3000 words Psychology: FREUD – analysis of 2 case studies

Give an analysis of TWO of Freud’s case studies as ‘modernist narrative’, using Little Hans and Dora.


‘Modernism’ as a term has been defined and redefined in various and contested ways. As Peter Childs argues, “it is a contentious term and should not be discussed without a sense of the literary, historical and political debates that have accompanied its usage” (Childs 2008: 5). In this essay, I will trace some of these debates by focusing on Freud’s Little Hans and Dora case studies as examples of modernist narrative. I will focus firstly on how an increased focus on subjective or inner states of mind became a concern of modernist fiction, and how this can be read in relation to the development of Freudian psychoanalysis.  This will include a brief consideration of Randall Stevenson’s ‘historicisation’ of Freud’s work in relation to modernism as a whole. Then, taking examples from modernist writers in relation to the Freud texts, I will examine how modernist narrative engaged with the paradox of how to represent ‘unrepresentable’ subjective processes in language, leading to experimentation and a self-reflexive focus on language itself. The final section of my essay will focus on criticism of Freud’s case studies from feminist theorists, and from Deleuze and Guattari. This leads me to conclude that while Freud’s case studies were a form of modernist narrative, it is still important that we return to and challenge definitions of modernism as a single unquestioned narrative.


While definitions of modernism have variously defined it as a period, a style, a genre or a combination of all of these (Childs 2008: 12), one way in which it has been frequently understood is as a shift in codes of representation, leading to experimentation in literary form and style. Childs proposes:


The hegemony of realism as the dominant form of the novel was challenged by writers throughout the twentieth century, as alternative ways of representing reality and the world were presented by modernists and then postmodernists.

(Childs 2008: 3)


This definition could be applied not only to the novel, but also equally to other aesthetic forms, such as experiments by cubist painters or atonal composers. It suggests a focus on ‘the new’ and formal experimentation as a way of challenging existing modes, and conventions of representation. One alternative mode of representation associated with the style of the narrative of modernist fiction is the shift from supposedly objective description, the voice of the omniscient narrator of Victorian narrative fiction for example, to the representation of inner states of mind, or subjective emotion. Such focus on unconscious thought processes and the inner workings of the mind can be read in relation to the work of Freud. Virginia Woolf, in her essay on ‘Modern Fiction’ proposed to “look within” the mind (Woolf 1997: 72), and it could be argued that modernist writers were heavily influenced by developments in psychoanalysis and its focus on ‘looking within’ the human psyche:


Interest in this aspect of the self [the unconscious] leads modernist authors to emphasise areas of experience previously of much more limited concern to the novel. (Stevenson 1997: 66)


Avoiding thinking of modernist writers’ relation to Freud as a simple ‘imitation’, Anneleen Maschelein points out that there were already more complicated relations between modernist writing and psychoanalytic techniques at work, “Freud repeatedly claimed poets intuited the truths of psychoanalysis” (Maschelein 2008: 24). Randall Stevenson argues that, in order to understand the relationship between Freud and modernism, we must take a broader historical account of the situation:


Modernism’s urge to examine the mind more completely and constantly than earlier fiction seems likely to have been influenced by the extent to which psychology had become an area of conscious and deliberate study, and of widespread public interest…


…Figures such as Freud may confirm the ideas of novelists but are rarely a sole source or cause of them.

(Stevenson 1997: 71)


He points out other contextual factors, which led to the increased interest in psychoanalysis, such as the treatment of the trauma of shell shock after World War I (dealt with in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway). Stevenson’s historical approach emphasises the importance of the interconnection between events such as the birth of psychoanalysis, other world events, and the development of literary forms:


All thinkers are themselves conditioned in an outlook and imagination by the nature and dominant concerns of the period in which they write. This shapes the work as well as being shaped by it. (Stevenson 1997: 71)


Freud’s work then is a modernist narrative in the sense that it deals with, shapes and is shaped by dominant concerns of the time, such as shifts in conception of subjectivity and the self. As Childs argues, “with the publication of Freud’s work it became clear to many writers that there wasn’t a unitary normative self, to which each of us might conform” (Childs 2008: 59). Freud’s work served to produce a notion of the self, not as a universal concept, but as contingent, unstable, and out of conscious control. The case studies are good examples of this, showing how the subject is constructed through elements such as the repression of unconscious desire:


His state of mind before bedtime was anxious…Anxiety then corresponds to repressed longing; the repression also stands for something…something holds the libido back in the state of repression (Freud 2002: 20)


One thought becomes conscious in an excessively strong way, while its opposite number is repressed and becomes unconscious (Freud 2006: 475)


