Does Golyadkin Really Have a Double? Dostoevsky Debunks the Mental Capacity and Insane Delusion Doctrines

40 Capital University Law Review 195 (2012)

70 Pages Posted: 28 Apr 2012

See all articles by Amy Ronner

Amy Ronner

St. Thomas University - School of Law

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: April 26, 2012


In Dostoevsky's "The Double," one of the great, but lesser known Russian novels, protagonist Golyadkin suddenly meets his identical twin, who ostensibly wreaks havoc on his life.

While "The Double" appears to have nothing to do with the law of wills and trusts and has not been redacted into any law school case book, I now suggest what might irritate some staunch traditionalists -- namely that Dostoyevsky should claim an entire chapter on the mental capacity doctrine. It is this article's narrow thesis that "The Double" debunks, or, at least sheds doubt, on some basic mental capacity and insane delusion concepts. On a broader level, this article, diveded into four parts, explores Dostoevsky's proposition that in many cases, we (as lawyers or mere mortals) are incapable of determining unsound mind and insane delusions.

Part II focuses on wills and trusts because it boasts of having a sacrosanct policy in favor of testamentary freedom. Despite that policy's stronghold, courts have in some cases limited or eradicated a decedent's ability to direct the disposition of property upon death. One instance is where contestants argue lack of mental capacity or use a doctrine called "insane delusion" or "monomania" to invalidate estate plans that either omit them entirely or slight them as beneficiaries. Although in wills' law, sound mind and insane delusion are legal constructs, this article, borrowing from the psychiatric definitions of "bizarre" and "non-bizarre" delusions, cordons them to Dostoevsky's message in "The Double." Part III, shifting from law to literature, summarizes the story in "The Double" and the raging debate over not just the novel's meaning, but also Golyadkin's mental condition. This part suggests that the controversy surrounding this novel belies the fact that in "The Double" we cannot ascertain what is real and what is hallucination. This part, linking Dostoevsky's thesis to the current mental capacity doctrines, suggests that Golyadkin, like many testators, would baffle our courts if his psyche were under the will-contest microscope. In fact, the uncertainty in "The Double" resembles the disquieting dubiousness of such contests, particularly in litigation in which individuals are alleged to have "non-bizarre" delusions. This part goes further than just complaining, however, but, taking a stab at a solution, proposes the sort of doctrinal revamping, which would heed Dostoevsky's wise admonition. Part IV concludes by revisiting the one (or two Golyadkins) who disclose(s) the most deleterious effect of our current capacity law and demonstrates why it is so crucial to make change.

Keywords: wills, trusts, mental capacity, monomania, insane delusion, Dostoevsky, Dostoyevsky, law and literature, Russian literature, will contest, testamentary freedom, beneficiaries, estate plans, bizarre delusions, non-bizarre delusion, law and psychiatry, law and psychology, therapeutic jurisprudence

Suggested Citation

Ronner, Amy, Does Golyadkin Really Have a Double? Dostoevsky Debunks the Mental Capacity and Insane Delusion Doctrines (April 26, 2012). 40 Capital University Law Review 195 (2012) , Available at SSRN:

Amy Ronner (Contact Author)

St. Thomas University - School of Law ( email )

16401 N.W. 37th Ave.
Miami, FL 33054
United States

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