A Dream of Undying Fame

How Freud Betrayed His Mentor and Invented Psychoanalysis


By Louis Breger

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In 1877, a young Freud met an established physician named Josef Breuer and they began a collaboration that would lead to the publication of the classic work, Studies on Hysteria. But by the time it released, Freud was moving to establish himself as a major figure in the treatment of mentally ill patients, and would let no one stand in his way. He consequently minimized Breuer’s contributions, betraying his former mentor and benefactor.

In A Dream of Undying Fame, renowned psychologist Louis Breger narrates the story behind the creation of Studies as well as the case of Anna O., which helped contribute to Freud’s definition of “neurosis.” Breger reveals that Freud’s own self-mythologizing and history not only affected everything he did in life, but also helped shape his emerging beliefs about psychoanalysis. Illustrating the importance of personality and social context behind an intellectual breakthrough, Breger provides an in-depth look at a field that reshaped our understanding of what it means to be human.


Praise for A Dream of Undying Fame
"A thoughtful and incisive assessment of psychoanalytic theory and practice, its permanent contributions, and its serious flaws. In highly accessible language and style, Louis Breger leads us through Freud's early experiences, which were to influence his later theories, and his dreams of martial glory, giving due credit to Joseph Breuer, the first practitioner of the talking cure. He sets us straight on the often distorted history of Anna O. and Freud's infatuation with his male friends while appraising the validity of his theories as they developed along the way. Readers who appreciate a serious scientific book that reads like a detective thriller will be totally captured by A Dream of Undying Fame."
—Sophie Freud, Professor Emerita at the
Simmons College School of Social Work,
author of Living in the Shadow of the Freud Family
"Louis Breger's compassionate, brilliant and spellbinding retelling of the origins of psychoanalysis, seen through the lens of Freud's trauma history, intense longings, and profound ambition, should be required reading for anyone interested in the foundations of one of the most influential theories of the 20th century. By telling the story of Freud and his relationships, Breger both challenges the dogmas that have stymied so many psychoanalytic historians, and illuminates the dynamics and entanglements at the heart of psychoanalysis' marvelous breadth and inherent limitations."
—Arietta Slade, Professor of Clinical Psychology,
City University of New York
"Louis Breger has followed up his splendid biography of Freud with an expanded account of Freud's early cases and the dynamics of his troubled relationships with Josef Breuer and Wilhelm Fliess. He brilliantly shows that the evidence on which psychoanalysis is based has much more to do with trauma, loss, and superego problems than with sexual conflicts."
—Bernard J. Paris, Professor of English,
University of Florida,
author of Karen Horney: A Psychoanalyst's
Search for Self-Understanding
"A Dream of Undying Fame brilliantly illuminates the tensions in play at the very conception of psychoanalysis. Anyone who has participated in psychoanalytic treatment or studies modern intellectual history will find this story unforgettable."
—Leslie Brothers, MD, author of Friday's Footprint and Mistaken Identity
"A masterful, extremely readable account of the early origins of psychoanalysis, illuminating Freud's driving need to establish his own singular fame, even as it depicts with respect the revolutionary changes his work wrought in our understanding of what it means to be human."
—George E. Atwood, Professor of Psychology, Rutgers University
"Fascinating and persuasive. . . . Writing with both clinical and scholarly authority, Louis Breger shows that Josef Breuer deserves more credit for his contribution to psychoanalysis. A Dream of Undying Fame casts much light on many crucial issues in contemporary psychoanalysis, and it will be of great interest to anyone who wishes to learn more about the talking cure and Studies on Hysteria."
—Jeffrey Berman, PhD, Distinguished Teaching Professor, SUNY at Albany

Clinical Cognitive Psychology
The Effect of Stress on Dreams
(with I. Hunter and R. W. Lane)
From Instinct to Identity:
The Development of Personality
Freud's Unfinished Journey: Conventional and
Critical Perspectives in Psychoanalytic Theory
Dostoevsky: The Author as Psychoanalyst
Freud: Darkness in the Midst of Vision