This idea that there may be more to the human subject than conscious and rational thoughts was appealing for modernist writers. As Childs goes on to argue, “it was no longer sufficient to present the outside of personalities. Writers needed to explore hidden drives and desires” (Childs 208: 60), leading to an increased focus on inner psychology and the unconscious, “It rasped her, though, to have stirring around in her this brutal monster!” (Woolf 1996: 10). Psychoanalysis’ use of ‘the talking cure’, letting patients speak freely about events and associating ideas with no seeming thread, was a tool to illuminate unconscious processes, “connections, even obvious ones, are generally fragmented, the sequence of different events uncertain” (Freud 2006: 443). The ‘stream-of-consciousness’ style this suggests can be seen frequently in modernist texts:


Lavabos…What about the monograph on the lavabos – toilets – ladies?…A London lavabo in black and white marble, fifteen women in a queue.


…The dancer daughter? That cosy little Paris lavabo, where the attendant peddled drugs – Something to heal a wounded heart. (Rhys 1969: 10)


Here for example, Jean Rhys in Good Morning, Midnight rather than describing a character, suggests the inner workings of the character’s mind by giving a fragmented account of her thought processes via a succession of recalled images. Joyce uses similar, although more varied, techniques in Ulysses:


Gassy thing that cider: binding too. Wait. Postoffice near Reuben J’s one and eightpence too. Get shut of it. Dodge round by Greek Street.


…Far. Far. Far. Far

Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap

Up the quay went Lionelleopold, naughty Henry with letter for Mandy.

(Joyce 1960: 372)


Here he starts in a similar way, using a stream of consciousness style to represent the inner working of Bloom’s mind, jumping from one subject to another with no connecting explanation. Bloom’s mind shifts between an awareness of his body, a consideration of matters at hand, and other various distractions. The narrative shifts from representations of Bloom’s mind to equally subjective descriptions of the action or poetic use of language to create rhythm and mood. Joyce in Ulysses uses language in a more self-referential way, as each section uses a different style and alludes to a different section of Homer’s Odyssey. This chapter, ‘Sirens’, for example represents the lure of the sirens’ song, to destruction on the rocks, as the lure of language away from representation to pure sound. Thus suggests a more extreme experimentation with the limits of language as representation and the points where it dissolves into ‘meaningless’ sound. The chain of seemingly unedited images create the impression of a free-flowing succession of evocations, connecting ideas through subjective memories and impressions.  Bloom’s focus on the now of his body contrasts with Rhys’ narrator’s drifts through time, suggesting, as in the variety of Freud’s case studies, different and individual ways of representing personal experiences of temporality and duration. Many modernist novels contrast this ‘subjective’ time with the ‘objective’ time of the clock, which comes to represent a force of inhuman and unchangeable mechanization:


Big Ben strikes. There! Out it boomed. First a warning, musical; then the hour, irrevocable. The leaden circles dissolved into the air.  (Woolf 1996: 2)


On one hand then, Freud’s analyses suggest, or reflect, this fragmentary and free-flowing thought, which impact on modernist literary styles. On the other hand, however, they also foreground the figure of the psychoanalyst as someone who can interpret these fragments, slips and gaps, and shape them into a coherent meaning. This produces a sense of the self, not as a given and universal form, nor as a jumble of disconnected thoughts, but rather exactly as a narrative, actively re-constituted after the event, shaped into form and meaning through narrative structure. In Dora’s case, it is Freud who shapes the narrative of her self:


I have made the following reconstruction of the events involved in the scene. (Freud 2006: 453)


I thought I could already clearly discern the pieces that could be assembled into a reference to an event in childhood. (Freud 2006: 492)


The unconscious, although unknown by the patient, must be ‘translated’ by the psychoanalyst into a system of language in order to be understood:


The poor girl had, with undesirable clarity, illuminated an aspect of her own behaviour. (Freud 2006: 460)


I learned how to translate from dream language into the immediately comprehensive language in which we express our thoughts. (Freud 2006: 442)


For Freudian psychoanalysis, there is no fixed and inherent meaning, but meaning is nonetheless conferred by analysis and shaping into a narrative of the self, “the meaning is not inherent within the hysterical symptom, it is conferred upon it” (Freud 2006: 463).

