Arsonists and the Psychiatrist

  • M. Faulk


Esquirol in 1835 in his Text Book of Mental Disorder showed that arson could be due to mental illness. He had borrowed his case histories from Dr Marc’s essay of 1833. The descriptions indicate that although firesetting might be due to jealousy or revenge as well as attempts by criminals to cover other offences, there were certainly cases which were associated with hallucinations and delusions, dementia, subnormality and epilepsy. At that time a diagnosis of monomania was in fashion. This diagnosis was made where the patient demonstrated an abnormal preoccupation and thus the term ‘pyromania’ for recurrent arsonists came about. Several threads about the psychopathology of firesetting run through the literature. Some workers believe that ‘pyromania’ was a real illness characterised by the presence of an irresistible impulse. This clearly would have, and indeed did have in Germany, substantial legal consequences in terms of responsibility and insanity of the offender. Antagonists of this view held there was no such entity as ‘pyromania’ and generally insisted that a motive could always be found. The development of this argument, which seems to have persisted into the second half of the nineteenth century, was described in detail by Lewis and Yarnell (1951).


Current Theme Special Hospital Restriction Order Prison Sentence Sexual Difficulty 
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© Raghu N. Gaind and Barbara L. Hudson 1979

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  • M. Faulk

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