In his essay "Delusions and Dreams in Jensen's Gradiva," how did Freud interpret the dreams found in Wilhelm Jensen's story, and how do his interpretations follow his theories found in...

In his essay "Delusions and Dreams in Jensen's Gradiva," how did Freud interpret the dreams found in Wilhelm Jensen's story, and how do his interpretations follow his theories found in Interpretation of Dreams?

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Let us recall all that we have heard about the nature and origin of fancies, these preliminaries of delusion [with their origins in memories]. They are substitution for and remnants of different repressed memories, which a resistance does not allow to push into consciousness, which, however, become conscious by heeding the censor of resistance, by means of transformations and disfigurements. ... Then we understand that we have to consider the dream [to be] something disfigured behind which there is to be sought something else, not disfigured, but, in a sense, something offensive, like Hanold’s repressed memories behind his fancies. (Sigmund Freud. "Delusion and Dream in Wilhelm Jensen’s Gradiva, Section II." 1907.)

Freudian dream theory removed dream analysis from the realm of superstition to the realm of scientific psychoanalysis as described by his earlier work The Interpretation of Dreams (German: Die Traumdeutung) (1900). Freud uses his essay on dreams in a work of literature, "Delusion and Dream in Wilhelm Jensen’s Gradiva," to reinforce his idea that delusion and dream are interlocked with each other:

Dreams and delusion spring from the same source, the repressed; .... To interpret a dream, then, means to translate the manifest dream-content into the latent dream-thoughts, which make retrogressive the disfigurement [delusion]." ("Delusion and Dream")


Freud's essential interpretation of the dreams in Wilhelm Jensen's Gradiva, as they are expressed in "Delusion and Dream," states that Norbert Hanold's, the protagonist's, dreams stem from the delusion resulting from returning repressed memories from which "fancies" had been constructed and that returning repressed memories had been manifest in the psycho-construction of the character, whom he named Gradiva, meaning "the one splendid in walking," as a compelling fancy in the form of a real character who had lived and died in Pompeii in the year 79, the year Mount Vesuvius erupted.

It had formerly been his fancy that Gradiva was a Pompeiian. Now this assumption becomes a certainty and the second certainty is added that she was buried there in the year 79. Sorrowful feelings accompany this progress of the formation of the delusion like an echo of the fear which had filled the dream. ("Delusion and Dream")

Freud further interprets Norbert's dreams, separate representations of "a web of thoughts," as latent dream-thoughts of the retrogressive disfigurement of memories of his childhood friend Zoë manifest as dream-content (latent dream thoughts: real-life repressed thoughts that have latent potentiality to return and manifest as dream-content, the thought elements of the dream). Freud interpreted Norbert's dreams as anxiety dreams with fearful content that "corresponds to a sex-feeling, a libidinous emotion, like every neurotic fear" ("Delusion and Dream"). therefore, according to Freud's theory of dream, fear must be substituted by sex-feeling: "substitute for fear sexual excitement" ("Delusion and Dream").

We should then say that in the dreamer, at night, the erotic desire stirs, makes a powerful advance to bring his memory of the beloved into consciousness and thus snatch him from the delusion, experiences rejection and transformation into fear, which now, on its part, brings the fearful pictures from the academic memory of the dreamer into the dream-content. ... amorous longing for the once known Zoë, is transformed into the manifest-content of the destruction of Pompeii and the loss of Gradiva. ("Delusion and Dream")

Freud concludes this interpretation by saying that delusions may very well begin as the "more favorable" form of dreams in the sleep state in which repressed memories "push up" as dream-content that has sad "after-effects" such as the after-effects Norbert experienced from his dream of Gradiva's death in Pompeii: "[delusion may] have won its first success under the more favorable circumstances of sleep, in the form of a dream having after-effects" ("Delusion and Dream"). In normal circumstances, without fancy being formed and leading to delusion, the "psychic revival of waking life" forces the dream-content to "vacate" the "ground won" by the stirrings of returning repressed "knowledge of the unconscious psyche" ("Delusion and Dream").

Theories Found in The Interpretation of Dreams (Die Traumdeutung)

Freud applied several dream interpretation rules that he had previously laid out in Die Traumdeutung. Some of the rules as described by Freud in "Delusion and Dream" and as applied by Freud to Norbert's dreams follow.