Both ‘Little Hans’ and ‘Dora’ show that the dream has no meaning in itself until it is ‘interpreted’ by the analyst. As D.H. Lawrence points out in his critique of Freud, “Freud’s work highlighted areas of mind and self beyond complete rational, intellectual control, but it was exactly these areas that Freud sought to submit to intellectual rational analysis.”  (cited in Stevenson 1997: 70)


There are interesting parallels between Freud’s studies and modernist fiction. In Conrad’s Heart of Darkness for example, which was written in 1901 but in its themes, concerns and style can be read as an early modernist, rather than late-Victorian text, Marlow attempts to come to terms with the indescribable event he has experienced by talking, forming his experience into a narrative for a group of listeners. The narrator takes on the role of a listener:


No, It is impossible. It is impossible to convey the life sensation of any given epoch of one’s existence – that which makes its truth its meaning – its subtle and penetrating essence…

I was awake. I listened for the sentence, for the word, that would give me the clue to the faint uneasiness inspired by this narrative (Conrad1994: 39)


As in Freud’s analyses, there is no ‘essence’ of meaning; it’s impossible to ‘convey the sensation’ of Marlow’s traumatic experience, but it must be actively constructed, put into a narrative of self. The narrator takes on a role analogous to the psychoanalyst, letting Marlow speak while he listens in the darkness, waiting for ‘a word’, a slip of the tongue perhaps, which would give him some clue and allow him access to the psyche of ‘the patient’. Furthermore, Freud’s use of imagery in the case studies, “periods of complete darkness unilluminated by any useful information” (Freud 2006: 443), recalls Conrad’s constant repetitions of images of light and darkness, “And this also…has been one of the dark places on the Earth” (Conrad 1994: 7).


Modernist narrative is paradoxical. On one hand it focuses on fragmentary stream-of-consciousness styles of interior monologue, but on the other hand, there is also a desire to produce meaning, even though this meaning may be ephemeral, unstable and contingent. This leads to an increased focus on attempts to describe the indescribable, and a reflexive focus on the paradoxes of language itself, agonizing over its failures while nonetheless continuing to use it:


Words fluttered sideways and struck the object inches too low. The urgency of the moment always missed its mark. For how could one express in words those emotions of the body, that emptiness there. (Woolf 1964: 202)


Pericles Lewis suggests that Freud was important in the development of modernism partly “because of the tremendous emphasis it [psychoanalysis] placed on the power of language” (Lewis 23). For Freud, words are invested with unconscious desire. They can’t reflect meaning directly but must be used in some way to reveal the unconscious. The failure of existing language and modes of representation can be seen as an important influence on the development of experimentation with language in modernist fiction and the desire to produce the ‘new’. Freud himself was also aware of the ‘newness’ of his ideas and how this could prove difficult, “novelty has always provoked confusion and resistance” (Freud 2006: 439).


Freud’s case studies can be seen as influential and characteristic modernist narratives, but they have also been criticized from various perspectives, suggesting that ‘modernism’ is something to which we must constantly return and re-assess. Many critiques of Freud have come from a feminist perspective. They suggest that while Freudian psychoanalysis proposes itself as universal, it actually fails to understand feminine sexuality. As Jacqueline Rose argues:


Psychoanalysis tries to delimit an area that might be called femininity within the confines of the drive, with a theory of sexuality that constantly places and displaces the concept of sexual difference. (Rose 1990: 128-9)


Rose uses Freud’s own terms to suggest that he ‘represses’ the feminine in his analysis and doesn’t account for “any notion of the feminine that would be outside representation” (Rose 1990: 129). Maria Ramas similarly turns Freud back on himself to suggest that his analysis is “structured around a fantasy of femininity and female sexuality that remains misunderstood, unconscious in fact” (Ramas 1990: 150).


As Marianne Dekoven argues


Women are, by Freudian definition ‘castrated’, defined by and as ‘absence’ and ‘lack’…despite the founding role of female hysteria in psychoanalysis, Freud continued to find femininity a ‘mystery’. (Dekoven 1999: 179)


Other critics have offered alternative interpretations of Freud’s case studies. Helene Cixous and Catherine Clement, for example, read Dora’s hysteria, against Freud’s interpretation, as “a form of protest, a silent revolt against male power” (cited in Moi 1990: 182). This suggests a criticism of the ‘universalising’ aspect of Freud’s theory, as his example could equally be interpreted in a different way. As Lewis argues, Freud proposed a model which influenced not only writing styles but also for the interpretation of texts (Lewis 2007: 23). Gilles Deleuze, who, along with Felix Guattari, provided many criticisms of Freudian psychoanalysis emphasises what is excluded from Freud’s analysis, and how its interpretation is limited to making everything fit into a pre-determined conceptual schema. In Freud’s analysis of ‘Little Hans for example’:


In Hans’ case there are impulses, which had previously been suppressed and that, as far as we know, he had never been able to express without inhibition: hostile and jealous feelings towards his father and sadistic impulses towards his mother, which corresponded to intimations of the act of coitus. (Freud 2002: 112)


Hans, in other words, becomes a model for Freud of the Oedipus Complex. Deleuze, on the other hand, argues:


He [Freud] takes no account of the situation (the child had been forbidden to go into the street etc…). He takes no account of Little Hans’ endeavour…The only important thing for Freud is that the horse be the father – and that’s the end of it…All the real desire has already disappeared. (Deleuze and Parnet 2006: 59)


For Deleuze, Freud’s analysis, by creating a model for the unconscious, only serves to “destroy, diminish, and exorcise” it, and ultimately repress desire. (Deleuze and Parnet 2006: 57).


