Paul Roazen’s analytic biography traces the development of Helene Deutsch’s ground-breaking contributions to psychoanalysis, showing how Deutsch finally came to revise Sigmund Freud’s original theories regarding the psychological differences between men and women.
In her major work, The Psychology of Women (1944-1945; two volumes), Deutsch challenged Freud’s notions concerning women’s alleged libidinal inferiority to men. Moreover, Roazen shows, Deutsch was the first to analyze a woman’s reproductive capacities in the light of psycho-sexual fulfillment.
Deutsch, however, the last to survive and the most favored of Freud’s original disciples, never went so far as to alienate herself from her beloved teacher; even after Freud’s death, she spoke fondly of the ties she had formed with him as his devoted pupil, patient, and colleague. What emerges from Roazen’s thorough biography is an intimate portrait of a shrewd but compassionate woman who was able to retain her friendship and regard for Freud even after leaving his circle in Vienna for the new world of America and Harvard University. Roazen argues that the sophisticated rapport which Deutsch and Freud enjoyed was the result of Deutsch’s own psycho-sexual development; the biographer’s privileged access to Deutsch’s personal letters, as well as the hundreds of hours of taped conversations he recorded with her, allows him to speak with authority concerning the most intimate events and relationships shaping this gifted but sometimes tragic life.
Helene Deutsch was born in Poland in 1884 to a prominent, loving, Jewish attorney-father and a socially aspiring, willful mother, whom she hated. Her birth was a disappointment: Her parents had hoped for a son. The prettiest and youngest of the family, she became her father’s darling and would sit for hours with her diary and books in his office while he dictated briefs. Roazen, in his own Freudian analysis of Deutsch, describes the classic Oedipal identification with the opposite parent—an identification which, Roazen argues, influenced the remainder of Deutsch’s life. For example, her tempestuous love affair at a tender age was the result of her desire to please her father and defy her mother.
At fourteen, Deutsch fell in love with an older married man with whom she was to spend the greater part of her youth. Herman Lieberman, a handsome, vibrant criminal attorney and political activist, encouraged Deutsch, as if by default, to delve into her academic studies in order to escape from her unsettled and furtive private life with him. When Lieberman’s sickly wife miscarried, his guilt over their affair focused Deutsch’s determination to pursue a career in medicine. Roazen meticulously documents the course of the affair by way of letters which move from pathos to sentimental self-preoccupation.
In her mid-twenties, Deutsch met the man who would later become her devoted husband. Felix Deutsch, a poor but promising medical student and musician, one year ahead of Deutsch, acted as her cheerful and adoring companion. Roazen also portrays the weaker aspects of Felix’s character—the dandyism and the sexual insecurities that Felix grew to detect in himself. (Indeed, his chronic self-remonstrations would finally alienate Deutsch.) In choosing Felix...
(The entire section is 1359 words.)