Freud's self-conscious reflections on the ‘Novelle’ in his first major work, Studien über Hysterie, have sometimes been interpreted as rhetorical remarks in which his writerly ambitions came to the surface. This article argues that the case histories of hysteria and the genre of the ‘Novelle’ (particularly the psychopathic or psychographic nineteenth-century ‘Novelle’) share a poetics of pathology. Indeed their common features (dependence on symbolic condensation, central traumatic events and narrative gaps, exegetical challenges and hermeneutic paradoxes, the self-reflexive narrator, framing devices) suggest that the psychopathic ‘Novelle’ provided Freud with the means to legitimise his representation of psychoanalysis and hysteria. Like the case history, the psychopathic ‘Novelle’ is concerned with validating and interpreting idiosyncratic pathological semiotics. Yet like the ‘Novelle’, Freud's case histories suffer from a contagion in which representation is infected with, and by necessity performs, the pathologies it claims to map and cure. This article suggests that at the heart of the poetics of pathology is a hermeneutic aporia that allows for intertextual transfer but that also deconstructs the novellesque as well as the psychoanalytic project and renders it impossible.