MARIE BONAPARTE: A Biography by Celia Bertin


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Conscientiously detailed but unfocused, literate but unstylish, this well-researched biography never really seems to make up its mind about Marie Bonaparte--royal princess, liberated woman, Freudian disciple, female-sexuality theorist. . .and/or lifelong neurotic. Her mother died soon after Marie was born. Her father--grand-nephew of Napoleon--was a miserly, snobbish sadist. Her grandmother (who raised her) was unloving. So wealthy little Marie grew up circa 1890 with ""resentment toward all men,"" a hunger for a loving father, and sexual ambivalence (promiscuity, frigidity)--all of which were exacerbated by an arranged wedding to benign Prince George of Greece, a committed (if latent) homosexual. Nonetheless, the marriage lasted, producing two children; Marie was free to pursue fairly joyless affairs--with French Premier Briand, among others. Then, in the mid-1920s, Marie ""finally found the ideal father"": Sigmund Freud, with whom she had a sometimes-remarkable analysis and a longterm friendship. (The frigidity remained, however--and Marie tried surgery, three times, in her obsessive quest to cure it;) And soon, to some extent liberated from female career-repression, Marie developed her own practice as a lay analyst: she led the Freudians of Paris, later battling with the Lacan contingent; she crusaded for lay analysis; and, though perhaps most famed for receiving patients while ""in bed, dressed in filmy peignoirs,"" she wrote extensively--Female Sexuality, most notably. (""She remained an orthodox Freudian, but her experience as a therapist and her personal experience combined with her lucid imagination had enabled her to write pages that ought not to be neglected by women today."") Unfortunately, Bertin never succeeds in shaping this intriguing material into persuasive psycho-biography. Nor is the narrative selective or sprightly enough to provide rich diversion. Still, those interested in psychoanalytic history will want to read into the book's livelier second half. And others will find the highly varied content here--numerous kinks and scandals, early feminism, dabs of royalty--intermittently rewarding.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1982
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich