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Anna Freud: A Biography

Anna Freud: A Biography

by Elisabeth Young Bruehl

This edition of Elisabeth Young-Bruehl's definitive biography of pioneering child analyst Anna Freud includes—among other new features—a major retrospective introduction by the author.


Praise for the Second Edition:

"Young-Bruehl’s description of one of the most complex but brilliant lights in psychoanalytic history has stood as a


This edition of Elisabeth Young-Bruehl's definitive biography of pioneering child analyst Anna Freud includes—among other new features—a major retrospective introduction by the author.


Praise for the Second Edition:

"Young-Bruehl’s description of one of the most complex but brilliant lights in psychoanalytic history has stood as a beacon to students of psychoanalytic history.  It is the best most carefully crafted biography of any psychoanalyst and it illuminates the entire tradition with a clarity that only the exploration of the life of the daughter of the founder of the movement could possibly provide.  It is a beautifully written insightful and remarkably edifying piece of work.  The best has just got better.”— Peter Fonagy, Freud Memorial Professor of Psychoanalysis, University College London


Praise for the First Edition:

"A gem of biographical writing. . . .”—Ron Grossman, Chicago Tribune


"Lucid, erudite, briskly authoritative, Elisabeth Young-Bruehl . . . has given us the insight into character that makes biography an art.”—James Atlas


Elisabeth Young-Bruehl is a faculty member at the Columbia Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research and a practicing psychoanalyst in Manhattan.  She lives in New York and Toronto.



Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Drawing on a trove of Anna Freud's poems, letters, dreams and short storiesnever before made available to researchersthis sympathetic, authorized biography offers a rigorous psychoanalytic understanding of the internal conflicts that scarred Sigmund Freud's youngest child, who was keeper of the flame after his death. Anna Freud, we're shown, over-identified with males and had trouble admitting she needed maternal affection. Besides her mother, her primary caretakers were her aunt, Minna Bernays, and a nursemaid, Josefine Cihlary. She compensated for her troubled relations with these figures through a platonic female companion. According to Wesleyan professor Young-Bruehl ( Hannah Arendt ), Freud's devoted daughter-nurse ``Annerl'' remained a virgin, believing that an escape from femininity was the price of her success. The author provides intriguing glimpses of Ernest Jones's aggressive courting of Anna, her close encounter with the Gestapo, her work in England running a psychiatric nursery and her imbroglio with Jeffrey Masson when he edited the Freud/Fliess correspondence. Photos. Psychology Today Book Club alternate. (October)
Library Journal - Library Journal
The first authorized biography since Anna Freud's death in 1982, this detailed and insightful work reveals as much about the roots of psychoanalysis as it does about the life of this youngest daughter of Sigmund Freud. Basing her portrayal on primary materials such as correspondence, manuscripts, poetry, and dream interpretations as well as on interviews with Freud's friends, colleagues, and analysands, Young-Bruehl (Wesleyan University) offers a unique chronicle of creativity and dedication to psychoanalysis. More importantly, she serves as Freud's ``courier,'' revealing an energetic woman whose skill at sublimation facilitated her pursuit of altruistic goals. Highly recommended for larger and academic collections. Janice Arenofsky, formerly with Arizona State Lib., Phoenix
The life and work of Sigmund Freud's daughter, collaborator, and celebrated subject, who made her own considerable contributions to psychology. Written with exclusive access to her literary estate. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Robert Rodman
The details of Anna Freud's girlhood conflicts over masturbation, her relationship to her father, the configuration of the circle around Freud... the struggle through child analysis to be given parody with adult analysis... the conflict over whether a medical degree is essential in the education of a psychoanalyst - all these make for a compelling reading...
Los Angeles Times
Ronald Grossman
A gem of biographical writing... will quickly take its place as a standard history of teh psychoanalytic movement.
Chicago Tribune

Product Details

Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group
Publication date:

Read an Excerpt


By Elisabeth Young-Bruehl

Yale University Press

Copyright © 2008 Elisabeth Young-Bruehl
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-300-14023-1

Chapter One


The young neurologist Sigmund Freud and his wife, Martha, started their family when they were living in the Suehnhaus, an apartment building raised by the emperor Franz Josef as a memorial on the site of the Ringtheater, which had burned to the ground in 1881. Rents from the "House of Atonement" were given to the needy families of the fire's nearly six hundred victims. In 1887, Mathilde Freud, the first baby born in the apartment house, received a present from the emperor.