If his inmost heart could have been laid open, there
would have been discovered that dream of undying
fame; which dream as it is, is more powerful than
a thousand realities.
Fanshawe, 1828
The expectation of eternal fame was so beautiful,
as was that of certain wealth, complete independence,
and lifting the children above the severe worries
that robbed me of my youth. Everything
depended upon whether or not hysteria would come
out right.
letter to Wilhelm Fliess, 1897

Muse, Collaborator, and True Love

Exploring the Irrational
For one who lived among enemies so long;
If often he was wrong and at times absurd,
To us he is no more a person
Now but a whole climate of opinion.
In Memory of Sigmund Freud, 1940
Sigmund Freud's ideas had a revolutionary impact on twentieth-century thought and culture. He demonstrated the many manifestations of the unconscious; created a method of psychoanalytic treatment; and developed a wide-ranging theory that revealed the meaning found in symptoms, sexual life, dreams, fantasies, childhood, art, and literature. Like Johannes Kepler in astronomy and Charles Darwin in biology, he radically altered our understanding of our place in the world, overturning the view of humans as rational, conscious beings.
Yet few people today are aware that many of the essential features of psychoanalysis were first invented by Freud's older colleague, Josef Breuer, and can be found in the groundbreaking book they coauthored in 1895, Studies on Hysteria. In the lectures he gave on his trip to America in 1909, Freud said:
If it is a merit to have brought psycho-analysis into being, that merit is not mine. I had no share in its earliest beginnings. I was a student and working for my final examinations at the time when another Viennese physician, Dr. Josef Breuer, first—in 1880-[188]2—made use of this procedure on a girl who was suffering from hysteria.
This is the plain truth, yet in subsequent publications, when his drive for fame had become more powerful, Freud gave a sinister twist to Breuer's work with this patient and increasingly took credit as the sole inventor of psychoanalysis. He rejected Breuer's ideas and approach to treatment, setting the field on an unfortunate course that was only corrected many years later.
Freud's concepts continue to have a hold on the popular imagination. Psychological treatment is frequently referred to as being "on the couch," and numerous cartoons about psychotherapy show a patientwho may be human, dog, or catlying down, with a bearded man sitting behind the couch, taking notes. This image persists even though classical psychoanalysis, with its couch and Freud look-alike, has been dwindling to the point of oblivion over the last few decades. Psychotherapy is increasingly conducted face to face and is not Freudian in the traditional sense. The silent, severe psychoanalyst, who presumably knows the deepest secrets of one's unconscious, is no longer a revered icon. Those aspects of the theory that are most captivating intellectually—Eros and Thanatos or the life and death instincts, libidinal energy, phallic and vaginal symbols, the primal scene, penis envy, latent homosexuality—are more alive now in departments of literature than in the consulting rooms of therapists.
At the same time, many of Freud's other concepts—unconscious motives; the id, ego, and superego; oral and anal stages of development; the Oedipus complex; defense and repression; the Freudian slip; the couch and the fifty-minute hour—have passed into popular culture and are often used without an awareness of their origins or implications. A man can't find his car keys when planning to visit his mother, so a friend says, "Aha, you really hate her," to which he replies, "Don't get all Freudian on me." A young woman I was seeing in therapy described her boyfriend as "anal," meaning he was always punctual. She had no idea that the term comes from an essay by Freud in which compulsive neatness, orderliness, and cleanliness are traced to the "anal stage" of psychosexual development, a provocative but mainly unsupported idea. The technical rules of analysis have also permeated the popular domain: the therapist's relative silence and detachment; a strict schedule of fees; the fixed hour (now down to forty-five minutes); explanations focused entirely on early childhood, to the neglect of current life experiences such as discrimination, poverty, or the traumas of war; and interpretations of a wide range of diseases as "emotional," "psychological," or "all in your head." Psychoanalysis has always been a mixed bag: valuable insights coexisting with overblown theories; ideas that liberated people from old sexual taboos alongside harmful stereotypes about women. As Auden put it, "he was often wrong and at times absurd," but became "a whole climate of opinion."
