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Chercher la femme (winter 1910)

On October 26 and 30, 1909, Ferenczi first mentions the existence of a woman with whom he is not yet living (she would become his wife ten years later). On October 16, he first refers to her in a letter, under an eloquent alias:

My personal well being (psychic) was good right up to the last few day as long as it was possible to keep frequent company with Frau Isolde (I will call her that, which was also her name in one of my dreams).

The drama involved in their love story was, however, more prosaic than the grandiose tragedy of Tristan and Iseult: “The difficult and painful operation of producing complete candor in me and in my relationship with her is proceeding rapidly.” In his own past, Freud had to rely on self-analysis at points of crisis in his troubled relations with Fliess, and in his ambivalent relation to his father, Jakob Freud, an old man who had been married three times and was by then on the threshold of death. But Ferenczi was going to reqrrest analysis when the unclear aspects of his relationship with women, his sexual relationship with them, brutally intruded into his analytic practice. Now, in the autumn of 1909, he was not yet ready to take this step. Both Ferenczi and his partner looked to psychoanalysis to provide answers that would resolve the predicament of their relationship. Ferenczi thought that Frau Isolde could find there the strength “to allow the [...] resistances to be overcome and the bitterness of the unvarnished truth to be accepted [...]” As for familiarity with, and overindulgence in, self-analysis: “The matter, of course, makes much more rapid progress in me; I dream a great deal, analyze my dreams, and find lots of infantilisms.” He tells Freud that after a recent discussion with Frau Isolde, he was able to identify the tormenting difficulty in their relation:

I must say that the confession that I made to her, the superiority with which, after some reluctance, she correctly grasped the situation, and the truth which is possible between us makes it seem perhaps less possible for me to tie myself to another woman in the long run, even though I admitted to her and to myself having sexual desires toward other women and even reproached her for her age.

He loves this married woman, Mrs Palos, but desires her daughter. This woman, the mother of two young girls, is seven years older than Ferenczi, making the prospect of parenthood unlikely. This deeply personal difficulty, which apparently had not troubled Ferenczi until then, takes on a new dimension given his entanglement with psychoanalysis and with Freud: “Evidently I have too much in her: lover, friend, mother, and, in scientific matters, a pupil, i.e., the child - in addition, an extremely intelligent, enthusiastic pupil, who completely grasps the extent of the new knowledge.”

Towards the end of the year, Frau Isolde recovers her own humble identity: her name is Gizella. On December 3, Freud writes that he has sent to Budapest a copy of Everyday Life, “for Frau Gizella,” as promised. In his letter to Freud dated December 7, there is mention of the fact that “Frau G.” sends Freud “the enclosed lines.” Soon Freud and Frau G. were to exchange entire, important letters, and Freud learned to appreciate Gizella’s qualities. In the letter dated December 7, Ferenczi makes reference to his personal feelings: “What has happened in me and with me otherwise you will find in the enclosed ‘diary pages.’ I have made an effort to be completely honest despite the fact that I know that you will read it.” The editor of the Freud/Ferenczi correspondence observes, in a footnote, that this “enclosed” document was never found. Still, we leam that at the end of 1909 Ferenczi was already keeping a diary. Was he looking for another outlet for his feelings, so as not to overburden Freud in his letters? The latter skilfully and cautiously avoids entering into any further discussion of Ferenczi’s complicated love life. Moreover, after the start of 1910 Freud makes no more mention of the confidences Ferenczi made about his tormented personal life, so as to keep him focused on the political circumstances pertaining to psychoanalysis. Ferenczi accepts being the fighting man Freud needs in the social sphere, but does not give up hope for an open and close personal relationship with Freud, in which the most private matters could be discussed.

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