Study Guide

Anna Freud

by Elisabeth Young-Bruehl

Anna Freud Summary

Summary (Literary Masterpieces, Volume 7)

Sigmund Freud, the founder of modern psychoanalysis, most popularly known for his theory of the Oedipus complex, required an Antigone to guide him in his declining years. After his death in 1939, his work needed a Vestal to safeguard it from misinterpretation and misrepresentation. Anna Freud became her father’s “Vestal Antigone.” The awkwardness of the mixed metaphor adequately describes the difficulties she faced in both her personal and her professional life. It was she and not her mother, Martha Bernays Freud, who attended her father throughout his eleven-year struggle with the cancer which eventually took his life. She sat with him after each of the painful jaw operations he underwent, performed all the disagreeable tasks of a practical nurse, and did so with the greatest possible love. When he had to travel for professional reasons, she traveled with him, acted as his personal secretary, and cheered him through his periodic depressions. When the Nazis annexed Austria in 1938, she saw to it that he escaped; she parried the interrogations of the Gestapo to spare him, and she was at his bedside when he died in London the following year.

Freud’s death, coupled with the outbreak of the war, left a void of leadership in the field of psychoanalysis which no prospective successor could fill entirely satisfactorily. Some, such as Carl Gustav Jung and Otto Rank, had deserted the fold years earlier and were not trusted by more traditional Freudians. Others, such as Ernest Jones, though remaining true in name, departed in spirit from Freudian precepts. Still others were both temperamentally unsuited and geographically unsuitable, such as August Aichhorn, who remained in Vienna throughout the war. Thus it fell to Freud’s youngest daughter, who had trained in psychoanalysis, quite literally, by her father’s side (though she had never earned a university degree) to “tend the flame” and keep psychoanalysis grounded in Freudian principles after its founder’s death. It is in this sense that she was a “vestal virgin,” though it is also the case that she never married and, as Elisabeth Young-Bruehl’s study well and patiently argues, had no overtly sexual relationships at all, neither heterosexual nor homosexual.

Most readers of Young-Bruehl’s book will likely find its first half of great interest, for it is here that the author reconstructs, based on all varieties of documentation, Freud’s incredibly complex relationship with her father. Perhaps because she was the youngest daughter, bookish from childhood and neither as beautiful as Sophie nor as socially inclined as Mathilde, her elder sisters, Freud considered both her mother and her aunt, Minna Bernays, towering and loveless figures of authority. Perhaps this was also why she sought companionship in older women: Josephine (the Kinderfrau or nursemaid of the house); later, Lou Andreas-Salomé, the flamboyant and somewhat notorious Russian-born writer; and still later, Dorothy Tiffany Burlingham (daughter of American artist Louis Tiffany), who would cofound both the Jackson Nursery and the Hampstead Child Therapy Clinic and would work closely with Freud throughout her long career in child analysis. Even Freud’s patron, the Princess Marie Bonaparte, who was influential in obtaining exit visas from Austria for the Freud family and their safe-conduct through France en route to England, was five years her senior. Bonaparte remained a source of funding for Freud’s Hampstead projects well into the 1950’s.

Life was neither easy nor entirely rewarding for Freud. Like all children of famous parents, she had to deal with the overwhelming problem of making her own way in an enormous shadow, cast in this instance by her father’s formidable achievements. In a sense, she dealt with the problem by choosing not to deal with it, by, in effect, making herself her father’s vicar and devoting herself to his memory. When Freud’s daughter propounds her own theory of “altruistic surrender,” the need to subsume oneself in that which is greater, it is clear that she is drawing upon her own life’s experience. Still, she writes of...

(The entire section is 1684 words.)

Anna Freud Bibliography (Literary Masterpieces, Volume 7)

Booklist. LXXXV, September 15, 1988, p. 109.

Boston Globe. October 16, 1988, p. 106.

Chicago Tribune. October 26, 1988, V, p. 3.

Interview. XVIII, December, 1988, p. 199.

Kirkus Reviews. LVI, August 1, 1988, p. 1141.

Library Journal. CXIII, October 1, 1988, p. 84.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. November 6, 1988, p. 10.

The New York Times Book Review. XCIII, October 16, 1988, p. 7.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXIV, November 11, 1988, p. 38.

USA Today. November 9, 1988, p. D8.

Vogue. CLXXVIII, October, 1988, p. 294.