Screen Shot 2017-07-14 at 9.07.51 PMThe legend is that Narcissus was a handsome Greek youth who rejected the desperate advances of the nymph Echo. As a punishment, he was doomed to fall in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. Unable to consummate his love Narcissus was said to stare at his image in the pool hour after hour and finally pined away and changed into a flower that bears his name Narcissus.Screen Shot 2017-07-14 at 9.12.22 PM

Screen Shot 2017-07-14 at 9.10.21 PMIn 1911, Otto Rank, a prominent psychiatrist, spoke of narcissism as being related to vanity and self-admiration. A few years later, Sigmund Freud thought narcissism was not necessarily abnormal. He distinguished between primary narcissism with self-love which is linked to self-preservation and secondary narcissism where there becomes limited ability to love others and the problematic development of megalomania.

In the 1970’s, Otto Kernberg wrote extensively on this subject and felt that there was a group of people who have an unusual degree of self-reverence in their interactions with other people. He noted that Screen Shot 2017-07-14 at 9.16.57 PMin these individuals, there was a great need to be loved and admired by others and a curious apparent contradiction between a very inflated concept of themselves and an inordinate need for tribute from others. He believed that their emotional life is usually shallow and that they tend to experience little empathy for the feelings of others. Such people obtain very little enjoyment from life other than from the tributes they received from other people or from their own grandiose fantasies and they feel restless and bored when external glory wears off. Dr. Kernberg wrote about techniques for approaching such patients in psychotherapy.


Screen Shot 2017-07-15 at 10.54.33 AMThe latest version of the Diagnostic Criteria Manual (DSM-5) from the American Psychiatric Association stated that a Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and a lack of empathy beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts as indicated by five or more of the following.

  1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognize as superior without commensurate achievements).
  2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
  3. Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associated with, other special or high status people (or institutions).
  4. Requires excessive admiration.
  5. Has a sense of entitlement (i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations).
  6. Is interpersonally exploitative (i.e. takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends).
  7. Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.
  8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.
  9. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

It is possible and in fact is often the case that other mental health conditions may be simultaneously occurring along with a narcissistic personality. This might be depression or other mood conditions, or variations of psychosis, et cetera. The criteria stated above are provided for mental health professionals to make a psychiatric diagnosis. Different professionals may disagree whether an individual meets a particular criteria. Also, it should be obvious that only five criteria are necessary to make the diagnosis. Therefore, people with the same diagnosis might be quite different from each other. For example, an individual theoretically could be quite empathic and not be arrogant or have haughty behavior and still meet the criteria.

Any diagnosis should not be a derogatory value judgment of an individual. It is true that some of the above-criteria deal with being self-centered and not relating well to others which usually makes a person unlikeable. This is not always the case, sometimes a person with these characteristics may be quite charming and liked by others, as well as having other positive and endearing characteristics.

From my experience, it is true that people with narcissistic personality do not seek therapy as much as others do. But certainly that is not always the case. In fact, such a person may be particularly susceptible and even devastated by a “narcissistic injury” which would be circumstances which gives the person insight into their weakness, faults and vulnerabilities. Such a person may very well feel that he or she need help in dealing with these overwhelming feelings. Nevertheless, it still requires a set of specific circumstances for a person with narcissistic personality to decide to seek psychotherapy. Treatment of such of individual is often difficult and requires special techniques.



Psychodynamic Psychiatry in the Medical Setting

The following is an extended version of a talk given by Dr. Michael Blumenfield at the World Psychiatric Meeting in Madrid Spain on September 15, 2014

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Introductory Case :

I would like to start off with a case history

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 6.17.34 PMThe patient is a 21 year old woman who has some paralysis in the right upper extremity and partial paralysis of the left lower extremity, weakness of the neck muscles, periods of persisting sleep walking as well as many other symptoms including a cough.

The symptoms came on after the patient’s father of whom she was very fond had become ill and subsequently died.

The patient’s internist Dr. B noted that the patient seemed to have alternating states of consciousness, which developed with regularity every day, during which she would talk and tell stories. She would talk about her past and how it was when she was a little girl as well as things that happened in the not too distant past. She would wake up feeling quite calm and then would go back to her usual clinical state.

