The Case

At the end of the 19th century, Sigmund Freud lived and worked in Karl Lueger’s recently renovated, virulently anti-Semitic Vienna, but despite this- or perhaps because of it-, he turned his attention inward, away from the public world of politics and architecture, the private and the primal: the archaeology of the human soul. Freud was the first to write about the centrality of human sexual experience. Early in his career, he believed that childhood sexual abuse was the root cause of hysteria. Later, around the time of the Dora analysis, he changed his mind. What he called “the great secret” had “gradually dawned” on Freud: most of the childhood seductions his patients had described to him, accounts upon which he had based his theory of hysteria, were imaginary and had never actually occurred. Was Dora abused?

When Dora’s father brought her, a Jewish girl “of intelligent and engaging good looks” to Freud, several physicians had already failed to cure Dora of her hysterical symptoms. These symptoms and Dora’s threatened suicide concerned Dora’s father. He hoped that perhaps Freud would be able to cure her hysteria and discourage her disobedience. Although she knew it displeased him when she did so, Dora repeatedly asked her father to break off relations with his mistress, Frau K.

Dora told Freud that she had been propositioned many times by Frau K’s husband, Herr K, and that although she had told her father about this, he had refused to believe her. Freud believed her; at least, he believed Dora’s account of the events, but he did not believe her interpretation of the events.

He explained to her that she was, in fact, passionately in love with her father, passionately in love with Herr K, and, “the strongest unconscious current in her mental life”, passionately in love with Frau K. Dora resisted this interpretation of her experience. She broke off the analysis. Freud was disappointed and angry. He had not understood or explained all of the symbols in Dora’s second dream, and although he had afforded her some relief from the most troublesome of her symptoms, he felt that her future mental integrity was by no means assured.

All this is recounted in Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria, published in 1905.

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Related Articles (external Links)

Freud and Dora: repressing an oppressed identity, by Michael Billig

Freud’s Dora – A Victorian Fable, by Doug Davis