Otherwise, the Freuds were without public recognition and often quite worried about how to earn the rent they contributed to the emperor's philanthropy. Sigmund Freud had been received coolly in Viennese medical circles as he reported on his exciting and-he was convinced-important work with the pioneering neurologist Jean Martin Charcot at his Salpêtriere Clinic in Paris and with Hippolyte Bernheim, who headed the Nancy School and was famous for developing hypnotic techniques. Freud's first independent theoretical contribution, on male hysteria, was greeted with a similar lack of interest. Although he continued to lecture in his position as Privatdozent at Vienna University, hishopes for being hailed as an innovator were thwarted. Without publishing his results, Freud lectured about his comparative studies of hysterical and organic paralyses. But he concentrated his attention on his rounds three times a week among the infant patients at the Kassowitz Institute, his translations of books by Charcot and Bernheim, and his private neurological practice. In December 1887 he began to treat his patients with hypnotic suggestion.

Mathilde was an only child until 1889, when Jean Martin-named after Charcot-was born. A year and a half later, Oliver appeared, and the Freuds moved to more spacious quarters in the Berggasse, a noisy business street near the university's medical faculty. In addition to his family, their cook, and various nursemaids, Freud was financially responsible for his parents and his four unmarried sisters. The summer vacations that he so relished-and that the Viennese heat dictated-were taken modestly and near the city. After 1890, Freud traveled when he could to meet his Berlin friend the physician Wilhelm Fliess for "congresses" on their mutual scientific interests. Even though Freud remained friendly with his Viennese colleague and collaborator Josef Breuer, Fliess was the friend to whom he confided developments in his research into the etiology of hysteria and his experiments with a new technique, "the cathartic method," which was more lastingly therapeutic than hypnotic suggestion.

Ernst Freud was born in 1892, and a little sister, Sophie, in 1893, a financially constricted year that made the total of five children seem quite sufficient, particularly as they, like most Viennese children, were often ill with the many contagious diseases the city's stagnant air fostered, and their mother needed extra help. Then the family's situation, always unpredictable, improved in 1894 and the summer holiday that year included both a month in Reichenau, in the Semmering mountains, and a fortnight's stay with all the children on the Adriatic. But 1894 was not a calm year for Freud himself.

In the year and a half before Anna Freud's birth in December 1895, her father struggled with diverse symptoms of what his last physician, Max Schur, diagnosed retrospectively as "paroxysmal tachycardia, with anginal pain and signs of left ventricular failure" resulting in "an organic myocardial lesion, most likely a coronary thrombosis in a small artery, or perhaps a postinfectious myocarditis, with temporarily increased nicotine sensitivity." With this full display of medical regalia, Schur tried to resolve much after the fact a question for which Freud himself never had an answer. He could not determine whether he suffered from a chronic myocarditis, as his Viennese colleague Josef Breuer thought, or a nicotine toxicity or hypersensitivity, as his correspondence friend in Berlin, Wilhelm Fliess, thought. So Freud, at the age of thirty-eight, felt a dreadful uncertainty about whether he was a man awaiting death by heart attack or a hypochondriac.

Throughout 1894, Ffeud made efforts to give up his beloved cigars, and to keep working without them. Depressions came frequently and as he told Fliess "the libido has long since been subdued." With "the hen" and "her five little chicks" off in Reichenau, Freud, waiting for his own departure from Vienna, contemplated what his death would mean: "Among the gloomy thoughts of the past few months there is one that is in second place, right after wife and children-namely, that I shall not be able to prove the sexual thesis any more. After all, one does not want to die either immediately or completely."

Freud kept writing, when he could, on the cases that he and Breuer published the next year as Studies on Hysteria-the first major statement about "the sexual thesis," the sexual etiology of hysteria. By the end of the summer, after the Adriatic sojourn, his discomfort and his anxieties had abated. Martha Freud was not informed about the cardiac symptoms, because Freud did not want either to burden her with the possibility of his early death or to overstate a problem that might, with nicotine abstinence, disappear. As Josef Breuer became less and less Freud's confidant during the period when they brought Studies on Hysteria to its final form, which was much closer to Freud's views than to Breuer's, Wilhelm Fliess provided both essential support and the more hopeful diagnosis. In "that difficult time when I was forced to believe that I was very close to the end of my life," Freud reminded his friend, "it was your confidence that kept me going."

Despite the subdued condition of Freud's libido, Martha Freud became pregnant for the sixth time in February of 1895, probably just before Fliess came to Vienna to perform nasal surgery on one of Freud's patients, Emma Eckstein. The operation had horrifying consequences during the weeks when the Freuds learned that their family was unexpectedly going to grow by one more child.

