Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria

Critical responses

Early polarisation

Freud's case study was condemned in its first review as a form of mental masturbation, an immoral misuse of his medical position.[17] An obscure English physician, Ernest Jones was led by the study to become a psychoanalyst, gaining "a deep impression of there being a man in Vienna who actually listened to every word his patients said to him...a true psychologist".[18] Carl Jung also took up the study enthusiastically.[19]

The middle years

By mid-century, Freud's study had gained general psychoanalytic acceptance, Otto Fenichel for example citing her cough as evidence of identification with Frau K, her mutism as a reaction to the loss of Herr K.[20] Jacques Lacan singled out for technical praise Freud's stressing of Dora's implication in "the great disorder of her father's world...she was in fact the mainspring of it".[21]

Erik Erikson however took issue with Freud's claim that Dora must necessarily have responded positively at some level to Herr K's advances: "I wonder how many of us can follow without protest today Freud's assertion that a healthy young girl would, under such circumstances, have considered Herr K's advances 'neither tactless nor offensive'"[22]

Feminist and later criticisms

Second-wave feminism would develop Erikson's point with a vengeance, as part of a wider assault of Freud and psychoanalysis. Freud's comment that "This was surely just the situation to call up distinct feelings of sexual excitement in a girl of fourteen", in reference to Dora being kissed by a "young man of prepossessing appearance",[23] was seen as revealing a crass insensitivity to the realities of adolescent female sexuality.

Toril Moi was speaking for many when she accused Freud of phallocentrism, and his study of being a 'Representation of Patriarchy';[24] while Hélène Cixous would see Dora as a symbol of "silent revolt against male power over women's bodies and women's language...a resistant heroine".[25] (Catherine Clément however would argue that as a mute hysteric, in flight from therapy, Dora was surely far less of a feminist role model than the independent career woman Anna O.).[26]

Even those sympathetic to Freud would take issue with his inquisitorial approach, Janet Malcolm describing him as "more like a police inspector interrogating a suspect than like a doctor helping a patient".[27] Peter Gay too would question Freud's "insistent tone...The rage to cure was upon him";[28] and conclude that not only the tranference but also his own countertransference needed more attention from Freud, at this early stage of development of psychoanalytic technique.[29]

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