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Garry Gillard

H237 Narrative Fiction 2
Lecture 7 1995


This was surely just the situation to call up a distinct feeling of sexual excitement in a girl of fourteen who had never before been approached. [1]

I remember clearly, three years ago, when I read the 'Dora' case study for the first time, my sense of shock when I read this sentence.

You may remember this sentence yourselves -- and I wonder how you felt about it. The narrator is describing the first encounter between Mr K. and the 'client' whom he decided to call 'Dora' when he turned her into a character in a little Viennese sketch. And what is the situation that he is referring to in that sentence? This is what the authorial comment is about.

Dora told me of an earlier episode with Herr K., which was even better calculated to act as a sexual trauma. She was fourteen years old at the time. Herr K. had made an arrangement with her and his wife that they should meet him one afternoon at his place of business in the principal square of B -- so a to have a view of a church festival. He persuaded his wife, however, to stay at home, and sent away his clerks, so that he was alone when the girl arrived. When the time for the procession approached, he asked the girl to wait for him at the door which opened on to the staircase leading to the upper storey, while he pulled down the outside shutters. He then came back and, instead of going out by the open door, suddenly clasped the girl to him and pressed a kiss upon her lips. (58-59)

And I quote again.

This was surely just the situation to call up a distinct feeling of sexual excitement in a girl of fourteen who had never before been approached. (59)

I read the 'Dora' case study unwillingly. I suspected that it might be a watershed experience for me. I was aware of the bad vibes that were coming from that direction from women friends and colleagues: Dora has been a site for feminist contestation for some time. As for me, though, Freud was simply my hero. He was one of the great thinkers, but not in some useless philosophical area, or some unsubstantiatable metaphysical speculation: Freud was a scientist. Not only did he explain one or two things that had always wanted explanation, like why people believed in god, not only did he give you new and powerful ways of observing and understanding human behaviour, like the 'Freudian slip,' but he also based his hypotheses and conclusions on studies of a scientific kind -- so, at least, I thought. In a word, I had set him up -- and he is still so set up for millions of people -- as one of the great Modernists: one of those original thinkers who gave to the world a Great Narrative, a meta-narrative, a story that explained many stories.

So I came unwillingly to Dora. I had to read the story because I was writing a dissertation that was mostly about Freud, and although it was Freud as an analyst of culture that I was considering, I could not avoid the case studies altogether because one of the issues I was raising had to with the analogy between the individual and the culture. So I had the uncanny feeling that the scales were about to fall from my eyes. ... Well, it wasn't quite a 'road to Damascus' experience -- I didn't get off my camel, and it was a couple of years more before I stopped believing in Freud -- but it certainly was a shock. As I recall, I actually skimmed over the human story and the use of dream analysis in favour of the material about transference, as it is in this case study that Freud develops that hypothesis for the first time. [2] Dora's 'situation' was too 'traumatic' for me to contemplate at that time. What is that 'situation'? This is how that part of the story continues.

... Dora had at that moment a violent feeling of disgust, tore herself free from the man, and hurried past him to the staircase and from there to the street door. (59)

And that's the end of the scene. But the story continues, in a more summary form of presentation.

She nevertheless continued to meet Herr K. Neither of them ever mentioned the little scene; and according to her account Dora kept it a secret till her confession during the treatment. For some time afterwards, however, she avoided being alone with Herr K. The K.s had just made plans for an expedition which was to last for some days and on which Dora was to have accompanied them. After the scene of the kiss she refused to join the party, without giving any reason. (59)

Then, like the skilled narrator he is -- and Freud was the winner of the 1930 Goethe Prize -- not for Psychoanalysis -- but for Literature -- like a skilled narrator Freud now interpolates some authorial comment.

In this scene ... [he writes] the behaviour of this child of fourteen was already entirely and completely hysterical. I should without question consider a person hysterical in whom an occasion for sexual excitement elicited feelings that were preponderantly or exclusively unpleasurable; and I should do so whether or no the person were capable of producing somatic symptoms. The elucidation of this reversal of affect is one of the most important and at the same time one of the most difficult problems in the psychology of the neuroses. (59)

