A Mind of Her Own: The Life of Karen Horney
Karen Horney arrived in the United States in 1932, among the first European psychoanalytic émigrés. A leading member of the Berlin Psychoanalytic Society (and one of its few gentiles), she had already established a reputation as remarkably outspoken in her views on female sexuality. Less than a decade later she was dismissed from the New York Psychoanalytic Society for not adhering to the rigid views of the American group. She has long been seen as one of the founders of the school of psychoanalysis emphasizing environmental rather than biological causes of neurosis. It is only within the last twenty years that contemporary feminists have begun to recognize her as one of their early supporters.
In 1978 Jack Rubins published a life of Horney whose subtitle, “Gentle Rebel of Psychoanalysis,” suggests the somewhat sanitized version of an uncritical admirer. Susan Quinn’s book describes a shrewd, ebullient, self-centered woman and gives a clear exposition of the development of her theories. It also traces the unedifying history of American psychoanalytic politics. She has written an excellent book, sophisticated in its judgments, and with a candor that does justice to her courageous subject.
Karen Danielsen was born on September 15, 1885, in a suburb of Hamburg. Her father was a middle-aged steamship captain and her mother was sixteen years his junior. As the daughter of a Dutch architect she never forgot that she had married beneath her status. There were temperamental difficulties as well. Wackels Danielsen, a zealous Lutheran, from time to time descended on his easygoing household like the wrath of God. Karen also had an older brother, Berndt, adored by his mother. Rubins is perhaps more satisfactory than Quinn in linking Horney’s later theories to her early awareness of the preferential treatment the family accorded to Berndt.
Quinn relies heavily on Horney’s Adolescent Diaries published a few years ago. Horney started writing these when she was thirteen and continued pouring her thoughts into them intermittently until her mid-twenties. “How I come to be writing a diary,” the youthful Horney announces, “is easy to explain: it’s because I am enthusiastic about everything new, and I have decided now to carry this through so that in later years I can better remember the days of my youth.”
One of the central themes of her adolescence was her passion for her teacher, Herr Schulze, on whom she bestowed all the love she was unable to give to her unbending father. After one of the frequent interminable family quarrels, she wrote: “I can’t respect that man who makes us all unhappy with his dreadful hypocrisy, selfishness, crudeness, and illbreeding, etc.” In 1904 her mother finally made the momentous decision to leave her husband for good.
The separation did not have a significant effect on Horney since she was about to embark on a life of her own. In 1906 she entered the Medical School at Freiburg, the only woman in her class. Despite fierce opposition from their faculties, German universities were …
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