Her internist became very interested in this patient and began to see her on a daily basis. He began to assist her to get into these altered states of consciousness by using a hypnotic technique. During the states he asked her to concentrate on each symptom. Eventually, she began to tell him about the circumstances that had occurred the first time that each of her symptoms had developed. When she came out of the trance, that particular symptom was gone. For example she told him that she began coughing for the first time while sitting at her ill father’s bedside and hearing the sound of dance music coming from a neighbor’s house. She had felt a sudden wish to be there and became overwhelmed with self reproaches and guilt feelings. Thereafter, whenever she heard music, she developed a cough. After this was brought out in the hypnotic state, the symptoms of coughing disappeared.

In the same way, her paralytic contractions, her numbness, hearing problems and other symptoms all disappeared.

The internist completed his treatment. While it was not in his original write up, some subsequent fact surrounding the case were not documented. Since the patient was cured of all her symptoms Dr. B. told her that he was Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 6.23.51 PMterminating treatment and said good bye to her. However, that evening, he was called back to her house to find her in the throes of an hysterical childbirth.

We now understand that this was related to the patient’s “transference” which had been developing for some time. When the internist came into the room and asked what was wrong, the patient said, “ Dr. B’s baby is coming!” The doctor was overwhelmed by the situation and he had no way of understanding what was happening. He became profoundly shocked and took flight abandoning the patient to a colleague.

In retrospect, we understand that the internist had developed strong “countertransference feelings for his beautiful patient. He had been spending a good deal of time with her away from his family. He was emotionally involved with the patient and interested in her case. In his own background, his mother ( who happened to have the same first name as the patient) had died in childbirth when he was 5 years old. Unconsciously, he had become for his patient, the father whom she had lost and she was in turn the mother he had lost as a young boy.

Screen Shot 2014-07-26 at 9.53.55 PMThis case occurred more than 115 years ago. The internist was Dr. Joseph Breuer, who subsequently collaborated with a young neurologist by the name of Sigmund Freud who encouraged him to publish this case history. This case marked the beginning of psychodynamic psychiatry.

It is known as the Anno O case. In it we can see evidence of early childhood feelings impacting on neurotic symptoms, a conversion disorder as well as examples of transference and countertransference.

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Q & A with Dr. Thomas Kirsch About A Dangerous Method

Dr. Thomas KIrsch a well know Jungian analyst is interviewed by Dr. Michael Blumenfield about the recent movie titled ” A Dangerous Method” which is about Carl Gustave Jung. Dr. Kirsch comments about Jung’s psychoanalytic theories as well as his relationship with Sigmund Freud and also his relationship with Sabina Spielrein who was his patient.

In our previous blog we reviewed the recent movie titled A Dangerous Method which is about Carl Gustav Jung. We asked Dr.Thomas Kirsch, a well known Jungian analyst to answer some questions about this movie.

Dr. Thomas Kirsch **

Dr. B: Can you comment on the relationship between Freud and Jung as depicted in this movie?

Dr. Kirsch : I thought that David Cronenberg’s portrayal of the relationship between Freud and Jung was fair, showing the strengths and weaknesses of both characters. Jung’s initial enthusiasm for Freud and his theories, as well as his reservations about ubiquity of the sexual origin of neurosis, are well portrayed.  Freud is seen as sympathetic to Jung’s countertransference to Sabina Spielrein — a highly probable response, given what we know of their early relationship.  The movie shows the historical beginning of the study of the countertransference dimension of psychoanalysis as seen through the relationships between Freud, Jung and Sabina Spielrein.The scene on the boat going from Bremen to New York was an especially good rendition of the spirit of Jung’s account of the incident, if not the details. In the movie Jung tells his dreams to Freud, but Freud does not reciprocate.  Actually, according to Jung in Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Freud did tell a dream, but refused to offer his associations . Jung asked why. ‘He said, “But I cannot risk my authority!” At that moment he lost it altogether.’

Dr. B: Jung is shown to believe in premonitions, telepathy and perhaps other non scientific unprovable ideas. In what way is this a fair or unfair representation of his theories?