But there are three distinct steps in those three sentences in which Freud moves away from writing something that is like literature to something that is like science -- or perhaps pseudo-science. The first sentence is in that mode with which students of the novel like ourselves are so familiar: where it is not necessarily clear from the outset whether the narrator is presenting an account of the state of mind of the character or a statement of his or her own attitude to the character. When you get this sorted out, it often turns out to be what is known as 'irony.' And you will have read about Jane Austen's irony, Henry James's irony, and so on. As I see it, this is a situation where two belief systems are for that moment in contestation, producing in the mind of the reader -- when it works -- something I might call 'ideological suspense.' I suppose an analogy may be drawn between this conception of irony and that very useful analysis of the genre of the 'fantastic' that Todorov does in his book on that subject. [3] Briefly, he suggests that the experience of the 'fantastic' is produced by a hesitation on the part of the reader between, say, believing some literary apparition is a ghost or a hallucination -- as in The Turn of the Screw, Henry James's 'ghost story.' In much the same way, when Freud writes that 'In this scene ... the behaviour of this child of fourteen was already entirely and completely hysterical,' you may think at first blush that he is giving an authorial statement regarding the state of the character's mind -- a state of which she might herself be aware -- as thinking to herself, for example, 'By golly, that was pretty hysterical, running away from that sexy Mr K. like that. I missed an opportunity for a nice bit of slap and tickle there!' But in the light of the sentences which follow you may come to believe that is in fact an authorial statement about the girl, made from the outside, and with no insight or sympathy for her. Because in those sentences it is the 'author' who takes centre stage, rather than the 'character.' You could, I suppose, still see him as writing in a novelistic kind of way in the first of the three authorial sentences I've quoted, until we come to second, where he moves right away from 'characterisation' to the position of what has been called (in the English context at least) the 'Victorian Sage' and allows himself to pontificate in the most authoritarian way imaginable. [4] Finally, in the last of the three sentences he moves right away from his 'character' to prefigure another story in which he himself is the central figure, the hero who is destined to go out into the world and bring back a version of the Holy Grail.

Turning now to the other scene in which there is an encounter between what, in another author, would be the heroine and the villain, we find a similar structure. In the later scene, which takes place when Dora is sixteen, Freud writes this.

Herr K. had had the audacity to make a proposal while they were on a walk after a trip upon the lake. (56) [And:] No sooner had she grasped Herr K.'s intention than, without letting him finish what he had to say, she had given him a slap in the face and hurried away. (79)

And what is the authorial comment this time? It follows immediately.

Her behaviour must have seemed as incomprehensible to the man after she had left him as to us, for he must long before have gathered from innumerable small signs that he was secure of the girl's affections. (79)

And Freud then returns to his position of authority, promising that he will be able to explain this strange rejection to our complete satisfaction.

In our discussion of Dora's second dream we shall come upon the solution of this riddle ... (79)

Well, this has been in the nature of an introduction, to get you into the nature of this strange narrative fiction.

Dora as novel

Reading Dora as a novel, it's not very difficult to see the story as conforming to some of the conventions of the detective story.

These are set out most usefully by my new hero, Tzvetan Todorov, in his 1974 paper, 'The two principles of narrative,' which was published in the very first number of Diacritics. [5] He writes this.

We know that the [detective or mystery novel] is grounded in the tension between two stories: the missing story of the crime, and the presented story of the investigation, the sole justification of which is to make us discover the first story. One element of the story is in fact told to us at the outset: a crime is committed almost under our nose; but we have not learned the identity of the criminals nor the true motives. The investigation consists in reviewing incessantly the same events, in verifying and correcting the tiniest details until, in the end, the truth about this same initial story is revealed; it is a narrative of apprenticeship. [6]

The specific apparent 'crime' in this case, I suggest, is the psychical trauma which has occurred to Dora, which in this case is 'the experience with Herr K. -- his making love to her ...' (57) But as we proceed to learn the identity of the criminals and their true motives, we may decide that the notion of crime is little more widely distributed than that. With a little more profundity, it is possible to see the 'crime' as being the harm that is practised on Dora generally, by all of the other characters in the story -- even, as it turns out, the detective who is himself supposing to be investigating. In this light, and as a detective story, The Dora Case is like the structure of the Agatha Christie story Murder on the Orient Express. In that novel it turns out that not one but everyone -- all of the suspects -- had killed the victim. In the case of Dora it turns out that not only Dora but everyone -- is in love with everyone else. Ultimately, however, the story of Dora might turn out to be most like Agatha Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, a limit case of the genre, as it is this story in which it is the narrator who is himself the murderer. [7]

Todorov's idea that the detective novel is 'a narrative of apprenticeship,' by the way, has an interestingly specific application in this case: this is the very first of his cases of which the detective has decided to tell the story; it is literally an account of his apprenticeship.

Does Freud see himself to some extent as a detective? In that context, what do you make of this passage?

