The Clinical Diary of Sándor Ferenczi
In the mythology surrounding Freud’s early career, Sándor Ferenczi has emerged as the most lovable and generous of Freud’s close colleagues, a man whose personal qualities contrast with the deviousness of Ernest Jones, the aloofness of Karl Abraham, and the knotted-up character of Otto Rank. While it has generally been acknowledged that Ferenczi was for years Freud’s favorite disciple, he has been regarded with suspicion for his experiments in psychoanalytic technique; and it has been assumed that his mind deteriorated in the years before his death in 1933.
Such charges were circulated mainly by Ernest Jones in his biography of Freud. Jones was fiercely jealous of the closeness of the relationship between Ferenczi and Freud. In 1913 Freud made it clear that he wanted Jones to be analyzed by Ferenczi. Not unnaturally Jones didn’t welcome Ferenczi’s becoming privy to the irregularities of his sexual life. These had caused Freud some alarm, particularly since he needed a gentile to replace Jung after the latter’s defection and Jones was the only candidate available. “Put some stuffing in the clown,” Freud advised Ferenczi, “so we can make him a king.” When Jones was writing his life of Freud, he was given access to the Freud–Ferenczi correspondence and it must have come as a shock to him to learn how much Freud had distrusted him. Consequently he omitted passages from letters he quoted, thus creating a false impression about Ferenczi.
That Ferenczi’s important contributions have not been sufficiently acknowledged cannot be laid on Jones’s shoulders alone. Freud, as he grew older, became increasingly intolerant of views differing from his own, and he did not hesitate to claim that such differences had pathological sources. Moreover, Freud frequently described the same people and events very differently to various correspondents.
During the 1980s an important reevaluation of Ferenczi has been taking place, particularly by French scholars, led by the Coq-Heron Group in Paris, of which Dr. Judith Dupont is a leading member. Dr. Dupont has recently edited a superb edition of Ferenczi’s clinical diary, written in the last year of his life (1932), in which we learn for the first time Ferenczi’s own reasons for the controversial experimental methods he used in his therapeutic work.
We also learn something of his background. His father, Baruch Frankel, was born in Poland in 1830. As a young man he moved to Hungary, where he took an active part in the nationalist uprising against the Habsburgs in 1848. After the insurrection was put down he and his wife (also of Polish-Jewish extraction) settled in a provincial town where they established a bookshop, then a printing press, and a booking agency for concert tours. Their home was the intellectual center of the region, constantly filled with people, despite the fact that they had eleven children, of which Sándor, the fifth son, was born in 1873. During this period they changed their…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!
Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.