Theories about human behavior and disturbance are influenced by the personality of the theorist in a way that those in many other fields are not. The truth of the theories of gravity and natural selection is independent of the kind of men Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin were. Jonas Salk's vaccine for polio is effective regardless of what he was like as a person. Psychology is not like that. Our ideas about personality and psychotherapy are intertwined with our own cultural values and life experiences; we can move beyond inclinations, preconceptions, and emotional reactions—gain some degree of distance and objectivity—but our personal histories exert their influence, all the more so when they are unconscious. We need to keep our minds open to alternative theories and be aware of other factors that influence our approaches.
Some years ago a group of colleagues and I were chatting about ourselves when it came out that all six of us had depressed mothers. We concluded that our choice to save, cure, or help people in psychological distress was shaped by this central childhood experience. Others who choose the career of psychotherapist have suffered serious illnesses; had sick or disturbed parents or siblings; had alcoholic fathers; were abandoned or neglected; found themselves caught in the middle of parental warfare; or were physically, emotionally, or sexually abused. The list of influences is long and varied, yet each person's background determined this career choice, as well as the particular kind of theory and practice he or she follows.
Freud is no exception in this regard. His personal history, as well as his social background, influenced both the theories he developed and the kind of treatment he practiced. For example, several of the patients described in Studies on Hysteria suffered the death of loved ones or other severe losses that reverberated emotionally with his own life. With these women he both approached and retreated from the emotional traumas that resonated with his own childhood. He constructed psychoanalysis from a combination of observation of patients and his understanding—and misunderstanding—of himself. His famous self-analysis, carried out just after the publication of Studies, is a clear example of this. Freud discovered many important things about himself during the self-analysis, while simultaneously pulling back from others—such as the losses he suffered as a child—that were too frightening. What he could see and not see, what he could know and not know, were the basis for the duality and contradictions that run through his work.
Studies on Hysteria occupies a unique place in psychoanalysis. When Breuer's and Freud's book was published in 1895, physicians had been baffled by the patients who came to them suffering from "nervous diseases." They had almost no useful theories to help them understand these individuals and no effective treatments. When C. G. Jung in Zurich, Wilhelm Stekel and Alfred Adler in Vienna, Sandor Ferenczi in Budapest, and others read Studies, it was an eye-opening experience. Here, finally, was a way of comprehending all the paralyses, tics, nervous coughs, mysterious pains, phobias, compulsions, obsessive thoughts, and nightmares they encountered in their patients. And not only understand them; Studies outlined a method of treatment that was like no other. These doctors immersed themselves in this book and its successor, The Interpretation of Dreams, and sought Freud out. Psychoanalysis, at first confined to a small group in Vienna, would eventually become a worldwide movement.