Dr. Kirsch: I find this question biased towards a  misinterpretation of Jung’s openness to investigating phenomena as his belief in them, rather than seeing it as a representation of his forward-thinking attitude toward of the scientific method; the latter is the way it was accurately set forth in the movie. Famous physicists like Nobel prize-winning physicist Wolfgang Pauli and other equally prestigious scientists have shown a great interest in these parapsychological phenomena. The areas of parapsychology, synchronicity, chaos theory, and subjects related to these fields have received an increasing amount of attention by scientists from a number of fields, including psychoanalysis in recent years. A recent issue of Psychiatric Annals (Vol 41, #12, December, 2011) is entirely devoted to the subject of meaningful coincidences and Jung’s concept of synchronicity, a central part of his study of the archetypal layer of the psyche. In a late scene in the movie, the meeting in Freud’s study when the loud crack resounded, was an apt portrayal of Jung’s interest in what he saw as the exteriorization of psychic tension. Freud refused to find any psychological meaning in the phenomenon. My understanding is that, historically,  Freud was not interested in such phenomena. Furthermore, Jung’s interest in parapsychology has been used by psychoanalysis to cast suspicion upon Jung’s credibility, thus demonstrating that Jung was “unscientific” and truly a “mystic”.  I think the movie portrayed the differences between Freud and Jung on that subject accurately and sympathetically.

Dr.B: Do you believe that Jung had a sexual affair with his patient Sabina Spielrein and if so, should this influence the judgment of Jung’s contributions to psychoanalysis?

Dr. Kirsch: I have no idea whether Jung had a sexual affair with Sabina Spielrein. This is a subject which has been written about extensively .   Zvi Lothane, a psychoanalyst and historian, wrote of his conviction that they had a sexual affair in his earlier papers.  In a later paper he reversed his opinion. Let me give a personal vignette from my experiences around this subject. In 1983 I attended a public lecture by Bruno Bettelheim at the Stanford University Medical School. His subject was the Mistranslation Of Freud, but instead he spoke, to an audience who had no access to documented facts, about the still unpublished correspondence between Sabina Spielrein, Freud and Jung, A Secret Symmetry by Aldo Carotenuto (published the following year.) Bettelheim was emphatic that Jung and Sabina Spielrein had had a sexual affair . In the discussion. I asked him how he could be so sure, and he became characteristically offensive toward my challenge of his view of the truth.  In fact, I was familiar with the researches of Carotenuto and knew about the correspondence he had been offered from the basement of the Psychological Institute where Sabina Spielrein had been working prior to returning to Russia..  It is interesting that Spielrein had left all of her papers behind when she returned to Russia in 1919.

Whatever the truth, it is unfair that we should judge Jung’s contributions on the basis of his relationship to Sabina Spielrein.  Jung was only 29 year old in 1904, just at the start of a long career in a still unformed field of study, depth psychology.  To the movie’s credit, it treats Jung sympathetically in this respect. If the full truth is admitted, in the early days of psychoanalysis there were many such sexual liaisons.  Ernst Falzaeder, a psychoanalytic historian, has mapped out the various sexual liaisons between early psychoanalysts and their patients.  It is a remarkably long list. Many of those patients themselves became psychoanalysts. If Jung did have a sexual relationship with Spielrein, his was one among many.

Furthermore, Jung knew about the close relationship between Freud and his sister-in –law, Minna Bernays.  I myself have seen the signature of Freud where he signed himself and Minna into the guestbook of the Hotel Schweizerhof in Majola, Switzerland as husband and wife.  This is highly suggestive, yet Freud loyalists have long protested that this proves nothing about the nature of their relationship.  Jung in an interview with Kurt Eissler for the Library of Congress to be released in 2013, does not expressly say that they had an affair, but he does report that both he and his wife Emma had observed, when they visited Freud for the first time in Vienna in 1907, that Minna  was au courant with Freud’s ideas (in contrast to her sister Martha) and that she looked at Freud adoringly.

