In Dora’s Case: Freud, Hysteria, Feminism

Published by Columbia University Press in 1990


Freud invented psychoanalysis between 1895 and 1900 on the basis of his clinical experience with hysterical patients, most of them women. The most provocative and intriguing of these patients was Ida Bauer, whom Freud named Dora when he published her case history as Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria.

This anthology of twelve stimulating articles places Dora’s case at the center of the contemporary debate about the role of sexual difference in interpretation. The essays raise such controversial issues in psychoanalysis as the relative importance of the oedipal father and the preoedipal mother, the function of transference and countertransference, and the Lacanian emphasis on the psychic analogues of linguistic structure. More broadly, they suggest a critique not only of Freud’s assumptions about the nature of femininity and female desire but also of still’pervasive cultural expectations regarding the relation of gender to power. Finally, many of the essays analyze the particularly literary qualities of Freud’s writing, showing, for example, how his brilliant use of modernist narrative strategies threatens to undermine the scientific status of his inquiry and to subject his text to his own diagnosis of hysteria. Full of intricate twists and turns, Dora exposes Freud as revealing more than he knows and thus becoming a central character in this drama that escapes his control.

Three of the articles gathered here are by analysts, one by a historian, and the rest by literary critics, many of whom use and critique analytic methods developed by contemporary French feminist theorists. The editors’ substantial introductions sketch the history of the medical treatment for hysteria, provide an overview of Freud’s thinking on the subject prior to his writing of this case, and discuss the critical methods and intellectual contexts of the contributors to the volume. In Dora*s Case thus offers a rich variety of interpretive material to help elucidate this most compelling of Freudian texts. Demonstrating the productive interplay of psychoanalysis, literary analysis, and feminist criticism, this book presents an exciting and challenging cross-disciplinary response to Freud’s famous question, “What does a woman want?”

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