THE SECRET RING by Phyllis Grosskurth


Freud's Inner Circle and th Politics of Psychoanalysis
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 Aided by previously undisclosed correspondence, Grosskurth (Havelock Ellis, 1980, etc.; Humanities and Psychoanalytic Thought/Univ. of Toronto) takes the story of the brilliant, wildly neurotic men who contrived to safeguard Freudian thought and turns it into an intriguing psychological saga-cum-tragicomedy of manners. The Secret Committee, conceived in 1912 as a united front against the apostasy of Carl Jung and sealed by Freud's bestowal of antique intaglios, became, notes Grosskurth, ``a metaphor for the psychoanalytic movement itself...a cult of personality'' with Freud acting as both ``guru'' and distant, demanding father. Avidly submitting one another (and assorted romantic interests) to frequently scathing and self-justifying formal and informal analyses, Austrians Otto Rank and Hans Sachs, Hungarian Sandor Ferenczi, German Karl Abraham, and Welshman Ernest Jones, joined later by Russian-born German Max Eitingon, functioned as ``surrogate sons'' within a strikingly dysfunctional family--marked by sabotage, manipulation, and ``aggressively infantile'' jostling. Treating her story as a study of group pathology, Grosskurth uses pointed quotes to show how all of her subjects, especially Freud, used jargon as a cover for real feeling. Sadder still was the adored Freud's puzzling lack of support (he refused to be ``burdened'' by the ideas of others) and human empathy (e.g., failing to comprehend the sensitive Ferenczi's sorrow at his mother's death). Inevitably, as Freud predicted in Totem and Taboo, the anointed sons went their own ways, with, ironically, Freud's biological child, Anna, emerging as his staunchest defender. More emotionally involving, though less theoretically acute, than Janet Sayers's study of the overlapping generation of women psychoanalysts (Mothers of Psychoanalysis--reviewed next issue), the work suffers from a curious reticence. Grosskurth avoids some potentially interesting paths (e.g., Freud's gelid relationship with his own sons) and develops her conclusions so carefully that they become anticlimactic. Nevertheless, a worthy stab at piercing the web of ``mythology, gossip, and rumor'' surrounding the early Freudians.

Pub Date: Oct. 17th, 1991
ISBN: 0-201-09037-6
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Addison-Wesley
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1991