There is no question that Jung and Sabina Spielrein had a mutually erotic transference/countertransference relationship. From this distance in time it is going to be very difficult if not impossible to ascertain to what extent it was acted upon.  But is that the most important question to ask?  This was the beginning of psychoanalysis, and we know that Breuer had left the field because of this issue.  The fact is that Sabina Spielrein was helped by Jung’s psychoanalytic treatment of her and that Jung encouraged her aspirations, demonstrating his respect for her.  That she became a physician, a psychiatrist, and an early member of Freud’s psychoanalytic group in Vienna surely demonstrates that his good influence was not misplaced.  The movie also highlights her role in broadening Freud’s libido theory. Her influence on Freud’s theory of the death instinct is documented in a seldom cited footnote in Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle.


Dr. B: How will a movie such as this one or the play by Christopher Hampton, upon which it is based, influence the legacy of Jung?

Dr. Kirsch:I have heard from some of my colleagues that they are disappointed by the portrayal of Jung in the movie. On the basis of this, as well as its sensational trailers, I was prepared to not like the portrayal of Jung.  Certainly the spanking episode is over the top.  The role of Otto Gross, and the fact that Jung and Gross were engaged in a mutual analysis, was one of the strongest historical, as well as dramatically pivotal, aspects of the film.  Gottfried Heuer, a Jungian analyst in London and the president of the Otto Gross society, believes that Otto Gross influenced Jung deeply in 1908 toward greater sexual freedom.

Unfortunately, there is a glaring error at the end of the movie.  When Sabina asks if Jung is involved with another patient, Jung says yes, and furthermore tells her that Toni Wolff is half-Jewish.  That is a complete fabrication!  Toni Wolff comes from one of the oldest Christian families in Switzerland.  Her family tree can be traced back to the beginnings of the Swiss Confederation in the twelfth and thirteenth century.  Christopher Hampton was told of his error before his play The Talking Cure opened in London, but he chose to leave Toni Wolff as half Jewish, and to perpetuate the error in his film version.  Furthermore, many prominent psychoanalytic historians have taken Hampton’s  drama as a statement of fact!  Diedre Bair has documented Toni Wolff’s genealogy on page 713, note 27, in her biographical work, Jung.


I was especially taken by their rendition of Jung’s plea to Spielrein for a reciprocation of the caring patience he had shown toward her in her own state of terrible inner conflict.  This is a faithful rendering of his state of confusion, as documented in their published correspondence, as well as alluded to by Jung in MDR and demonstrated in his Red Book, although this is generally regarded in part as his emotional reaction to the ending of his relationship with Freud.

Dr. B: Did you enjoy this movie and would you recommend it to others?

Dr. Kirsch: I did enjoy the movie.    I thought that both Jung and Freud were well represented and I especially found myself liking the Jung of Michael Fassbender.  The role of Sabina Spielrien was superbly played in all its dramatic potential by Keira Knightly.  The one person who was not well represented was Emma Jung.  She was a much more earthy and powerful person than the haughty, frail creature see in the movie.  That was a real disappointment, because nothing I have heard about Emma Jung was represented, either by the role or by  the actor Sarah Gadon.

I certainly would recommend others to see this movie with the caveats I have raised.  Overall, I found myself admiring and empathizing with David Cronenberg’s portrayal of Sabina Spielrein and both Freud and Jung.  I hope that mine is a more widespread reaction.  If so, it may mark a shift in public awareness of Jung’s value as a pioneer and major contributor to our knowledge of the psyche.

The misrepresentation of Toni Wolff, though, poses a major problem, especially because of the later accusations against Jung for his alleged anti-Semitism. When portrayed as having begun yet one more intimate relationship with a (half) Jewish woman, when he is already widely seen as anti-Semitic, Jung the man comes across as a character lacking integrity.  As the repetition of Hampton’s error by prominent psychoanalytic historians proves, drama can wield a powerful influence over even the most scholarly of minds.

