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Sigmund Freud


(Freud 1905a: 146) Freud finds himself in the position of a dismissed maid or governess, feminised and made as powerless as a servant by Dora’s refusal to take part any longer in the analytic scene. Dora’s case can be seen as a power struggle amongst an intriguing cast of characters – Freud, Dora, Dora’s father, Herr K. and Frau K. – over who will control the narrative and set the terms for the truth of what happened and the true causes of Dora’s hysteria. Dora’s deepest fury is at not being believed when she tells her father about Herr K.’s advances: None of her father’s actions seems to have embittered her so much as his readiness to consider the scene by the lake as a product of her imagination. She was almost beside herself at the idea of its being supposed that she had merely fancied something on that occasion. (Freud 1905a: 79) The trouble with psychoanalysis as it is used by Freud in Dora is that it promises that a therapist will listen to, and work with, the stories of the hysteric, but it then also breaks that promise. On the one hand, Freud recognises that sexual intrigues do happen, that young girls and older men are sometimes involved, and that everyone in late Victorian society except for the shamelessly blunt analyst seems to have a vested interest in keeping these sexual scandals under wraps. Freud treats Dora’s story with a certain amount of respect; he believes that she has been used as a bargaining chip in her father’s intrigues, and he sees that understanding the events between her, the K.s and her father will be central to understanding her sickness and curing it. On the other hand, Freud, by claiming expert knowledge of the unconscious, also claims to know what Dora wants better than she does herself, and claims that what she wants is Herr K. – an older man, a substitute for her own father. When Dora quits the treatment and refuses to listen to any more of Freud’s stories, she impels him to try and understand what went wrong, what it was that he did not understand about Dora’s desires. The positive discovery that comes out of the failure of Dora’s treatment, for Freud, is his fuller recognition of transference. Transferences, if you recall, were the impulses and fantasies that are aroused during the analysis and directed towards the analyst. These impulses and fantasies always, as Freud puts it, ‘replace some earlier person by the person of the physician’ (Freud 1905a: 157). Freud realises, too late, that he neglected to take into account the kinds of transferences that Dora was making on to him – that she was in fact acting out her hostility towards Herr K. by abandoning her therapy. What Freud is less capable of realising is the kind of transferences (or counter-transferences) that he himself makes on to Dora. Comparing Freud’s aggressive reactions to Dora with his supportive discussions of the Rat Man, one can see that there are very different emotions at work in each case. In a footnote to the case, Freud also recognises another factor that he believes contributed to his failure in the case of Dora. He realises that he overestimated Dora’s erotic and emotional attachment to men (her father and Herr K.) and underestimated her erotic attachment to one particular woman, Frau K. It becomes clear that Dora’s knowledge of sexual matters has come to her through Frau K., that they were on intimate terms, and that Dora may have felt just as betrayed by her as she did by her own father and Herr K. Freud at the end of the case admits to his own blindness to this fact: ‘I failed to discover in time and to inform the patient that her homosexual (gynaecophilic) love for Frau K. was the strongest unconscious current in her mental life’ (Freud 1905a: 162). Homosexuality is a problem for Freud. It is not that he refuses to admit its existence,

or even that he views it as a pathological illness. As we have seen in the last chapter in his Three Essays on Sexuality, Freud recognises that the development towards heterosexuality is no more ‘natural’ or necessary than the development towards homosexuality. But his narrative of sexual development – the Oedipus complex – still leads him to downplay homosexual attachments in favour of the primacy of heterosexual ones. The next case history brings to the forefront the question of homosexuality and how psychoanalysis approaches it.

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