What such critiques do in relation to Freud and modernism is to acknowledge that, while Freud’s texts were important modernist narratives, they cannot be taken to solely constitute a unified ‘modernism’ or a universal definition of ‘modernist narrative’. It is vital, whether from a feminist or other perspective, to constantly go back and rework definitions of modernism and modernist narrative. Louis Sass, for example, proposes a counter-analysis of the ‘hyper-reflexivity’ of schizophrenics as the “true source of the modernist project of self-reflection” (Sass 1992: 326). In contrast with Freud’s definitions of the unconscious, Sass focuses on the paradoxical simultaneity of “the loss of self and its apotheosis of unrestrained solipsistic grandeur” (Sass 1992: 322), which for Freudians “might suggest regression to the primitive alogic of primary-process thinking” (Sass 1992: 325). Other writers such as Antonin Artaud offer an alternative view of the human subject:


These mental signs have an exact meaning that only strikes one intuitively, but violently enough to make any translations into logical discursive language useless. (Artuad 1999: 39)


Artaud’s writing here on the Balinese theatre focuses on a non-verbal form of modern experimentation, which contradicts Freud’s interpretations (the signs resist interpretation but instead have a particular effect). They could, however, equally be put to use in terms of analysis of a potentially alternative form of modernist narrative.


Throughout this essay, I have argued that, although modernism has been defined in various ways, the shift to representations of a subjective state of mind is one important characteristic of modernist narrative. Freud’s case studies provide an interesting example of this, which can be read usefully in relation to modernist fictional narrative. On the other hand, in the wake of criticisms of Freud, from feminists in particular, it is also important to be aware of the multiplicity of narratives that come to constitute modernism. We must constantly return to modernism in order to contest and redefine it in various ways.




Artaud, Antonin (1999) ‘On The Balinese Theatre’, Collected Works: Volume Four, London: John Calder


Conrad, Joseph (1994) Heart of Darkness London: Penguin


Childs, Peter (2008), Modernism, 2nd Ed, The New Critical Idiom. London and New York: Routledge


Dekoven, Marianne (1999) ‘Modernism and Gender’, The Cambridge Companion to Modernism Ed. Michael Levenson


Deleuze, Gilles and Parnet, Clare (2006) ‘Dead Psychoanalysis: Analyse’, Dialogues II. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. London: Continuum.


Freud, Sigmund (2006) ‘Fragment of an Analysis of Hysteria (Dora)’. The Penguin Freud Reader, Ed. Adam Phillips. London: Penguin. pp.435-540.


Freud, Sigmund (2002) ‘Analysis of a Phobia in a Five-year-old Boy [‘Little Hans’[, The ‘Wolfman’ and Other Cases. London: Penguin, pp.1-121


Joyce, James (1960) Ulysses London: The Bodley Head


Lewis, Pericles (2007) The Cambridge Introduction to Modernism. Cambridge: Cambridge Uni. Press.


Maschelein, Anneleen (2008) ‘Representation and the Veil of Vision’, Modernism and Theory: A Critical Debate Ed. Stephen Ross. London: Routledge


Moi Toril (1990) ’Representation of Patriarchy: Sexuality and Epistomology in Freud’s Dora’ In Dora’s case: Freud-Hysteria-Feminism. Eds. Charles Bernheimer and Claire Kahane. New York: Columbia Univ Press


Ramas, Maria (1990), ‘Freud’s Dora: Dora’s Hysteria’ In Dora’s case: Freud-Hysteria-Feminism. Eds. Charles Bernheimer and Claire Kahane. New York: Columbia Univ Press


Rhys, Jean (1969) Good Morning, Midnight. London: Penguin


Rose, Jacqueline (1990), ‘Dora: Fragment of an Analysis’, In Dora’s case: Freud-Hysteria-Feminism. Eds. Charles Bernheimer and Claire Kahane. New York: Columbia Univ Press


Ross, Stephen Ed. (2008) Modernism and Theory: A Critical Debate London: Routledge


Sass, Louis. A. (1992) Madness and Modernism: Insanity in the Light of Modern Art, Literature and Thought. USA: Basic Books


Stevenson, Randall (1997) Modernist Fiction: An Introduction London: Longman


Woolf, Virginia (1997) ‘Modern Fiction’, Revolutions of the Word: Intellectual Contexts for the Study of Modern Literature Ed. Patricia Waugh, London: Hodder Headline


Woolf, Virginia (1996) Mrs Dalloway London: Penguin


Woolf, Virginia (1964) To The Lighthouse London: Penguin