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Young Dr. Freud
Theories Analysis Perspectives Family
Freud seated next to his couch
Freud seated next to his couch
(Freud Museum London)
The Interpretation of Dreams was published in November, 1899, with the title page dated 1900. During the next 6 years, the book would sell only 351 copies. It would take two decades before Freud achieved the fame he had always imagined. But, later in life, he still viewed this book as his most important:

FREUD: "The Interpretation of Dreams contains… the most valuable of all the discoveries it has been my good fortune to make. Insight such as this falls to one's lot but once in a lifetime."

GAY: It's his first general philosophical, psychological statement about how the mind works. And even though he revised that statement many times after that, it still was the touchstone statement for the whole psychoanalytical inquiry into mental processes.

EAGLE: The book is not just a theory about dreams. He uses dreams and dreaming to develop and weave an entire theory of mental functioning, perception, memory, and wishes. That, I believe, is the reason and the foundation for why it's viewed as a landmark. In the dream book the Oedipus complex is stated, the role of infantile sexuality is recognized. That dreams have meaning is recognized. The patient is asked to free associate. Once you have the dream book you can start business as psychoanalysts because you know - at least you have a hunch of how to do it.

BERGMANN: Freud believed that the human being is an animal in conflict. We are not masters of our own house. Much of our life is determined by unconscious forces that we don't know about.

In the years that followed, while he elaborated and refined his theories, Freud created a movement, beginning with a small cadre of men, who helped spread his ideas around the world.

SOPHIE FREUD: He put the unconscious on the map. He put it on the cultural, folksy map. Everyone loved it because things that were puzzling to people before that suddenly made sense, and we all want to make sense out of our crazy behaviors.

YOUNG-BRUEHL: All the key concepts of human psychology have been with us since the ancient world. But, nobody before Freud took this kind of wisdom, systematized it, and offered alleviation of human suffering on the basis of it. That was totally new. It's a frightening notion, it flies in the face of all our wishes to have our free will affirmed, our rationality affirmed.

EAGLE: We're blasé about it now, because Freud's thinking has become part of the very language we use. You're being defensive, you're rationalizing, you're conflicted about that. His insight into the ways in which our minds are divided, the ways in which we are at war with ourselves change our very conception of human nature and of the nature of mind.

As his fame grew, his name became a household word, his theories the chat of cocktail parties and the popular press.
As his fame grew, his name became a household word, his theories the chat of cocktail parties and the popular press. Confusion and even apprehension surrounded the bearded Dr. Freud, who supposedly found in sex the meaning of life. "I'm not famous," Freud mused. "I'm notorious." From analyzing himself and his patients, Freud took to analyzing the world itself, elaborating a dark, pessimistic view of the human condition.

BERGMANN: He once said, "I bring them the plague." Now that may be an exaggeration, but he certainly did not make life easier for people. He said, "When you think of me, think of Rembrandt; a little light and a great deal of darkness."

In 1933, the Nazis came to power and burned his books alongside those of Thomas Mann, Bertolt Brecht, and Albert Einstein.
In 1933, the Nazis came to power and burned his books alongside those of Thomas Mann, Bertolt Brecht, and Albert Einstein. "What progress we are making," Freud told a friend. "In the Middle Ages they would have burnt me; nowadays they are content with burning my books." Five years later, Freud was forced to flee to England. His influential friends and family members bargained with the Nazis for his ransom.

Despite opposition to his ideas, Freud remained defiant. Even in his last years, he never offered easy consolation. For Freud there was no "salvation," not even psychoanalysis. He offered instead a way to probe the darkness with the light of reason and two principles to live by: work and love.

EAGLE: What Freud insists on is cure through truth, in a world of quick fixes, drugs, neuroscience, he teaches us about the role of meaning and conflict and desire and wish in shaping our lives, our happiness and our suffering. "Know thyself" is no longer only a Socratic imperative, but it's a clinical necessity. The truth shall set ye free.

Freud in the prime of his career
Freud in the prime of his career
(Freud Museum London)

Freud died in London in 1939 from mouth cancer. His conflicted relationship with his mother ended with her death in 1930, just nine years before his own. Citing ill health, he did not attend her funeral. His wife Martha died in 1951 in London. A woman of fixed domestic habits, she insisted on shopping at a nearby market to buy groceries for the family, as she had done when she lived in Vienna, well into her nineties. His daughter Anna, as well as numerous disciples, carried on his work and continued to spread his ideas.

By the time of his death, Freud's ideas had become part of the fabric of twentieth century life. But all of them lay implicit in the discoveries he made before 1900. It was then, during long years of false starts and erratic detours, he had looked into the darkness of his own heart, and in turmoil and confusion, rallied himself the only way he knew how: he trusted to his own unconscious.

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