  • "A dream is regularly connected with the day before the dream." This rule is apparent in that the dream follows Norbert's "pedestrian investigations" during which he decides the stride of the bas-relief Gradiva is not a reflection of real life.
  • "If ... the reality of the dream-pictures continues unusually long so that one cannot free himself from the dream, this is ... a psychic act in itself, an assurance [that] the dream-content ... is as real as it has been dreamed to be ...." This rule is apparent in the sad after-effect manifest by Norbert after the dream and as he leans out his window while the bird sings from a cage across the way.
  • "A speech heard in a dream always originates from a speech either heard or uttered in waking life." Gradiva's speech in Norbert's dream is a modified form of a speech he had heard in the waking, day-time state as spoken by the zoologist.
  • "The substitution of one person for another, or the mixture of two people by showing one in a position which characterizes the other means equivalence of the two people, [means] a correspondence between them." Freud applied this rule to a correspondence between Gradiva/Zoë and the zoologist and he expressed this correspondence with this interpretation: "'Gradiva catches lizards, as that old gentleman does, and like him, is skilled in lizard-catching.'"
  • Do not "fall into the error of deriving the fear that is felt in a dream from the content of a dream, not to use the dream-content like the content of ideas of waking life." This applies to the fearful feelings engendered in Norbert by his Pompeii destruction dream: the fear is displaced neurotic fear, or "sex-feeling, a libidinous emotion."
  • "[Ambiguity is a] characteristic feature of the processes of the formation of dream and delusion." Freud applied this to Norbert's communications with Gradiva/Zoë by explaining that, on one level, Nobert's remarks manifest his repressed memories, like when he exclaims "I knew that your voice sounded so," yet, on the surface level, the remarks indicate something else altogether, even if that something is incomprehensible to the listener: thus ambiguity (uncertain meaning) is created.

Now let us suppose that the dream-pictures are the so-called physiological delusion-products of a man, ... Then we understand that we have to consider the dream [to be] something disfigured behind which there is to be sought something else, [something] not disfigured, but, in a sense, something offensive, like Hanold’s repressed memories [of Zoë] behind his fancies. ("Delusion and Dream")


IN a circle of men who take it for granted that the basic riddle of the dream has been solved by the efforts of the present writer, curiosity was aroused one day concerning those dreams ... created by authors, and attributed to fictitious characters .... ("Delusion and Dream")

Carl Jung, a student of Freud's, is said to have been among the "circle of men" Freud's refers to who challenged him to undertake dream analysis on dreams of a fictional character in a work of literature and to have been the one to have suggested Wilhelm Jensen's novel Gradiva. Freud accepted the challenge and, in the summer of 1906, wrote the essay "Delusion and Dream" in which he analyzed the dreams of the character of Norbert Hanold.

Essay Sections

Section I of the essay eloquently summarizes in detail the story of Gradiva. In brief, Norbert had a beloved childhood friend, a girl, Zoë, with whom he lost contact. The loss was so significant that he repressed his memories of her. With this background, the man Norbert, an archeologist, becomes interested in then obsessed with an ancient bas-relief image of a young Greco-Roman woman walking with an intriguing step and gait frozen in bas-relief in plaster for all time (though Norbert cannot find a replica of the step and gait in his examinations of women's walks, it is probable the woman captured in plaster was prancing, slowly running, trotting along in playful--not panicked or fearful--haste). After "pedestrian investigations" leading to the disappointing conclusion that the girl had not been real or had been really represented, he had a dream corresponding to his musings that she had indeed lived and that her home had been Pompeii before its destruction by Mount Vesuvius and that she was represented as stepping across the stepping stones laid across Pompeii's streets that allowed both pedestrian crossing and chariot's passage.

His dream, that he had been in Pompeii and that he had watched her die under the wrath of Mount Vesuvius, so devastated him that he was unable to shake off its after-effect until, looking out his window, he saw a girl walking who resembled the girl in plaster. This dream experience culminated in his decision to travel abroad, a trip that took him to Pompeii, where he met a woman whom he thought was a spirit of the night )or of delusion) who turns out to be his long lost Zoë and who heals his repression and dream delusion.

Sections II and III analyze Norbert's dreams in terms of the rules Freud laid out in Die Traumdeutung, suggesting that fictional dreams can be analyzed by the same methods as real ones. In his analysis and interpretation, Freud linked Norbert's dreams to day-time residues, the sad after-effects, the dreams leave in Norbert's life, demonstrating that dreams are a return of the repressed memories and thus wish fulfillment (subconscious wishes for what was lost and repressed): "the representation of an erotic wish" ("Delusion and Dream"). In a negative hallucination, Norbert is prevent from recognizing Zoë because his loss of her represented a concurrent loss of his sexual libido, which he repressed along with his memories of her: the return of the repressed his memories of Zoë and his lost "sex-feeling, a libidinous emotion."


Four months after "Delusion and Dream" was published in 1907, Freud took a trip to Rome during which he saw the bas-relief representing Gradiva on display at the museum of the Vatican. Freud bought a copy of the bas-relief, just like author Wilhelm Jensen and fictional Norbert had done, and hung it in his office in Vienna where it stayed until, leaving Vienna, he took it to London with him in 1938.


Sigmund Freud. "Delusion and Dream in Wilhelm Jensen’s Gradiva."

Wilhelm Jensen. Gradiva, a Pompeiian Fancy.

Roger Perron. "Delusions and Dreams in Jensen's "Gradiva." International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. Ed. Alain de Mijolla. Vol. 1. Gale Cengage, 2005.

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