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Freud, Gizella, an edifying blunder

On December 17, 1911, Freud responds to the request of this woman he respects, disclosing his view of her companion’s situation. After all, he has acquired an intimate psychological understanding of the man who so readily revealed himself to him. In this letter to Frau G., Freud draws a psychological profile of Ferenczi, emphasising the symptomatic nature of his relationships with women. Though this active intervention, he hopes to pacify an explosive situation, to prevent a possible rash decision on Ferenczi’s part, and to keep him available as a valuable colleague. Freud also wants to support Gizella.

True to himself, and although not in favour’ of always revealing everything, Freud wants to be honest: “What I am writing you today will remain completely between us and is totally sincere, without any embellishment, as is commensurate only with my esteem for you.” He admits that he has intervened in the situation. “Our friend has hurt me very much and has forced me, myself, to give advice [...]” Surprisingly, Freud does not say “my friend” but “our friend,” as if he and Gizella were allies. He goes on: “When, years ago, I first learned of the relationship that he had lodged himself in [a relationship with a married woman with two daughters], I made a face [...]” At that time, Freud’s reaction had been one of disapproval: “I made a face and made it very clear to him that I wished something else for him.”

In the name of what ideal of the couple or the family did Freud manifest this attitude? Was he speaking as an experienced father, or as a man who knows the difference between the role of wife and mother, and that of mistress? Once he confided this, Freud reassured Gizella: as soon as he met her, he knew that she was the perfect woman for a man like Ferenczi.

He then advances a first hypothesis as to the pressing desire that was making Ferenczi lose his good sense: “I understand the tragedy of aging; it is, after all, mine as well.” He is 65, and Ferenczi 38. And he reveals a peculiar personal belief: “The hard truth is that love is only for youth and [is something] that one must renounce.” He then goes on to give this thought a unique turn: “[...] as a woman, one must be prepared to see one’s sacrifices repaid with ingratitude [...] a natural fate, as in the story of Oedipus.”

Freud then advances a second hypothesis, presented in two parts. “In addition [to the tragedy of ageing], it is the case with him that his homosexuality imperiously demands a child.” What is he suggesting? Is homosexuality what he glimpses behind Ferenczi’s infantile or even feminine dependency on him, as he saw it in Palermo? And why would this latent homosexuality demand a child? To hide behind the appearance of paternity? To love in the child to come the child he would have liked to be for his mother? Freud answers these questions indirectly when, in the same sentence, he associates homosexuality with hate of the mother or the maternal: “[...] his homosexuality imperiously demands a child and [...] he carries within him revenge against his mother from the strongest impressions of childhood.” Clearly, it is because Ferenczi had already revealed to him the wounds inflicted by his early relations with this mother that Freud could speak this way to Gizella. But did he allow himself to speak just as freely to Ferenczi himself?

A little further, Freud presents a third hypothesis which he does not develop, but which seems to us to be the most relevant: “Psychoanalysis may have accelerated this inexorable development still further.” We must keep in mind that he is referring to a hesitant analysis in the process of being constructed by men who -according to one of our fundamental tenets - have not had the experience of a true analysis, an analysis that can end. This is particularly true for the prime creator of analytic theory, Freud. It is much less the case for Ferenczi, who keeps dying to acquire this experience, without knowing what to expect. But in December 1911, neither Freud nor Ferenczi have arrived at that point as yet. They are advancing cautiously through uncharted territory.

In fact, in his letter to Gizella, Freud criticises her hasty consent to the idea that Ferenczi, whom she loves, might perhaps be happier with her daughter Elma, his patient at the time. Freud holds Gizella in high esteem, and is not impressed with the young girl: “You have shown me this daughter. I did not find that she could place herself alongside her mother.”

The tangled web involving Ferenczi, Elma, Gizella and Freud would endure, sustained by the confusion of intersecting transferences.

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