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A recluse is a person who lives in voluntary seclusion from the public and society. The word is from the Latin recludere, which means "shut up" or "sequester". Historically, the word referred to a hermit's total isolation from the world. Examples are Symeon of Trier, who lived within the great Roman gate Porta Nigra with permission from the Archbishop of Trier, or Theophan the Recluse, the 19th-century Orthodox monk who was later glorified as a saint. Many celebrated figures of human history have spent significant portions of their lives as recluses.


There are many potential reasons for becoming a recluse, including, but are not limited to: a personal philosophy may reject consumer society; a mystical religious outlook may involve becoming a hermit or an anchorite; a survivalist may be practicing self-sufficiency; a criminal might hide away from people to avoid detection by police; or a misanthrope may be unable to tolerate human society. In the Russian Orthodox and Catholic Church tradition, a temporary hermit is called a Poustinik, where one has been called to pray and fast alone in a cabin for a minimum of 24 hours. In ancient Chinese culture, scholars are encouraged to be a public servant in a scrupulous and well-run government but are expected to go into reclusion as a yinshi (, 'gentleman-in-hiding') when the government is rife with corruption.[1] Others, like Dongfang Shuo, became hermits to practice Taoism, or in later centuries, Chan (Zen) Buddhism.

It can also be due to psychological reasons, such as posttraumatic stress disorder, social anxiety disorder, apathy, autism, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, intellectual disability, schizoid personality disorder, schizotypal personality disorder or avoidant personality disorder. In Japan, an estimated 1.2 million people are part of the phenomenon of "Hikikomori" or "social withdrawal", a problem often blamed on Japan's education system and social pressure to succeed.


Entrepreneur Kim Smiley wrote, "We live in a society that stigmatizes seclusion, yet has an almost rabid fascination with it at the same time. A survey of history shows that some of the most brilliant thinkers, writers and artists turned their backs on society to embrace a life of voluntary seclusion."[2] Melanie Tannenbaum also noted in Pacific Standard that socially isolated children are "significantly less likely than their more social counterparts to engage in delinquent behavior during middle and high school".[3] In Psychology Today, career coach Marty Nemko argued that the reclusive lifestyle is worthy of more consideration, stating that people who live alone are more likely to find satisfying work due to a lack of responsibility to support a family.[4]

Notable recluses

Many high achievers of human history were reclusive. These include the writers Virgil,[5]Meng Haoran, Emily Brontë, J. D. Salinger, Emily Dickinson, Gustave Flaubert,[6]H. P. Lovecraft, Thomas Ligotti, Marcel Proust,[7]Thomas Pynchon, John Swartzwelder, and Caryl Churchill[8]; the painters Michelangelo,[9]Paul Cézanne,[10] and Jackson Pollock; the scientists Isaac Newton,[11][12]Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, and Marie Curie[13]; the musical figures George Harrison, Mina Mazzini, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli,[14]Glenn Gould, Lee Mavers, Layne Staley, Syd Barrett, Michael Jackson,[15] and Mark Hollis[16]; the inventors Nikola Tesla[17] and Paul Allen; chess player Bobby Fischer; basketball player Pete Maravich; naturalist Richard Proenneke; filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard;[18] aviator Howard Hughes; and actress Greta Garbo.

See also


  1. ^ Analects 8:13 · :,Show you talents [through public service] in a well-governed world; go into hiding in dark times.
  2. ^ Smiley, Kim (January 27, 2014). "How Famous Recluses Teach Us Important Lessons". The Huffington Post. Archived from the original on March 27, 2017. Retrieved 2017.
  3. ^ Tannenbaum, Melanie (October 5, 2015). "The Mental Illness Stigma". Pacific Standard. Archived from the original on May 17, 2017. Retrieved 2017.
  4. ^ Nemko, Marty (October 24, 2014). "The Recluse Option". Psychology Today. Retrieved 2017.
  5. ^ The Æneid of Virgil. Scott, Foresman. 1916. p. 15. Archived from the original on 2017-02-25. Retrieved .
  6. ^ Gauss, Christian (June 21, 1907). "Review: Flaubert's Letters: Lettres A Sa Nièce Caroline By Gustave Flaubert". The North American Review. 185 (617): 438. JSTOR 25105914.
  7. ^ "Top 10 Most Reclusive Celebrities: Marcel Proust". Time. Archived from the original on May 16, 2017. Retrieved 2017.
  8. ^ Dalton, Stephen (2016-01-29). "'Escaped Alone': Theater Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved .
  9. ^ Shoham, Shlomo Giora (2008). Art, Myth and Deviance. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. p. 211. ISBN 1443802972. Archived from the original on 2017-02-25. Retrieved .
  10. ^ Wullschlager, Jackie (September 27, 2013). "The Letters of Paul Cézanne, edited and translated by Alex Danchev". Financial Times. Archived from the original on March 27, 2017. Retrieved 2017. No artist perfected the persona of the brusque, reclusive genius better than Paul Cézanne.
  11. ^ "Isaac Newton: The Last Magician". BBC. Archived from the original on March 19, 2017. Retrieved 2017.
  12. ^ Ball, Robert Stawell (2015). Great Astronomers: Isaac Newton. Booklassic. ISBN 9635266537. Archived from the original on 2017-02-25. Retrieved .
  13. ^ "Mme. Curie Is Dead; Martyr to Science". The New York Times. Archived from the original on August 10, 2017. Retrieved 2017.
  14. ^ "Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, Reclusive Pianist, Is Dead at 75," Archived 2016-12-04 at the Wayback Machine The New York Times, 13 June 1995
  15. ^ "Michael Jackson: child prodigy, genius and recluse". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. June 25, 2009. Archived from the original on March 28, 2017. Retrieved 2017.
  16. ^ "Mark Hollis And Talk Talk's Brilliant, Nuanced, Stubborn Visions". Archived from the original on 2019-07-09. Retrieved .
  17. ^ Barksdale, Nate (September 9, 2014). "9 Things You May Not Know About Nikola Tesla". A&£ Television Networks, LLC. Archived from the original on March 27, 2017. Retrieved 2017.
  18. ^ Wilmington, Michael (July 30, 1995). "Godard Gems". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on March 4, 2017. Retrieved 2017.


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