Emma Eckstein's condition mysteriously deteriorated after Fliess had performed the surgery and departed for Berlin. A specialist named Rosanes was called in to examine her, and he discovered that Fliess had left a strip of gauze in her nasal cavity. Taken by surprise, Rosanes decided to remove the strip immediately. Emma Eckstein had a severe hemorrhage and went into shock, but Rosanes was able to save her. Freud, who was present at this scene, had to leave and restore himself with a cognac. For weeks, Emma Eckstein was in danger from repeated hemorrhages and further surgical interventions were necessary.

Throughout the spring and summer of 1895, Freud's letters to Fliess were filled with ambivalence. He had begun to distrust Fliess-or begun to acknowledge his distrust-but he also continued to feel intensely his need for Fliess's support and encouragement. On the same February trip to Vienna that had been so fateful for Emma Eckstein, Fliess had treated a sinus infection of Freud's with cocaine (and perhaps cauterization) and elaborated as he did so on his theory that Freud's cardiac symptoms also had nasal connections. Fliess's concern was then turned on himself in late March, when he underwent a series of nasal surgical procedures designed to cure headaches and sinus problems. Freud became quite skeptical about these operations, and he refused to go to Berlin for any further ministrations from Fliess for his own cardiac symptoms. An Easter holiday consisting of a long round-trip train ride and one precious day on the Adriatic was Freud's choice of cure.

While Freud was working on his writings and trying to put the Emma episode behind him, Fliess was elaborating a theory of organic periodicity that included speculations on female fertility during the menarche. Freud responded carefully in his letters to this theory and also let Fliess know that Martha was pregnant. Fliess soon informed Freud that his own wife was expecting their first child. The two discussed names for their children, and Freud was prepared, despite his ambivalence, to name a male child Wilhelm.

Or, it might be argued, because of his ambivalence. The child Sigmund and Martha awaited was their sixth in eight years; and the youngest three had been born at intervals of only a little more than a year in 1891, 1892, and 1893. In the year of Sophie's birth, Mathilde, who was then six, had nearly died of diphtheria-a terrifying episode for her parents. In 1894, laced into his reports of his own difficulties, Freud made it clear to Fliess that Martha Freud was worn out and in need of more rest and recreation than she was getting. Neither their physical nor their mental energies-not to mention their finances-were entirely equal to the prospect of another child. Anna Freud herself maintained in her adulthood that if any acceptable, safe means of contraception had been available to her parents she would not have been born-an idea that it is unlikely she arrived at only by reading the many laments in Freud's published works about civilized society's need for contraception.

During the spring, Freud-with the help of renewed smoking-worked on his Studies on Hysteria and a paper on anxiety neurosis. By the summer, he had made an enormous breakthrough in his work and in what he called his "self-analysis." But his progress on a technique for interpreting his dreams was not ready for public view, as he told Fliess in a curious metaphor: "saying anything now would be like sending a six-month-old embryo of a girl to a ball." According to this image, Freud was gestating at a pace about two months ahead of his wife, and it seems that his project was not of the sex to be named Wilhelm.

A dream that Freud had just before his wife's thirty-fourth birthday, which appeared later in The Interpretation of Dreams under the title "Irma's injection," reflected at a remove the tumultuous medical events of the early spring and quite directly presented Martha Freud's pregnancy. Both of the dream referents were disguised in Freud's report-or rather twice disguised: once by the dream itself and once by Freud's presentation in his book. "Of each dream," Freud later told his colleague Carl Jung, "I explain only as much as is needed to bring out a specific point."

As he interpreted "Irma's injection," Freud stressed one hidden wish that he saw ramifying through the dream's "plot." This was his wish to be exonerated for any lack of medical conscientiousness. He placed-or "displaced"-blame for Irma's condition on other doctors, though not on the figure of Fliess, who comes forth to aid Freud's search for exculpation. The theme of professional responsibility is intricately drawn out of the dream, but the female characters who came to Freud's mind as he "free-associated" to the central character, Irma, are left relatively uninterpreted except in relation to this theme. The wish that these female figures represented was not for public report, as Freud later told his friend Karl Abraham: "Sexual megalomania is hidden behind it, the three women, Mathilde, Sophie and Anna, are my daughters' three godmothers, and I have them all! There would be one simple therapy for widowhood, of course. All sorts of intimate things, naturally." Freud did not-naturally-want his dream ideas about how to cure young widows suffering from enforced sexual abstinence to be presented to an uncomprehending public. Just as unacceptable would have been an analysis of why, as Freud said, "I was not treating either Irma or my wife very kindly in this dream." They were both making complications, Irma by being a temptation and Martha Freud by being pregnant-a condition for which Freud may well have reproached himself. Irma was what Freud called a "condensation," a figure composed of other figures: she may well have had an element of the troubling Emma Eckstein in her, but she was mainly Anna Hammerschlag Lichtheim, a youngwidow Freud was then treating, who was related to Sophie Schwab, Sophie Freud's godmother, and friends with Mathilde Breuer, Mathilde Freud's godmother. In December 1895, Anna Hammerschlag Lichtheim became the godmother of Anna Freud.

