Ysenda Maxton-Graham — Daily Mail Nov 2, 2017
Book of the Week
Anyone who enjoys reading the systematic dismantling of a reputation will relish this riveting exposé.
It’s written not by a scientist or psychologist, but by an eloquent American Emeritus professor of English, Frederick Crews.
Over 650 pages, he builds up a portrait of Freud as the most vile, medically useless, misogynistic, snobbish, petulant, jealous, crazy, sex-obsessed creep you could ever hope not to look up at from a couch — and a man whose ‘treatment’ you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy
‘Lock up your daughters!’ I wanted to scream, when yet another innocent young Viennese woman with a cough or an aching leg got sent to Freud for treatment at today’s equivalent of £230 an hour, and came out a few months later totally traumatised and much more ill than she had been when she started.
Not once in this account does Freud do or say a single kind or unselfish thing.
Though a doctor, he had no Hippocratic sense that each human being deserved respectful treatment. He once remarked in a letter: ‘I have found little that is “good” about human beings . . . In my experience, most of them are trash.’
But this is such a damningly one-sided portrait that I did sometimes wonder: ‘What is your problem, Crews?’
His accusation that Freud ‘wrenched his patients’ histories into alignment with his theory’ could be levelled at the author, who wrenches every detail of Freud’s doings and writings into alignment with his theory of Sigmund as an incompetent monster.
It’s all highly convincing, though.
The rot seems to have set in during Freud’s childhood, when the family moved to a lower-class Jewish enclave in Vienna, instilling in him a ruthless determination to distance himself from his origins and an unquenchable thirst for wealth and fame.
Crews deduces that while his parents were away and he was left in charge of his younger siblings, the teenage Freud sexually abused his younger sister. He was in love with his mother, admitting later to his friend, Wilhelm Fliess: ‘I have found, in my own case, the phenomenon of being in love with my mother and jealous of my father, and I now consider it a universal event in early childhood.
His friend’s (well, ex-friend’s) eventual damning verdict on Freud was that ‘the reader of thoughts merely reads his own thoughts into other people’.
An early adopter and promoter of cocaine as a medical drug, Freud was a lifelong cocaine addict himself, and this, Crews thinks, must have marred his ability to think straight.
Freud liked to diagnose his patients with whichever ‘ailment’ was currently preoccupying him.
So, when a young woman, Emma Eckstein, came to see him with an aching leg and bad period pains, he forced her story into line with his current theory that ‘a misconstrued erotic incident, having befallen a virgin prior to the onset of sexual awareness, gets suppressed and thereby becomes a cause of hysteria, but only when a second such incident reawakens that memory and renders it horrifying’.
If a patient didn’t come up with a nice pre-pubescent erotic incident, he or she was being ‘resistant’.
After many hours of probing, Freud eventually managed to get Emma to admit that a shopkeeper had once tried to grab her genitals when she was a child.
At the same time, Freud had latched on to the theory that the nose was the ‘control centre for other organs and their maladies’. He diagnosed Emma with a double-syndrome, ‘hystero-neurasthenia’, the neurosis-part brought on by masturbation (Freud’s pet-hate).
The treatment? The surgical removal of a bone from the poor girl’s nose. Emma haemorrhaged blood. A month later, she was still bleeding profusely. Freud worked out that her bleeding came from ‘sexual longing — expressing her desires through spurts of blood’.
This was typical. Freud went through a phase of doing ‘pressure treatment’ on women’s foreheads and bodies in his darkened consulting room, telling them to remove any tight clothing and then searching their bodies for their ‘hystereogenic zones while coercing them to tell him details of their sexual history.
As you read this book, it becomes ever-clearer that the real problem was inside Freud’s own head — what Crews calls ‘his interior house of horrors’.
Not only did he think all boys were in love with their mothers and wanted to murder their fathers, in accordance with his own Oedipus complex, he also had a weird theory that women — all women — were sinister creatures whose vagina threatened to castrate any male who crossed its threshold.
He divined that the secret ambition of every female was to acquire the ‘envied penis’ by severing it. His mind, Crews tells us, ‘conjoined illogic and bizarre ideas with misogyny, prurience and cruelty.’
What Freud did have was a gift for gripping writing, using lots of literary references to heighten his prose. His written accounts of his so-called ‘solved cases’ became popular because they were a satisfying mixture of detective stories (Freud saw himself as ‘the Sherlock Holmes of the unconscious’) and soft porn.
‘Tell me one thing,’ he would write, recalling a case. ‘What part of his body was it that you felt that night?’
His disciples were titillated, and they lapped up these accounts of the thrilling tension between the wise analyst and his resistant patient.
Those cases, Crews writes, ‘belong not to the genre of clinical report, but of detective fiction’.
A genius at self-promotion, who bribed his way to a professorship at Vienna University, Freud parasitically latched on to the theories of his peers and then later condemned those whose theories had given him a leg-up.
In The Interpretation Of Dreams, he reinvented himself as a uniquely sagacious authority, finding examples from literature and history to prove that all human behaviour had always been ‘Freudian’.
Pity Freud’s wife. Martha Bernays was a sweet, playful, ardent, young woman whose personality Freud slowly extinguished.
In Die Brautbriefe — the whinging, self-obsessed letters he wrote to Martha during their four-year-long engagement when he was frantically seeking success — there are frequent signs of what we would now call coercive control.
He cut her off from her own family and friends and made her renounce her Orthodox Jewish faith.
‘If I have become unbearable recently,’ he wrote to her threateningly, ‘just ask yourself what made me so.’
After giving birth to six children, Martha lost her figure and Sigmund saw her as a used-up woman who belonged in the nursery.
Their sex life ceased, and Freud had a clandestine affair with her sister, Minna, who came to live with them when she was widowed.
How unfair it seems that many of the great physicians who worked alongside Freud are now forgotten, while Freud is a household name.
This devastating book might kick‑start the long-awaited process of his downfall from grace.