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  • Muriel Gardiner and the Wolf Man:Preserving a Legacy
  • Erika Schmidt (bio)

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Sergei Pankejeff


"From the History of an Infantile Neurosis" (1918) holds a place of special importance in the psychoanalytic canon. In this text, which recounts the story of Sergei Pankejeff's analysis, Freud presents his theory of infantile sexuality, traces the steps in the making of a neurosis, and demonstrates the way psychoanalytic technique uncovers the unconscious meaning [End Page 513] of symptoms that leads to a cure. Known as the Wolf Man for his iconic childhood dream, Pankejeff ended his analysis in 1914, just before the outbreak of World War I, and Freud had considered him cured. In reality, he had only achieved a modicum of stability; throughout the rest of his life, the Wolf Man suffered from recurrent depressive symptoms, was easily dysregulated, and depended on the support from therapists and the analytic community. This community functioned as something of a holding environment, and the Wolf Man took pride in his identity as Freud's most famous patient.

The story of the Wolf Man's treatment documented the revolutionary potential of Freud's theory and technique, and represented the possibilities of the analytic process. The standard bearers within the analytic community tried to ensure that he exemplify this living documentation of Freud's theory and technique, even though they recognized his precarious psychological stability. The Wolf Man had three additional periods of analysis, one with Freud and two with Ruth Mack Brunswick. An important role in his life after his analytic experience was played by Muriel Gardiner, who proffered friendship, financial support, and a continuing link to the psychoanalytic world. Gardiner's friendship with Anna Freud, who was devoting herself to preserving her father's legacy, reinforced her interest in maintaining the Wolf Man's reputation. In this paper, I tell the story of Muriel Gardiner and how she came to be one of the Wolf Man's most significant friends and patrons.

The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship

Muriel Gardiner's relationship to the Wolf Man began innocuously enough in Vienna in 1929. Her analyst, Ruth Mack Brunswick, introduced them when Gardiner decided she wanted to learn to speak Russian. Mack Brunswick had worked with the Wolf Man and knew that he could usethe additional income. Gardiner was involved in left-wing politics since her days at Wellesley College and had a vague future plan to visit the Soviet Union. To prepare herself, she began Russian lessons with Sergei Pankejeff. She wrote: [End Page 514]

He and I had drunk tea together every Wednesday afternoon while he patiently tried to teach me Russian [. . .] after devoting a conscientious hour to Russian grammar, we would relax and talk about more interesting things: Dostoevsky, Freud, or the French Impressionists [. . .] I always enjoyed and profited by his acute observations which grew out of a really deep understanding of human nature, art, and psychoanalysis.

(Gardiner, 1971, p. 311)

When she entered medical school in 1932, Gardiner no longer had time to continue Russian lessons, but saw the Wolf Man periodically in his professional capacity as an insurance salesman.

Her impression of him was much different after their meeting in 1938, a few months after the Nazi takeover of Austria:

I came face to face with the Wolf Man on one of the busy Vienna streets. He did not greet me in his usual polite and ceremonious manner, but began to cry and wring his hands and pour out a flood of words which because of his excitement and his sobbing were utterly unintelligible. Alarmed that he was making us conspicuous on the street, at a time when this was not only inadvisable but even dangerous, I asked him to walk the few steps with me to my apartment where we could talk in privacy.

(Gardiner, 1971, p. 311)

There Gardiner learned that his wife had recently committed suicide. In those early days of the Nazi regime, there was an upsurge in the number of suicides for political reasons, if someone were Jewish, or involved in dangerous political work. But this was not the case for them; in fact, Pankejeff "scarcely even knew...


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