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Freud’s Dora
14th Nov 2001

Freud’s Dora: An Analysis of a case of Hysteria

“Dora” is the pseudonym given to one of Freud’s famous, but unhappiest cases, which was an adolescent eighteen-year-old girl from an upper- middle-class Viennese-Jewish family that he treated in his early years as a psychoanalyst. At the time Freud met Dora, he was looking for a case to substantiate The Interpretation Of dreams. “He anticipated that the analysis would take about a year, but less than three months later Dora walked out on him. Freud interpreted her gesture as an ‘unmistakable act of vengeance on her part,’ but it might have been the most courageous act of her life, a rejection of the interpretations he had imposed on her reality.”(Phyllis Grosskurth - The New York Review of Books-Online)

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According to Freud “the key to hysteria as well really lies in dreams.” (Freud: St. Ed: 1, p. 276) “ If it seems to us, as it does to Binet and Janet, that what lies at the center of hysteria is a splitting of a portion of psychical activity, it is our duty to be as clear as possible on the subject. It is only that every substantive has a substance behind it which gradually comes to regard ‘consciences’ as standing for some actual thing; and when we have become accustomed to make use metaphorically of spatial relations, as in the term ‘sub-consciences’, we find as time goes on that we have actually formed an idea which has lost its metaphorical nature and which can manipulate early as though it was real. Our mythology is then complete. All our thinking tends to be accompanied and aided by spatial ideas and we talk in spatial metaphors…. We shall be safe from the danger of allowing ourselves to be tricked by our own figures of speech if we always remember that after all it is in the same brain, and most probably in the same cerebral cortex, that conscious and unconscious ideas alike have their origin. How this is possible we cannot say”. (Freud: St. Ed: 2, p. 227 – 28)

We can apply Fretag’s pyramid while trying to understand the case of Dora: starting with her Circle of family and friends, Her Introduction To Freud, Freud’s Analysis of Her case and ultimately Dora quitting the Treatment before a complete cure.

Dora’s Circle of Family and Friends

The family circle of the 18-year-old Dora includes her self, her two parents and a brother who was one and a half year elder to her. The friend includes the couple Herr. K and Frau. K. The father was the dominating figure in the circle and Dora was most tenderly attached to him and “for that reason her critical powers, which develop early, took all the more offence at many of his actions and peculiarities.” (Freud’s Dora: And Introduction to Dora pg.12) The mother according to Dora was an uncultivated woman and above all the foolish one, who had concentrated all her interest upon domestic affairs to the point of Neuroticism or what might be called the ‘house wife’s psychosis.’ Among the friends was Herr. K and Frau. K, his wife. Frau.K was also her father’s mistress. Herr. K had made amorous advances towards Dora, which Dora maintains that it was an exchange between her father and Herr. K, “the price of (Herr. K) tolerating the relation between her father and his wife.” (Freud’s Dora: An Analysis of a case of Hysteria edited with an Introduction by Phillip Reiff, 1979)

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Introduction to Freud

Dora was bought to Freud at 18 years for psychotherapeutic treatment. On the case of the 18-year-old Dora, Freud wrote to a friend shortly after his analysis: “it is the fragment of hysteria analysis in which the elucidations are grouped around two dreams, hence it is actually a continuation of the dream book. Apart from that the resolution of the hysterical symptoms and glimpses into the sexual – organic basis of the whole are contained in it. All in all it is the subtlest thing I have written to date and this will have an even more frightening effect than usual. (25-1-1901)

There is no leading, single culprit as the cause of Dora’s misery. Freud, the spiritual detective hired by Dora’s worried father, “catches up with her fugitive in her self, and, moreover, with that of her father and the others mainly involved in this group illness. The sick daughter, has a sick father, who has a sick mistress, who has a sick husband, who proposes himself to the sick daughter as her lover. Dora does not want to hold hands in this charm less circle.” (Freud’s Dora: An Analysis of a case of Hysteria, Introduction. page X)

