monomaniac on numerous occasions.[11]

In Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851), Captain Ahab is a monomaniac, as shown by his quest to kill Moby Dick. One particular situation where he is shown as a monomaniac is in the crew's first encounter with the whale, stating:[12]

But, as in his narrow-flowing monomania, not one jot of Ahab's broad madness had been left behind; so in that broad madness, not one jot of his great natural intellect had perished. ... so that far from having lost his strength, Ahab, to that one end, did now possess a thousand-fold more potency than ever he had sanely brought to bear upon any reasonable object.

In Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff is described as a monomaniac, obsessing over his reunion with Cathy in the final chapters of the novel.[13]

The Marvel Comics supervillain Bullseye is a professional assassin who obsesses over his targets. In one of his more recent appearances, he was revealed to be a monomaniac.

The eponymous protagonist of the musical Johnny Johnson is eventually diagnosed with peace monomania.

See also

  • Idée fixe (psychology)
  • Moral insanity


  1. Jan E. Goldstein (2002). Console and Classify: The French Psychiatric Profession in the Nineteenth Century. University of Chicago Press. p. 155. ISBN 0226301613. http://books.google.com/books?id=WiqKcO5OawgC&pg=PA155.
  2. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-IV-TR (4rth ed.). American Psychiatric Society. 2000. p. xxv. ISBN 0890420254. http://books.google.com/books?id=3SQrtpnHb9MC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q=monomania&f=false.
  3. GE Berrios (1996). "Note 50, page 453". The history of mental symptoms: descriptive psychopathology since the nineteenth century. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521437369. http://books.google.com/books?id=XSD_ucVR3E8C&pg=PA453.
  4. "cited work". Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-IV-TR. 2000. ISBN 0890420254. http://books.google.com/books?id=3SQrtpnHb9MC&printsec=frontcover.
  5. Charles K Mills (1885). "Lectures on insanity; Lecture V: Monomania". In Joseph F Edwards, D G Brinton, Samuel Worcester Butler. Medical and surgical reporter: a weekly journal. Volume 53. Philadelphia Press. pp. 202 ff. http://books.google.com/books?id=AiugAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA202.
  6. Isidore Bernadotte Lyon (1889). "Partial intellectual or ideational mania or monomania". A text book of medical jurisprudence for India. Thacker, Spink. pp. 402 ff. http://books.google.com/books?id=yy06AAAAQAAJ&pg=PA402.
  7. For example, see the historical evolution of paranoia in Alistair Munro (1999). "The derivation of current concepts regarding delusional disorders". Delusional disorder: paranoia and related illnesses. Cambridge University Press. pp. 8 ff. ISBN 052158180X. http://books.google.com/books?id=T-OPpp0haNIC&pg=PA8.
  8. Edmond Gosse (1910). "Flaubert". In Hugh Chisholm. The encyclopædia britannica: a dictionary of arts, sciences, literature and general information, Volume 10 (11th ed.). University of Cambridge. p. 483. http://books.google.com/books?id=lU8EAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA483.
  9. Honoré de Balzac (2008). Eugenie Grandet (Reprint ed.). p. 130. ISBN 1604593121. http://books.google.com/books?id=29PKkTbwaVgC&pg=PA130.
  10. Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1862). Lady Audley's secret (8th ed.). Oxford University. p. 269. http://books.google.com/books?id=UOYBAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA269.
  11. Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1886). Crime and Punishment. Vizetelly & Co.. http://books.google.com/books?id=aCgVAAAAYAAJ&dq=monomaniac+OR+monomania&q=monomania+OR+monomaniac#v=snippet&q=monomania%20OR%20monomaniac&f=false.
  12. Herman Melville (2008). Moby-Dick - Or, the Whale - Volume I (Abridged ed.). Jesson Press. p. 231. ISBN 1409764850. http://books.google.com/books?id=pKd62MhrOTEC&pg=PA231.
  13. Graeme Tytler (1992). "Heathcliff's Monomania: An Anachronism in Wuthering Heights". Bronte Society Transactions 20 (6): 331. and Graeme Tytler (2005). "The parameters of reason in Wuthering Heights". Brontë Studies 30 (November). http://www.fortbend.k12.tx.us/campuses/documents/teacher/2009%5Cteacher_20090122_1215.pdf.

External links

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