Friend to Freud

The Freud Journal of Lou Andreas-Salome

translated by Stanley A. Leavy
Basic Books, 211 pp., $4.95

Lou Andreas-Salomé was the mistress of Nietzsche and of Rilke, and a pupil, friend, and confidante of Freud. She was a sentimental tourist, and she had a flair for finding those points of interest which, in any guide book to her times, would be marked with the words “vaut bien le détour.” She can be seen as one of the “free spirits” of late romanticism, a voracious adorer, a Rebecca West who urged men of intellect to assert their powers, and particularly their powers of intellectual destruction. Shaw, converting the heroines of Ibsen into figures of high comedy, would have been delighted by her. Her writings on the then fashionable topics of femininity and narcissism are often murky and tiresome, as romanticized biology is apt to be; they fall into a half-world of new thought, which is neither literature nor science. But the evidence of this book shows that the picture of her we have had so far has been incomplete.

There is an easy explanation of the interest that she aroused in such diverse men of genius: simply that she was an extraordinarily intelligent woman. She could grasp new ideas with a quite unfeigned clarity; she could immediately see connections which others could not yet see. She was therefore able to relieve the loneliness of men who had long taken it for granted that they would always be misunderstood, and therefore feared, even if the fear was masked by reverence. Freud was wholly at ease with her. She was quite free from the envy that any extravagance of imagination, or of intellectual power arouses in most people. Her biographers, and biographers of Nietzsche, may speculate that her envy was of the other, the sexual kind. This cannot be known.

But this Journal, written during her association with Freud in the years 1912-1913, when Lou Andreas-Salomé was fifty years old, shows a precocious understanding of his purposes and methods which naturally amazed him. He directed his lectures at her, solicited her comments afterwards, and was dismayed whenever she could not attend. Though the story of her relations with Nietzsche is well known, the story of Freud’s lectures in Vienna, of the discussions of the disciples, walking home in the snow after the lectures, of the formation of groups and selection of favorites, of the crossing of the lines of loyalty involved in knowing Jung and Stekel—all this is not so well known. The atmosphere of the middle years of the founding of psychoanalysis in Vienna—something that is largely missing from Ernest Jones’s biography, and even from Freud’s published letters—is alive in this Journal.

Behind the gossip and anecdotes, often in themselves delightful, some of Freud’s own uncertainties are revealed. One sees more clearly why his tentative speculation was so often converted into hard doctrine: why he found it necessary to be so absolute in insisting on his theoretical distinctions, even when the clinical evidence, still minute in quantity, evidently left many alternatives open …

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