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Freud’s Analysis of Dora

A Freud’s analysis of Dora lasted only three months and, various aspects remain incomplete. Some problems of the case had not been attacked and others had been imperfectly elucidated thus Freud presents “only a fragment of an analysis.” Freud is a brilliant thinker, but his need to find the “truth” of his patients is quixotic. What is revealed is not so much Dora’s truth, as the unraveling of the position of the interpretive authority – in this case, the psychoanalysist. Freud imagines himself absent from his analysis, but we see him in true more and more into the frame as he investigates the secrets of Dora’s mind. Dora’s traumatic childhood, and adulterous father, and her confused relationship with her father’s lover, Frau. K had caused her incredible pain in life, especially in a very young age. Freud acting as her psychoanalyst wouldn’t be the one who can act out for Dora’s case but he is a powerful psychologist in terms of power of voices, just giving an ear, in hoping that some day Dora would realize who she was and what was around her.

Dora was angry with everyone around her-including herself. Freud’s task was to evaporate the anger and show her the instinct for life. “Dora was a willful failure, as in all neurotic cases. It was also failure of intelligence, and in this “intelligent and engaging” eighteen year old girl both failures had to be corrected at the same time, at first by the agency of the transference, in which the girl would alter the current of affection in such a way that Freud could gain the needed therapeutic authority; secondly, by the agency of the interpretation, in which the girl would see, in the locking of the mind with Freud’s, how cruelly her own understanding had deceived her. In order to wage this private war, Freud’s own intelligence had to become rather cruel at times.”(Freud’s Dora: An Analysis of a case of Hysteria-Introduction, pXIII)

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Freud’s analysis showed him that Dora was at one time in love with her father, the would be seducer Herr.K and at the deepest level with Frau.K, her father’s mistress; this last Freud called “the strongest unconscious current in her mental life” because it was not in any way overt and yet dominant.

Dora quits her Treatment: Her Vengeance

Dora believed that she had become a pawn in her elders pathetic little end- games, her cooperation necessary for them to salvage something erotic for themselves in a loveless world. “The game had gone too far; Dora refused to play. There was no love in Dora’s parental circle; her rejection of Herr.K was an effort however confused and ambivalent, to break out of the circle. As a therapist, Freud had to respect Dora’s resentful objections to erotic games; they had offended her too deeply. She was not old enough, to take what she could get, just because it was offered. Dora was caught in a charade of half-lives and half-loves; those of her father and Frau.K. She objected to being pulled into the game entirely, at the same time she was fascinated by it and wanted to play. Thus at one time the “sharp- sighted Dora” was overcome by the idea that she had been virtually handed over to Herr.K her admirer, at the price of tolerating the relations between her father and Frau.K.”(Freud’s Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria. introduction p. XVI) Abruptly Dora announces her intention to leave analysis. Freud reflects over what made her leave: “This was an unmistakable vengeance on her part.” So the most important feature of the case analysis was that Dora left the analysis before the cure thus, rejecting not only Freud and his ego but also his diagnosis and thus the institution of psychoanalysis.    

This work completes the trilogy begun with the author’s Cries of the Wolf Man and Freud and the Rat Man, and concludes about the case of Dora. “It is one of the great psychotherapeutic disasters; one of the most remarkable exhibitions of a Clinician’s published rejections of his patient; spectacular, though tragic, evidence of sexual abuse of a young girl, and her own analyst’s published exoneration of that abuse; an eminent case of forced association, forced remembering, and perhaps several forced dreams, forced remembering of dreams, even forced remembering of forced dreams. Without any stretch of the imagination the case, the published history, and the subsequent reception can be called an example of continued sexual abuse.” (Freud’s Dora: A Psychoanalytic Textual Study by Patrick J. Mahony – Yale University Press, p. 170)

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Works Cited

Freud, Sigmund. Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria, Introduction
page X, XIII, XVI.1905

Freud, Sigmund. Fragment on an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria, in Dora: An Analysis of a Case
Of Hysteria edited with an introduction by Phillip Reiff. 1979

Freud, Sigmund. St. Ed:

Chapter 1, page 276

Chapter 2, page 227 - 28

Grosskurth, Phyllis. The New York Review of Books

Mahony, Patrick J. Freud’s Dora: A Psychoanalytic Textual Study

ale University Press, page 170


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