When I set myself the task of bringing to light what human beings keep hidden within them, not by the compelling power of hypnosis but by observing what they say and what they show, I thought the task was a harder one than it really is. He that has eyes to see and ears to hear may convince himself that no mortal can keep a secret. [78] If his lips are silent, he chatters with this finger-tips; betrayal oozes out of him at every pore. And thus the task of making conscious the most hidden recesses of the mind is one which it is quite possible to accomplish. (114)

Compare this passage from a story about another detective. Can you tell who he is?

'Wedlock suits you,' he remarked. 'I think ... [8] that you have put on seven and a half pounds since I saw you.' ... And in practice again, I observe. ... How do I know that you have been getting yourself very wet lately, and that you have a most clumsy and careless servant girl? ... my eyes tell me that on the inside of your left shoe, just where the firelight strikes it, the leather is scored by six almost parallel cuts. Obviously they have been caused by some one who has very carelessly scraped round the edges of the sole in order to remove crusted mud from it. Hence, you see, my double deduction that you had been out in vile weather, and that you had a particularly malignant boot-slitting specimen of the London slavey. As to your practice, if a gentleman walks into my rooms smelling of iodoform, with a black mark of nitrate of silver upon his right forefinger, and a bulge on the side of his top hat to show where he has secreted his stethoscope, I must be dull indeed if I do not pronounce him to be an active member of the medical profession.' [9]

Yes, that's an example of the powers of observation of Sherlock Holmes, 'the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen,' [10] according to his very good friend Dr Watson. The similarities between these two characters, Freud and Holmes, are very striking, and I hope to have a few moments at the end when I can say some about that.

Dora as quest

So far I've been discussing Dora as a detective story. I think it's possible to see this as a sub-genre of the quest more generally. And, continuing my theme of last week's lecture and continuing to rely on the assumption a Modernist story such as this contains as its basis an epistemological investigation, an inquiry into how we can come to know something about human nature: I think you will readily agree that an investigation into the nature of psychoanalysis as such would seem to conform perfectly to the requirements of an epistemological inquiry. To put it more simply: Freud is far more interested in setting out his methodology than in what he is supposed to be discovering by using it. In that context, then, we might want to say something like: the quest in this case is to discover (and, as I say, continuing to develop the theme that I set out in my discussion of E. M. Forster's novel) to discover who has desire for whom, and what the nature of that desire. For Freud of course, everything comes down to S E X. (As Dora says: ''I knew you would say that.' [11] (105)

It might be enlightening to compare 'Freud's quest with Marlow's in Heart of Darkness as another example of a Modernist quest. Marlow's quest is to discover the nature and direction of Kurtz's desire, and before that to discover how to discover it. As if not wanting to, he finds out how that desire is satisfied (that is, in 'certain midnight dances ending with unspeakable rites,' including human sacrifices). Freud's quest is to discover the nature and direction of Dora's desire, and before that to discover how to discover it. As if not wanting to, he also finds out how that desire is satisfied (that is, in the sacrifice of Dora herself).

Critique of Freud as 'novelist'

I think perhaps a useful and relevant way to consider Freud as a novelist is to compare his technique in Dora with that of another writer with whom we are familiar, as I have already begun to do: with Joseph Conrad in Heart of Darkness. What springs to mind?

How plausible, really is 'Freud's version? First, although Dora repulses Mr K., she is really in love with him. But actually her love for Mr K. is only a screen for her love for her father. But she has also, through identification with her mother (for whom she has a sort-of self-love -- perhaps confirmed by her masturbation?) -- she has also been in love with Mrs K. And because homosexuality is an essential part of being nutty (Freud writes that '... I have never yet come through a single psychoanalysis of a man or a woman without having to take into account a very considerable current of homosexuality.' (95) She has probably also been in love with her governess and with her second cousin as well. After all this, it can come as only as mild surprise that she is also in love with Freud. (As when he writes: 'I came to the conclusion that the idea had probably occurred to her one day during a session that she would like to have a kiss from me.' 110) Yeh, you wish, Siggy!

Freud as self-aware narrator

I suggest that we should not think that Freud uses this narrative structure by accident, although by so doing he reveals himself -- in my reading -- as unreliable. On the contrary, there are many indications that he is quite conscious of his literary technique. Consider his frequent use of analogies to make his points, such as this one, where he is in fact talking about narrative technique.

