The Shrink Princess

Marie Bonaparte: A Life

by Celia Bertin
A Helen and Kurt Wolff Book/Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 286 pp., $17.95

Marie Bonaparte
Marie Bonaparte; drawing by David Levine

Some years ago I read the first volume of Marie Bonaparte’s autobiography, A la Mémoire des disparus (1953), which ended with her marriage to Prince George of Greece in 1907. The narrative—1,004 pages in all—struck me as one of the most absorbing memoirs I had ever read. It is the story of a lonely girl brought up in an atmosphere of suspicion, lovelessness, and aspirations to grandeur. I longed to read the second volume, which purportedly contained an account of her analysis with Freud and her efforts to save him from the Nazis, but I was unable to trace a copy of it.

I then went on to read her five copybooks, written between the ages of seven and ten, but wholly forgotten until she discovered them when she went through family papers after her father’s death in 1924; and I continued my investigations into the part she played in the founding of the French psychoanalytic movement and her role in the stormy events after the war when Jacques Lacan resigned from the Paris Society.

It occurred to me that a fascinating biography could be written of this woman. When I discussed the matter with Anna Freud in late 1979, she told me that the second volume of the autobiography was “totally inaccessible.” She didn’t specify its location. She added that a biography could be written only when the people concerned wanted it to be written. Since difficulties usually accompany the writing of biography, I simply went my own way. I read as much as I could, made numerous trips to Paris, meeting both there and in London with as many analysts as possible who knew or had worked with the princess or who had written on the history of the psychoanalytic movement. Almost all of these people were generous and cooperative, although some were outspoken in expressing the view that they did not think her intellectual stature was sufficient to warrant the time and attention required for a serious book, despite the important part she had played in Freud’s life.

Among the first questions one asks when embarking on a biography are where are the papers deposited, and who owns the copyright. I learned of the restrictive embargo on Freud’s papers in the Library of Congress. I then wrote to its manuscript division, which I had found remarkably helpful in the past. I subsequently received a letter from the acting chief, dated August 29, 1980:

I enclose a complimentary photocopy of the register of Marie Bonaparte’s papers. You will see that, according to the wishes of the donor, access to the collection is totally restricted until the year 2020.

There are Bonaparte materials in the Sigmund Freud Collection, but these are in the portion of the collection which is totally restricted, again according to the wishes of the donors for varying lengths of time.

He enclosed a…

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