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American Imago 61.1 (2004) 120-127



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Analyzing Freud: Letters of H.D., Bryher and Their Circle. Edited by Susan Stanford Friedman. New York: New Directions, 2002. 615 pp. $39.95.

From March 1, 1933, just a month after Hitler became Chancellor in Germany, to June 12, 1933, and again from October 31, 1934 to December 2, 1934, the poet Hilda Doolittle—H.D.—was analyzed by Sigmund Freud in Vienna. The analysis, for a "trial period" (8), was arranged and paid for by H.D.'s intimate friend and sometime lover, Bryher, born Annie Winifred Ellerman, the illegitimate daughter of Britain's wealthiest shipping magnate. Bryher's marriage to Kenneth Macpherson in 1927 had enabled H.D. to continue her affair with Macpherson while Bryher and Macpherson adopted H.D.'s daughter Perdita, who was fathered in 1919 by Cecil Gray while H.D. was married to Richard Aldington. The ménage à trois between H.D., Bryher, and Macpherson—one of many triangles in H.D.'s life—was beginning to break up during H.D.'s analytic period with Freud, with each of the three forming another pair, as Bryher became infatuated with the famous actress Elizabeth Bergner, Macpherson took up with David Wickham, a young Barbadian suffering from tuberculosis, and H.D. entered her multileveled relationship with Freud. Freud was nearing his seventy-seventh birthday; H.D. was forty-six. A severe writing block jeopardized her identity and reputation as a poet.

These bare facts only hint at the fluid bonds, instabilities, and remarkable continuities at play in the 307 letters gathered by Susan Stanford Friedman in Analyzing Freud. These letters were written between 1932 and 1937. H.D. would later return repeatedly to her experience with Freud: in a poem, "The Master" (written in 1935 but not published until after her death), The Gift (written in 1941-43), Tribute to Freud (written in 1944), and "Advent" (written in 1948). Friedman has organized the letters as a drama in two acts, with a prologue, an interlude between acts, an epilogue, and a coda. She supplies a lucid introduction, week-by-week summaries, copious informative notes, and pages of illustrations and biographical sketches of the main characters in the drama. She [End Page 120] even gives us a helpful list of the many pet names and habits of abbreviation in the letters. Especially when placed along side H.D.'s later writings about her experience of Freud and psychoanalysis, Analyzing Freud resembles another important recent study of the interplay of history and memory, Mark Roseman's A Past in Hiding: Memory and Survival in Nazi Germany (2000). Using documents, photographs, letters and interviews, Roseman, an historian, reconstructs the life of a courageous young Jewish woman, Marianne Straus, before and during the Holocaust. Friedman's meticulous dedication to biographical and historical detail has produced a similar contribution of value for students of the history of psychoanalysis and the early Nazi period as well as for devotees of H.D. and her literary circle.

There is extremely little resemblance to the literature of the Holocaust, however, in the style and most of the content of these letters. They are replete with playful intimacies, daily news, travel plans, and literary gossip, as well as observations about Vienna, Freud, his family, and the psychoanalytic world. Animal nicknames and images seem to be everywhere, and the letters between H.D. and Bryher read amusingly at times like an allegorical rendering of self-states, with Bryher's "tail-upcurling-with-excitement" (125) at H.D.'s report of one of Freud's pronouncements, or H.D.'s description of Freud "chewing on his whiskers" (115) over her mystical vision in Corfu. Bryher seeks a "dog-collar" (164), permission to practice as an analyst, and writes that she "wagged [her] tail off" (419) at the analysts quarreling at the Swiss congress in 1934. For her part, H.D. writes, "I have had every nerve in my whole tale (tail) exposed by papa [Freud] in this ps-a [psychoanalysis]" (473).

The letters between H...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1085-7931
Print ISSN
0065-860X
Pages
pp. 120-127
Launched on MUSE
2004-04-08
Open Access
No
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