'Multiplex Personality' from The Nineteenth Century


This account of the case of ‘Louis V’ (Vivet) was published later in the same year as Robert Louis Stevenson's novel Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. It describes the case of a patient who suffered trauma which changed his personality, further changes being induced by doctors through the agency of selected metals and electricity. These changes inhibited either side of the brain, inducing hemiplegia (paralysis on the opposite side of the body). Louis Vivet, the first classified case of multiplex personality disorder, was said to have had eight personalities, each of which had a separate memory. 

Who was Frederick Myers?

The writer of this account, Frederick Myers, was a literary critic who went on to study psychical research, scientifically examining the areas of dreams, clairvoyance, hallucinations and consciousness. Myers wrote to Stevenson soon after the publication of Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, suggesting some alterations, such as having Hyde attack a woman rather than a male MP, questioning the similarity between Jekyll’s and Hyde’s handwriting, and proposing a loss of consciousness at the point of transformation. Stevenson was interested in Myers points, asked for elaborations, and wrote back – ‘With almost every word I agree – much of it I even knew before’. But despite his interest in Myers’ ideas, and Myers’ continued insistence that his suggested changes would make the work ‘as perfect as possible’, Stevenson did not make any changes to the text. Myers sent Stevenson a copy of this essay on Louis V. 

What does the text indicate about attitudes to personality change at the time? 

Though this case was not a source for the novel, it does show an underlying system of values surrounding mental states and dispositions. On pp. 651-52 ‘self-control’, ‘modesty’ and ‘duty’ (attributes of a manly character) are seen as ‘higher’; they are ‘qualities which man [sic] has developed as he has risen from the savage level’. These were retained when the right half of Louis Vivet’s brain was inhibited; when the left half was inhibited, and the right side of the body paralysed, ‘he becomes, as one may say, not only left-handed but sinister; he manifests himself through nervous arrangements which have reached a lower degree of evolution’.

The fact that Stevenson has Hyde sharing Jekyll’s tastes, and Jekyll enjoying the freedom of amorality that Hyde allows him, shows Stevenson’s critiquing of the ideas of a hierarchy of mental ‘worth’ in late-Victorian male society.

Full title:
'Multiplex Personality'
1886, London
The Nineteenth Century, Frederic Myers
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

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