The Vision of a Heroic Self
Whatever principles he may reason from, and
whatever logic he may follow, the philosopher is at
bottom an advocate pleading to a brief handed over
to his intellect by the peculiarities of his nature and
the influences in his history that have molded his imagination.
Manuscript Essays and Notes, 1903
When he was a boy, Freud envisioned himself in various heroic roles, most particularly as a military leader: Hannibal, Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Oliver Cromwell, Cortez. He imagined himself back in ancient times although, in fact, his early years were filled with enough adversity to make a child doubt his place in the world. His vision of a heroic self was a compensation for the poverty, failed father, losses, and anti-Semitism that filled his childhood.
In the first three and a half years of his life, Freud experienced a number of losses that were a major source of the anxiety that plagued him for many years. When he was less than a year old his mother, Amalia, gave birth to a son, who died approximately eight months later. He thus lost her care and affection, first to this infant and then to her grief over her dead child. Six more babies were born by the time he was ten, five sisters and a brother, reinforcing the impact of this first loss.
At age seventy-five Freud gave a striking description of a young child's reactions to such events; the links to his own life are obvious: "The child grudges the unwanted intruder and rival . . . all the other signs of maternal care. It feels that it has been dethroned, despoiled, damaged in its rights; it casts a jealous hatred upon the new baby and develops a grievance against the faithless mother."
But Freud then insisted that it is not he, or any male, who feels this way, only young girls. "A mother is only brought unlimited satisfaction by her relation to a son; this is altogether the most perfect, the most free from ambivalence of all human relationships." These passages show an awareness of the child's reaction to maternal loss and sibling rivals while simultaneously disavowing his own anxiety and anger. In reality, if not in his theoretical speculations, Freud felt a powerful ambivalence toward his mother: a great yearning for her love, anxiety and anger over losing her, and a need to control these potentially overwhelming emotions. In addition to the recurring losses of his mother's affection and attention to new babies, he also lost a vital substitute mother, his nursemaid, with whom he had a strong and loving bond. She was caught stealing from the family when he was two and a half years old and was sent to prison; she vanished abruptly from his life, and he never saw her again.
Further painful losses followed. When Freud was three and a half his father, Jacob, went bankrupt, and the family was forced to move away from the small town (Freiberg, about 150 miles north of Vienna) where he was born. The extended family was a complicated one; Jacob, over forty years old when Sigmund was born, was a widower with two grown sons from his first marriage, one of whom, Emmanuel, was himself married and the father of a son and daughter, who were Freud's age and his first playmates. All the family members worked together in Jacob's wool business. These half brothers, and Emmanuel's wife, were uncle and aunt figures to the young boy. Freud, his mother, his father, and his younger sister Anna moved—without the rest of the family—first to Leipzig, Germany, and then to Vienna, where they settled permanently. This move not only was an uprooting from the only home he had known, but also entailed the loss of his playmates and other family members. At the train station the young Sigmund was overcome with fear that the train would leave without him, that he would lose the people he most needed. He remembered the gaslights in the station as "souls, burning in hell" (his nursemaid had taken him to Catholic mass) and no doubt cried in the large and bewildering place. This was the first appearance of a travel phobia that lasted all his life.
Jacob's business failure was a severe disappointment whose effects continued well into Freud's adulthood, because his father never got back on his feet financially, and the family lived on the brink of poverty for many years. They were forced to rely on money sent from England by Jacob's older sons, Amalia's relatives, and, later, from Eli Bernays, after he married Freud's sister Anna. When Freud himself was a struggling medical student, dependent on loans from friends, he sent small sums to the family to keep his other sisters from having to work as servants. As he wrote in a letter in his midforties, "I know from my youth that once the wild horses of the pampas have been lassoed, they retain a certain anxiousness for life. Thus, I came to know the helplessness of poverty and continually fear it."
When Freud was about five the family moved to Vienna, where they continued to live in close, cramped quarters, just as they had in Freiberg. All family activities took place in front of the young boy: his mother's and father's reactions to the death of his infant brother, their worries about the bankruptcy and poverty, parental sex, the births of additional babies, nursing, and the care of infants. He had no refuge from all these aspects of his life, including the six little children, who were constantly underfoot. In his later theories Freud stresses the anxiety a child supposedly feels when he or she witnesses, or even imagines, parental intercourse, the dreaded "primal scene." But his own family situation suggests that as a child he was exposed to far more disruptive and disturbing events than his parent's lovemaking.
