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J R Soc Med. 2001 June; 94(6): 315.
PMCID: PMC1281545

The Good Soldier Svejk syndrome

We thank your correspondents for putting flesh on the skeleton we presented in our paper (January 2001, JRSM, pp. 22-25), and for illustrating the extensive knowledge of the Good Soldier Svejk (and Czech culture) among JRSM readers. We are taken to task for regarding Svejk as someone who had at least a forme fruste of psychosis as well as periods of being well, although we did not suggest he was learning-disabled (i.e. an imbecile). John Reed and Andrew Bush free him from any mental abnormality (March 2001, JRSM, pp. 156-157) despite his attraction to lunatic asylums where crawling naked, howling like a jackal, raging and biting were commonplace. However, the lifestyle of the Good Soldier could hardly be regarded as persistently and understandably normal, even in the repressive days of Emperor Franz Josef, and whilst it is comforting to believe that he was always a canny and insightful opponent of those who occupied his country, this belief is on a par with the Laingian dogma that schizophrenia was a ‘normal’ escape from the repressive double-bind of conflicts in family and society. In any case, our humble guess is that Svejk would have much preferred to be regarded as partly mad rather than fully sane and if anyone had given him a cartificate of sanity he would have interpreted it as failure on his part, even if it had been given to him by Tomás Masaryk!

Articles from Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine are provided here courtesy of Royal Society of Medicine Press