The last months of Martha Freud's pregnancy, after the family's return to Vienna from the summer holiday, were difficult. Freud wrote to Fliess on September 31: "'Wilhelm' or 'Anna' is behaving very badly and should see the light in November." And then on November 8: "Martha is already suffering pretty badly. I wish it were over." The child arrived a little behind schedule, but without difficulty. After two months, Freud could report: "Little Anna is flourishing; Martha took a long time to recover." Martha Freud could not or did not wish to nurse her new daughter, and no wet nurse was hired (as was the common practice and the Freuds' practice for at least one other of their children, Martin). By her fifth day, Anna Freud was, her father reported to Fliess, guzzling Gartner's whole milk, a baby formula.

Fortunately, Freud's practice took a turn for the better soon after Anna's birth, and he was eager to interpret her presence as a good omen for the family. "We like to think that the baby has brought a doubling of my practice." Even though the practice took a downturn the next spring, it rose again through the second half of the little daughter's first year. The family was secure enough to vacation in the summer of 1896 at Aussee, in Styria, and Freud was able to fulfill his dream of a month in Italy-Bologna, Venice, Ravenna, Florence-with his younger brother, Alexander. Martha Freud, also in need of a holiday, went off on her own for the first time since her wedding in 1886. She spent two weeks with her mother in Hamburg and then traveled home through Berlin where she stayed with the Fliess family and met the child who did get the name Wilhelm, Robert Wilhelm Fliess-a young man who, like the child who got the name Anna, grew up to be a psychoanalyst.

Soon after Martha Freud's stay at her mother's, when Anna Freud was just a year old, Martha's younger sister Minna Bernays came to join the Freud household. During the preceding ten years, Minna had been living either with her mother or in various private homes where she had worked as a lady's companion or governess. This decade was in stark contrast to her years as the fiancée of Ignaz Schoenberg, a Sanskrit scholar and a close friend of Sigmund Freud's; but Schoenberg had died of pulmonary tuberculosis, and Minna seems never again to have fallen in love.

Anna Freud's mother and her Tante Minna were quite unalike in temperament, though each reflected in her own way the Orthodox Jewish and rigorous North German mores with which they had grown up. Freud had remarked in the days when he was courting Martha and his friend Schoenberg was courting Minna that the quartet was made up of two types: the good ones, Martha and Schoenberg, and the wild, passionate ones, himself and Minna. He noted to his future wife: "That is why we get on better in a criss-cross arrangement; why two similar people like Minna and myself don't suit each other specially; why the two good-natured ones don't attract each other." His preference was for "someone delicate whom I could take care of."

Minna was also quite a contrast to Martha in the quasi-maternal role she assumed after joining the Freud family. She was large, stately, impressively sure of herself, energetic, and given to expressing her opinions just as vigorously as their mother did. Martha was smaller, quieter, more retiring, sharp-witted but very seldom sharp-tongued. The sisters moved in different, if overlapping, spheres. Martha held sway over all matters domestic; she made sure that the household ran with completely non-Viennese efficiency and punctuality; that the meals were on the table exactly on schedule; that the servants were content as well as competent; that Freud's professional guests and their personal friends were graciously and warmly received. Minna was freer to participate in conversations with Freud's colleagues, and to leave the family to travel. She sometimes went with Freud on his journeys to Austrian spas or to Italy, and she was the first household member to act informally as Freud's personal secretary-a role later filled in turn by each of his three daughters.


Excerpted from ANNA FREUD by Elisabeth Young-Bruehl Copyright © 2008 by Elisabeth Young-Bruehl. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Deirdre Bair
[T]he intelligence, quality, and grace of Elisabeth Young-Bruehl's prose are a perfect match for the fascinating life of Anna Freud...

Meet the Author

Elisabeth Young-Bruehl is a faculty member at the Columbia Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research and a practicing psychoanalyst in Manhattan.  She lives in New York and Toronto.

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