The mild-mannered and somewhat humble Jacob was a financial failure, and his inability to support his family, along with his passive nature, led his son to reject him as a role model. In The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud recounts a story in which his father told him how a man once knocked Jacob's hat into the gutter and said, "Jew! Get off the pavement!" When his young son asked him what he did in response, Jacob said he meekly complied, whereupon Sigmund vowed to take the Carthaginian general Hannibal as his model. As he put it in his 1914 essay, Some Reflections on Schoolboy Psychology,
The boy . . . cannot fail now to make discoveries which undermine his original high opinion of his father and which expedite his detachment from his first ideal. He finds that his father is no longer the mightiest, wisest and richest of beings; he grows dissatisfied with him, he learns to criticize him and to estimate his place in society; and then, as a rule, he makes him pay heavily for the disappointment that has been caused by him.
As Sigmund grew older, he tried to shut out the family clamor by withdrawing into the world of books. But he was not given his own room (a small, closetlike space where he read and studied) until he was nineteen years old and a student at the University of Vienna. Nevertheless, from early in his childhood Freud lived in his imagination; here he was a hero in worlds far away and long ago: ancient Egypt, Athenian Greece, and the Roman Empire. As he put it in the same essay,
I used to find, the present time seemed to sink into obscurity and the years between ten and eighteen would rise from the corners of my memory, with all their guesses and illusions, their painful distortions and heartening successes—my first glimpses of an extinct civilization, which in my case was to bring me as much consolation as anything else in the struggles of life.
When he finally achieved success as an adult, Freud sought this same form of consolation in passionate collecting of artifacts from the ancient world. He would bring each new item he acquired to the midday family meal and look at and fondle it. The tables and cabinets of his Vienna office were filled to overflowing with these objects.
When the sixth child, his only brother, was born, a "family council" was called to decide the child's name. The ten-year-old Sigmund persuaded his parents to name the boy Alexander after the hero of the ancient world and gave a long recital of Alexander the Great's exploits. His identification with military heroes—Hannibal, Alexander, Napoleon, the conquistador Cortez, Oliver Cromwell—lasted all his life and foreshadowed his drive to become a world-famous scientist, his sweeping theoretical pronouncements, his style of therapy, and the way he shaped the psychoanalytic movement.
During the later years of his childhood Freud was a brilliant student and a controlling big brother. If his sisters were too openly emotional, for example when playing the piano, he made them stop. He also prohibited them from reading the novels of Balzac or Dumas, which he deemed too racy. Reading and studying seemed to fill the greatest part of his own time. His sister Anna described his male friends as "study mates," and there is almost no sense of play, fun, or boyish pranks; he was a premature adult. The world of language, books, study, and his imagination was a safe refuge from the emotional turmoil of the family—the frightening losses, poverty, his dominating mother and weak father, the feminine world of mother and the many little sisters—and it set up a pattern in which emotion of all kinds was subordinated to reading, the privacy of his imagination, and, later, writing.
Many who have described Freud's childhood picture it as a happy time when he was the favored child, his mother's "Golden Sigi," the precocious, high-achieving, first-born son. It is true that his mother treated him as special, which reinforced his identification with the heroic figures whom he idolized during his formative years. But being singled out in this way was a mixed blessing. His parents, especially his mother, valued him for his performance, for the way in which his accomplishments would reflect on them. In the oft-quoted phrase "My Golden Sigi," the emphasis should be on the "My." Although Freud, in his theory of the Oedipus complex, promoted the father to the position of power in what he termed "the family romance," within his own family Amalia was the dominant figure. Freud's oldest son Martin described his grandmother as "highly emotional, easily carried away by her feelings . . . not easy to live with. . . . She had great vitality and much impatience; she had a hunger for life and an indomitable spirit." Freud's niece, who lived with the family for a time, described her as


On Sale
Aug 25, 2009
Page Count
216 pages
Basic Books

Louis Breger

About the Author

Louis Breger is Professor Emeritus of Psychoanalytic Studies at the California Institute of Technology and a founding president of the Institute of Contemporary Psychoanalysis. He is an expert in the field of psychoanalysis. He is the author of the acclaimed biography Freud: Darkness in the Midst of Vision. He lives in Woodacre, California.

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