her new book, "Freud, Dora and Vienna 1900," the historian
Hannah S. Decker re-examines this case, giving the reader
a detailed account of Dora's life and family background.
Ms. Decker analyzes the family dynamics and the larger
social realities that helped shape Dora's sensibility,
and she offers her own assessment of why Dora's psychoanalysis
"was a doomed affair" from the start.
Freud's dictum that psychoanalysts are obliged to pay
as much attention "to the purely human and social circumstances"
of their patients' lives as "to the somatic data and the
symptoms of the disorder," Ms. Decker begins her study
by sketching in the cultural and political mood of turn-of-the-century
Vienna, showing the reader how the social climate might
have impinged on Dora's consciousness.
Dora's family had attained a measure of wealth and social
standing -- her father, Philipp, owned several lucrative
textile mills in Bohemia -- Ms. Decker notes that Jews
in Austria led a precarious existence, devoid of real
emotional or financial security. Central Europe had a
long history of anti-Semitism, and while there were periods
in which Jews "were invited to join the wider world,"
declines in the social or economic climate repeatedly
led to atrocities and restrictive legislation.
1882, the year of Dora's birth, a "public, defiant anti-Semitism"
had emerged in Vienna, and by 1897 the city had an openly
anti-Semitic mayor. Such developments, Ms. Decker notes,
could not help but warp the way Jews of both Freud's and
Dora's generations saw themselves, nurturing a sense of
powerlessness and self-hatred.
for women in fin de siecle Vienna, they, too, were regarded
as social inferiors. In Viennese society, women's lives
were determined by their fathers, brothers and husbands.
Educational opportunities for girls were severely limited,
and women were expected to conform to strict Victorian
behavior standards. This is one reason, Ms. Decker suggests,
that hysteria ("a condition manifested by a variety of
physical and emotional problems, unaccompanied by any
discernible organic changes") was so common among women
of the day: it gave them, she argues, a veiled but acceptable
outlet for their forbidden feelings of anger and assertiveness.
Dora's case, feelings of anger and helplessness were fed
by the dysfunctional dynamics of her family. She was estranged
from her mother, Katharina, a cold, sickly woman obsessed
with cleanliness and housekeeping. And while she initially
adored her successful father, the devotion turned to resentment
as he became increasingly involved with a neighbor known
as Mrs. K.
Dora was 15, Mrs. K.'s husband made sexual advances toward
her that she reported to her parents. Her father, however,
accepted K.'s explanation that Dora was a sex-obsessed
girl who had fantasized the entire episode, and his refusal
to believe her brought Dora to the edge of suicidal despair.
She felt "she had been handed over to Herr K. as the price
of his tolerating the relations between her father and
becomes clear from Freud's description that he badly mishandled
Dora's case. Although he accepted her account of the events
involving the K.'s (and thereby enabled her to confront
them with the truth later in life), he showed little empathy
for the feelings of a teen-age girl. She was understandably
distressed by his observations and advice, which were
that she was really attracted to Mr. K. and that the best
possible solution to the whole situation was for the K.'s
to divorce and for Dora to marry Mr. K. His position implied
that he was taking the side of Dora's father and Mr. K.,
and his frank talk about sexual feelings so early in the
analysis no doubt heightened her discomfort.
Ms. Decker and other commentators have pointed out, Freud's
failures in these areas had a lot to do with his lack
of experience: the psychoanalyst was still in the early
stages of formulating his theories and was still fairly
unfamiliar with transference and countertransference,
which are the emotional bonds formed between the patient
and the analyst. He did not realize that during the treatment
Dora had come to identify him with her father and Mr.
K., and he therefore did not understand the ways in which
she perceived him as a threat.
damaging, in Ms. Decker's opinion, was Freud's failure
to come to terms with his own emotions concerning Dora.
She contends that the psychoanalyst himself harbored erotic
feelings toward his patient and that those feelings were
accompanied by feelings of hostility and resentment. In
addition, she contends that Freud's handling of the case
was compromised by his eagerness for it to yield evidence
that might develop or buttress his evolving ideas on dream
analysis, infantile sexuality, masturbation, bisexuality
and somatic illness.
Ms. Decker overgeneralizes the role of social conditions
in Dora's story (she frequently tries to extrapolate the
Bauer family's attitudes and dilemmas from comments made
by writers of the day, like Stefan Zweig), her overall
reading of Dora's case is intelligent, insightful and
sympathetic. She makes the reader understand the pivotal
role the case played in the development of psychoanalysis,
and in doing so she also creates a fascinating portrait
of a woman, her family and her analyst -- a portrait that
has all the drama of fiction and all the emotional resonance
of real life.