Critical Overview

(Nonfiction Classics for Students)

The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud’s magnum opus, was first published in 1899 but was given a copyright date of 1900 to associate it with the new century. This proved prophetic, as the book’s impact on twentieth-century thought and culture has been immeasurable.

In a Preface to the third (revised) English edition, Freud himself said of his seminal work—which, he observes, ‘‘surprised the world’’—that it represents ‘‘the most valuable of all the discoveries it has been my good fortune to make,’’ adding that ‘‘insight such as this falls to one’s lot but once in a lifetime.’’

Initial Reception
Freud was gravely disappointed by the initial reception of The Interpretation of Dreams, which was, according to Ritchie Robertson in an introduction to the 1999 translation, ‘‘muted but respectful’’; it sold only 350 copies in the first six years of publication. However, as Freud’s reputation as the founder of psychoanalysis grew throughout the first decade of the century, a second printing was called for (1909), and a third was in demand within a year. Over the next ten years, he revised the book for eight different editions, adding a preface with each new printing.

Criticism and Controversy
Freudian theory, though highly influential and much celebrated during Freud’s lifetime, was, from its inception, controversial and subject to extensive criticism. Since his death, psychoanalytic theory has been attacked on many fronts. In 1953, Nathaniel Kleitman discovered the phenomenon of rapid eye-movement (REM) during the dream state of sleep. This and subsequent neurological and sleep-lab research over the past half-century have led many to conclude that Freud was wrong in most, if not all, of his theories of dream analysis. Feminist theory, as early as the 1950s, attacked Freudian...

(The entire section is 770 words.)