** Thomas Kirsch M.D. is a graduate of Yale Medical School, the residency program in psychiatry at Stanford and the CG Jung Insitute of San Francisco. He is Past President of  the Jung Institute of San Francisco, past vice-president and president of the International Association for Analytical Psychology. He has written numerous chapters in books on Analytical Psychology and is  Co-editor of the Jungian Section in the  International  Encyclopedia of Psychoanalysis, Psychology,and Neurology. He also is author of The Jungians, a social history of the Jungian movement and is co-editor of book: Initiation: The Reality of an Archetype. Dr. Kirsch has written  numerous book reviews and is a well known  lecturer on Jungian subjects. Most recently he has written the preface of a publication of the  correspondence between his father , Dr. James Kirsch who was a psychoanalyst  and Jung titled C.G. Jung/James Kirsch Correspondence, published by Routledge, London 2011. ( There are 150 letters between the two men.) Dr. Thomas Kirsch is in private practice in Palo Alto, California.

I would  would like to thank Dr. Kirsch for answering these questions for PsychiatryTalk-MB


A Dangerous Method

A new movie titled A Dangerous Method is reviewed. It is about Carl Gustav Jung played by Michael Fassbender. It also includes Sigmund Freud played by Viggo Mortensen and Sabina Spielrein , one of Jung’s patients, played by Keira Knightley.

A recently released movie is all about Carl Gustav Jung, his life, his theories and his various interactions including one with Sigmund Freud. It  as titled A Dangerous Method. I wrote a review of this film in a movie blog that I write with my wife titled

It is reproduced below. As always your comments are invited. In two weeks my next blog will feature an interview about this movie with Dr. Thomas Kirsch a Jungian analyst.

A Dangerous Method

As people who have some some acquaintance with  psychoanalytic theory and it’s history, we were drawn to want to see this movie. The psychiatrist among the two of us found it a more enjoyable experience although we both found many deficiencies in the movie. This movie, directed by David Cronenberg, with a screenplay by Christopher Hampton which came from a book by John Kerr, of course is based on real people and highlights the break between Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung who at one time Freud had thought would be his heir apparent to the psychoanalytic movement. The movie starts off in the early 1900s as a young women, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) is involuntarily brought to the Burgholzi, a  psychiatric hospital in Zurich, Switzerland, run by the famed Eugen Bleuler. Her exaggerated mannerisms and dramatic presentation suggests the type of “hysterical” patients who were known to be hospitalized in those days. Jung (Michael Fassbender) becomes her psychiatrist at the hospital and begins to use the new psychoanalytic method which Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) in Vienna has advocated. He ultimately is shown  becoming drawn into a sadomachistic sexual romantic affair with her. Jung travels to Vienna and meets with Freud several times in which they discuss theoretical issues as well as this patient. Over time Freud is depicted as becoming disenchanted with his previously highly regarded younger colleague. The reasons for this rift would appear to be Jung’s willingness to go beyond Freud’s concept of sexuality and psychic determinism and bring in such ideas as the supernatural, premonitions, telepathy, religion and many others that were not explained in much detail in the movie. In fact, the more well known ideas of Jung about the collective unconscious , symbolism and dream analysis were not very well clarified.

Carl Gustav Jung

Freud appeared to be concerned that any significant deviation from his main thesis and what he believed was the scientific method might be a reason for his theories to fail to gain wide acceptance. As best we can determine, in reality the actual affair between Jung and Speilrein was suspected, but historically it was  not universally agreed that it had actually occurred. In this movie it is shown that  Speilrein wrote to Freud and told him of her affair after Jung rejected her. Freud did not believe her and she subsequently is depicted as convincing Jung to acknowledge the affair to Freud who then gave this as an additional reason for cutting his ties with Jung. Once again Freud is very concerned about the appearance of his analytic movement and such behavior as an affair with one’s patient  at that time as well as at present would be highly unethical. The nature of the affair and the meaning of their attraction to each other is really a key part of this movie, whether it actually happened or not. The characters in their dialogue state that Jung, who is shown being torn by the relationship, views attraction to his patient to be  on the “dark side” and that with his wife on the “loving” side.  Yet he declares his undying  love for Spelrein and is bereft by her leaving him. We are not provided with real insight inot this relationship nor any significant understanding of Jung’s conflict. The film also does not do enough to explicate Jung’s ideas and their influence on Spielrein. While we more often proclaim that a movie should have been tightened up and shortened we believe this film needed a clearer illustration of the ideas that this story was supposed to be  about.  The acting in the film was very strong. The atmosphere of Freud’s office, the streets , people’s dress, horse drawn vehicles and early motor cars made it a wonderful period piece. But alas, as much as we were interested to learn about these people, we felt we came up short in our understanding as well as in caring about them.