I begin the treatment, indeed, by asking the patient to give me the whole story of his life and illness, but even so the information I receive is never enough to let me see my way about the case. The first account may be compared to an un-navigable river whose stream is at one moment choked by masses of rock and at another divided and lost among shallows and sandbanks. I cannot help wondering how it is that the authorities can produce such smooth and precise histories in cases of hysteria. As a matter of fact the patients are incapable of giving such reports about themselves. (45)

It is only towards the end of the treatment that we have before us an intelligible, consistent, and unbroken case history. (47)

I suggest that is appropriate simply to echo Freud's remark, applying it to his own story, and to wonder 'how it is that [this] authorit[y] can produce such [a] smooth and precise histor[y].' Seeing (if this analogy is to be used) that the river is in fact 'at one moment choked by masses of rock and at another divided and lost among shallows and sandbanks,' the only way to produce a narrative about a smooth passage is actually to ignore the rocks and shallows and sandbanks and to pretend that they are not there at all.

Freud's use of irony

There is, however, I think I find, one literary technique which Freud uses effectively and in a way of which I would want to approve. I am thinking of his use of irony. I believe that he applies irony particularly to the men in the case -- suggesting his disapproval of them. As his case study is to be published in Vienna and as Dora's father and Mr K. could conceivably come to read Freud's account of their philandering, he has to be somewhat circumspect, but it does not prevent him, I believe, from making the criticisms implicit in passages like this one. See what you think.

It was possible for Herr K. to send Dora flowers every day for a whole year while he was in the neighbourhood, to take every opportunity of giving her valuable presents, and to spend all his spare time in her company, without her parents noticing anything in his behaviour that was characteristic of love-making. (66)

Freud's suppression of detail

On the other hand, on the debit side of the ledger, as it were, there is Freud's deliberate and explicit suppression of the kinds of details which a novelist would supply to round out the picture. These are examples of what I mean.

I will pass over the details which showed how entirely correct all of this was ... (75)

Certain details of the way in which she expressed herself (which I pass over here, like most other purely technical parts of the analysis) ... led me to see ... (80)

He even refers explicitly to the difference between his own procedure and that of a 'man of letters,' although it is in fact to make precisely the opposite point: that he is obliged to put in much that a novelist would leave out! Why do you think he makes this point?

I must now turn to consider a further complication to which I should certainly give no space if I were a man of letters engaged upon the creation of a mental state like this for a short story, instead of being a medical man engaged upon its dissection. The element to which I must now allude can only serve to obscure and efface the outlines of the fine poetic conflict which we have been able to ascribe to Dora This element would rightly fall a sacrifice to the censorship of a writer, for he, after all, simplifies and abstracts when he appears in the character of a psychologist. But in the world of reality, which I am trying to depict here, a complication of motives, an accumulation and conjunction of mental activities ... is the rule. (94-95)

What I think is going on here is that Freud is aware that he is about to make one of his more outrageous assertions, and so he qualifies the statement by preceding it with this passage which stakes a claim for the absolute scientific necessity of what is about to be concluded. (It's at this point that Freud is about to suggest that Dora has been in love, not only with her father and with Mr K., but with Mrs K. as well. And he's knows this is a bit rich.)

Parallels between Freud and Sherlock Holmes

Well, that's the lecture. But before I stop, and just for fun, I'd like to share with you a couple of what I hope are provocative suggestions about parallels between our two turn-of-the-century detectives, Sigmund Freud and Sherlock Holmes. First, and I hope this may surprise you, they were both addicted to cocaine. First, here's Holmes's biographer -- and again this quotation is taken from the very first Sherlock Holmes short story, published in 1892, when Freud was also beginning his career as a detective.

... Holmes, who loathed every form of society with his whole Bohemian soul, remained in our lodgings in Baker Street, buried among his old books, and alternating from week to week between cocaine and ambition, the drowsiness of the drug, and the fierce energy of his own keen nature. He was still, as ever, deeply attracted by the study of crime, and occupied his immense faculties and extraordinary powers of observation in following out those clues, and clearing up those mysteries, which had been abandoned as hopeless by the official police. [12]

Now, here's one of Freud's biographers -- admittedly not a well-known one.

Freud's rapid mood swings from exalted elation to profound depression, his episodes of clouded consciousness and periods of hyperactivity, interpreted by [his principal biographer Ernest Jones [13] as the manifestations of a 'creative neurosis,' are actually specific cocaine effects, as are the mysterious heart symptoms that appeared at about the same time. Freud's bitter complaints of ostracism and victimization, which Jones repeats but which later biographers have shown to be groundless, were the paranoid delusions of persecution peculiar to the later stages of cocaine addiction; his suspicions and bitter denunciations of his disciples arose from the same cause. The unaccountable lapses in memory, the incompatibilities and discrepancies in his works that so taxed his editors and translators were also cocaine effects. Only deliberate mendacity however, can explain some of these discrepancies, and in this too Freud betrayed another symptom of his addiction. [14] (x-xi)

Secondly, associated with their use of cocaine, our detectives also have in common, I believe, their alternating over-valuation of sexual desire followed by its under-valuation. Once again I begin with this extract from the files of Dr Watson. This is the very beginning of the very first story, 'A scandal in Bohemia.' I wonder what -- or rather who -- you think Dr Watson is really talking about in this passage.

To Sherlock Holmes she was always the woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex. It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise, but admirably balanced mind. He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen: but, as a lover, he would have placed himself in a false position. He never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer. They were admirable things for the observer -- excellent for drawing the veil from men's motives and actions. But for the trained reasoner to admit such intrusions into his own delicate and finely adjusted temperament was to introduce a distracting factor which might throw a doubt upon all his mental results. Grit in a sensitive instrument, or a crack on one of his own high-power lenses, would not be more disturbing than a strong emotion in a nature such as his. And yet there was but one woman to him, and that woman was the late Irene Adler, of dubious and questionable memory. [15]

Since I used a relatively obscure writer to make my point about Freud's use of cocaine, I'll try to redress the balance, on the subject of his attitude to women, by using a quotation from Ernest Jones, the writer who is the rather sycophantic author of the unquestionably authoritative biography.

Freud ... found the psychology of women more enigmatic than that of men. ... Freud was interested in another type of woman, of a more intellectual and perhaps masculine cast. Such women several times played a part in his life, accessory to his men friends though of a finer caliber, but they had no erotic attraction for him. [16]


What I hope this approach to Dora has revealed is that analysis based on narrative theory can throw a new light onto the story, by showing the 'Freud' narrator as being an unreliable narrator, in that

'it' does not allow others to speak,

that when it does it gives a version of events which is contrary to the experience of other characters that it represents, characters whose version of events it is open to us to prefer to believe,

and that it prefers its own authoritative voice and view to representing the minds of other, whether by thought report, or free indirect style, or by interior monologue.

This is paradoxical, as one might have expected a psychoanalytic narrator as being the narrator par excellence to attempt to present as truthful as possible a view of other characters from the interior. What the narrative in fact becomes is a first-person autobiographical monologue, and, like Freud's life work, a study in self-aggrandisement.


1. Freud, Sigmund 1905e [1901], in 1953-74, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works 24 vols, The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psychoanalysis, London, trs. from Gesammelte Werke, Volume 7, 'Fragment of an analysis of a case of hysteria ["Dora"],' 1-122: this quotation: 28; Penguin Freud Library, 1977, Volume 8: 59. Further citations will be from this Penguin edition, with the page number given in the text.
2. By the way, I can't remember ever seeing an attempt at applying the notion of psychoanalytical transference to the process of reading, to reception theory in literature: it seems like an interesting idea, though one that has perhaps passed its moment.
3. Todorov, Tzvetan 1973, The Fantastic, Case Western Reserve University Press, Cleveland, trs. Richard Howard from Introduction à la littérature fantastique, Seuil, Paris, 1970.
4. Holloway, John 1953, The Victorian Sage: Studies in Argument, Macmillan, London.
5. Diacritics, 1, 1: 37-44. See also: Todorov, Tzvetan 1977 [1966], 'The typology of detective fiction,' Chapter 3 of The Poetics of Prose, tr. Richard Howard, Blackwell, Oxford: 42-52.
6. Todorov 1974 : 41.
7. Agatha Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Fontana/Collins 1957, 1987. ;-)
8. [, Watson,]
9. Doyle, Arthur Conan, Sir 1928 [1892], 'A scandal in Bohemia,' Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Short Stories, John Murray, London: 5-6.
10. Doyle 1928 [1892]: 3.
11. That jewel-case = female genitals.
12. Doyle, Arthur Conan, Sir 1928 [1892], 'A scandal in Bohemia,' Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Short Stories, John Murray, London: 4-5.
13. Jones, Ernest 1953, 1955, 1957, The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud, 3 vols, Hogarth, London.
14. Thornton, E. M. 1984 [1983], The Freudian Fallacy: An Alternative View of Freudian Theory, Doubleday, NY: x-xi.
15. Doyle 1928 [1892]: 3.
16. Jones 1955, 2: 469, quoted in Masson, Jeffrey Moussaieff 1984, Freud: The Assault on Truth: Freud's Suppression of the Seduction Theory, Faber and Faber, London: 233.

Garry Gillard | New: 5 February, 2018 | Now: 5 February, 2018