Coming Soon : Q & A  About This Movie with Dr. Thomas Kirsch

The next PsychiatryTalk blog will feature a  special interview with  Dr. Thomas Kirsch, a psychoanalyst  and leading expert on Dr. Jung. In it Dr. Kirsch will discuss how well it depicted the various people in the movie as well as Jung’s theories.

Vienna Triangle-Review and Q&A with Author

A book titled “Vienna Triangle” by Brenda Webster is reviewed by Dr. Blumenfield. This novel examines the relationships between Sigmund Freud, Viktor Tausk, Lou Andreas-Salome and Helene Deutsch. Although it is a fictional account, it is based on the research by the author of the lives of these people and their interactions. It includes various love affairs, accusations of plagiarism and the role of Freud in the suicide of Tausk. Following the book review , Brenda Webster answers five questions asked of her by Dr. Blumenfield.

In the current issue of the Academy Forum published by The American Academy of Psychoanalysis and Dynamic Psychiatry there is a book review which I wrote of the book Vienna Triangle by Brenda Webster. Here is that book review followed by Take Five with the Author where I ask the author five questions .

Vienna Triangle by Brenda Webster

Published by Wings Press, San Antonio, Texas, 2009, Paperback $16.95

Helene Deutsch

The year is 1968. Helene Deutsch is 84 and, while vacationing in Provincetown, Massachusetts, meets Kate, a young woman who, by coincidence, is writing her PhD thesis at Columbia University about the early women analysts. Dr. Deutsch is one of the most prominent, well-known and respected early women psychoanalysts and who had been in analysis with Sigmund Freud himself. One thing leads to another and in the course of their now mentoring relationship Kate uncovers some previously hidden documents belonging to her mother and which shed light on a family secret that her mother had withheld from her. This secret was that her maternal grandfather was the well-known psychoanalyst Victor Tausk who had been part of Freud’s inner circle and who had committed suicide.

Kate becomes obsessed with trying to unearth the details of her grandfather’s life and to find out why he killed himself. Dr. Deutsch who knew Dr. Tausk and even briefly analyzed him, reflects on distant memories and begins to bring forth pieces of the puzzle. These details involve Tausk, Freud and the beautiful Lou Andreas-Salome. Kate also stumbles upon information that leads her to meet her two previously unknown uncles, sons of the late Dr. Tausk.

Author Brenda Webster uses this plot in her novel to explore and describe life in Vienna and the complicated interactions both inside and outside of Freud’s Inner Circle during the birth of psychoanalysis. The personalities of the cast of characters unfold. Freud the creator, the father figure, is portrayed as extremely protective of his newly developed “baby.” Tausk is described as a brilliant young man who is making important contributions to psychoanalysis but who feels he is not quite appreciated by the Master.  He develops a love affair with Salome who at the same time has become one of Freud’s favorite pupils. Young Helene Deutsch is making her own contributions about psychoanalytic theory and women at the same time that she is having her own love affairs. Freud does not grant Tausk’s request to be analyzed by him and instead refers him for analysis to Deutsch. There is a question about whether Freud’s harsh and rejecting treatment of Tausk contributed to his decision to take his life. Documents that purport to show Freud’s reaction to his junior colleague’s suicide do not paint a flattering picture of the leader of the psychoanalytic movement.

The characters in this book are interesting and well developed. There is love, romance, jealousy, rivalry, narcissism, loyalty, rejection, dedication to the cause, and the mysterious suicide of Tausk that contribute to making this a fine novel. It is a page-turner (or in my case a button pusher – I read books on the Kindle). This book should have strong appeal to all students of psychoanalytic and psychodynamic theory. It is well known that to fully grasp all of these ideas you need to go back to the streets of Vienna and the lives of the people who were bringing forth this revolutionary new understanding of human behavior.

However there may be a problem with this book. It is a novel. It is fiction. If you are thinking of reading it to understand the intricacies and nuances of the relationships that existed in Freud’s inner circle, shouldn’t you really be in the non-fiction aisle of your library, bookstore, or frame of mind (if you are buying online)?

Brenda Webster states the following in her authors note at the beginning of the book: “This is a work of fiction, not of history; nevertheless it is based on the lives and relationships of real people: Viktor Tausk, Sigmund Freud, Lou Andreas-Salome and Helene Deutsch. I have attempted not to violate the known facts, but have invented diaries, dialogs and secondary characters in order to bring the actors, their ideas and passions to full imaginative life.” This is an ambivalent statement. She says that it does not violate the known facts and yet all sorts of things have been invented.

In the author’s afterword she further elaborates that an important letter mentioned in the book from Freud to Andreas-Salome after Tausk’s suicide is genuine, as are her responses to it. (This is one of the documents to which I referred to above.)  Webster also cites Kurt Eissler’s writings that she says defended Freud’s treatment of Tausk. This suggests that she made efforts to found the main premise of the book on as much fact as possible.

My advice to potential readers is as follows: If you have been around the block and studied the history of psychoanalysis to the point where you are satisfied with what you know, or if you don’t really care about who said what or who was jealous of whom etc., then consider reading this enjoyable and interesting novel. It is fun thinking about these people even if many of the facts, attributions and nuances may not be correct. However, if you are a new student of psychoanalytic theory and want to learn more about these historical figures and how they interacted while coming forth with these ideas, hold off reading this novel. I suggest instead, that you read some of the many historical accounts, biographies and diaries, which are available about this period of time and these important people. Ask your teachers and mentors for suggestions, in particular about areas of your interest. By the time the movie comes around of this intriguing plot, if they ever decide to make one, you will be ready for this version of the story.

Take Five with the Author

Questions for Brenda Webster author of Vienna Triangle

Brenda Webster

Dr. B.: What attracted your interest to these  characters and the birth of the psychoanalytic movement?

B.W.: I had written two previous books of psychoanalytic criticism and a memoir chronicling my history in therapy  and had no intention of doing more. Then one day I was reading about how the great Goethe sucked the life out of people close to him and used them for his own purposes. This made me think of Freud and Viktor Tausk. I wondered if genius couldn’t tolerate the existence of great talent in its vicinity and I was off and running.

Dr. B.: On one hand you emphasize in the author’s notes at the beginning of the book,  that this is a work of fiction, not history, but on the other hand you note that you have attempted not to violate the known facts. Is the story your best guess as to what was the nature of the relationships which you wrote about or is it rather an attempt to write a fanciful interesting novel ?

B.W.: As I researched my story—and I read everything I could get my hands on from background material to biographies of Deutsch, Lou Salome, Tausk and Freud—I came to feel that Freud played an important role in Tausk’s suicide.and subsequent cover up. I had no impulse to write a polemical book. (My analyst Kurt Eissler had written two books defending Freud) I wanted to explore what happened, to re-create the people and the situations to decide for myself what motivated them. Fiction was from the beginning a way of gaining imaginative insight.

Dr. B.: In the story, you show Freud as using Tausk’s ideas without crediting him . As a writer yourself, do you view this as a particularly immoral act or do you believe that things like this can happen without malicious intent?

B.W.:I think that writers often borrow from each other but in the case of Freud and Tausk there was so much emotional freight behind the borrowing. Each man accusing  the other of not giving credit that it took on a more sinister coloring.

Dr.B.: Can you picture this book as a movie and would you like to share your ideas as to which actors and actresses might best capture the spirit of your story ?

B.W.:Yes, I can picture it as a movie. The first thing the Freud  scholar Paul Roazen said when he read my early draft was that it would make a terrific movie. I don’t keep up with contemporary actors but I think someone like Helen Bonam Carter would be good for Lou. Both sexy and super intellectual.

Dr.B.: Where will you be taking your readers in your next book?

B.W.:I am working on a play with a New York Producer/director that carries on my interest in Freud and his circle. So far it has been an exciting experience