Sigmund Freud and The Interpretation of Dreams (1900)
Julia Lockheart's illustrations of dreams are drawn onto pages from Freud's (1900) book The Interpretation of Dreams. We use this book because of its importance in the field of scientific dream research. Although there are issues with some of Freud's conclusions, such as that dreams act to preserve sleep, and that they attempt to depict unconscious wishes, his method of free association has been used in many scientific studies of the waking life sources of dream content. An example of the use of the method of associating to dream images to find waking life memory sources is from Baylor and Cavallero (2001); https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11247052
Our aim in the DreamsID procedure is to explore more fully the memory sources that might lie behind a dream, and to explore the effects of having an artwork that is a reminder of that dream. Freud described dreams as 'The Royal Road to the Unconscious'. That might be going too far, but, as dreams often depict emotional matters from waking life (see the Science related posts page on this), the dream images might still be insightful when considered and discussed, just as Freud was claiming.
The book pictured above details the background to Freud's case study that followed the publication of The Interpretation of Dreams, the famous 'Dora' case, in which Freud interpreted two dreams that Dora told him.
The two dreams in Freud’s (1905) Fragments of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria (‘Dora’)
(Draft of chapter to be published in the forthcoming Routledge book The Science and Art of Dreaming, by Blagrove and Lockheart.)
This chapter argues that the two dreams of ‘Dora’, told as part of her analysis with Sigmund Freud at the end of 1900, are poignant depictions of the distress, abuse and hopes in her life. The argument is that this can be seen clearly from Dora’s free associations to her dreams. Unfortunately, these interpretations of her dreams, although present in Freud’s account of the analysis, are overshadowed in the case study by the highly speculative further interpretations of the dreams by Freud, which derive from Freud’s own associations. The ‘Dora’ case study is widely seen as reflecting very badly on Freud, with the emphasis put on Dora’s heroic rejection of Freud by her staying in analysis for only 11 weeks. Dora is rightly seen as a feminist hero. She was, however, a hero who had two captivating dreams, told to Freud, who interpreted and recorded them. Dora was 17 years old when treatment started. She had developed in childhood possible hysterical symptoms of migraines, loss of voice and a chronic cough. Her father had arranged for her to see Freud due to her health, but also because he was having an affair with a woman, Frau K., and he wished Dora to halt her ‘hatred’ of Herr and Frau K. (Freud, 1905, p.57). Dora is now known to be Ida Bauer, born in 1883, and her father the Viennese industrialist and entrepreneur Philipp Bauer (Decker, 1971). Ida Bauer is referred to as Dora for the majority of this essay so as to be consistent with Freud (1905), and page numbers refer to that paper. Freud (1905), Fragments of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria (‘Dora’), was the first case study of Freud that involved the interpretation of dreams, and had a draft title Dreams and Hysteria (p.39). In The Interpretation of Dreams, the dreams are usually excerpts, with only brief details given of the dreamer’s life. In the Dora case study there is a much fuller description of Dora’s background and experiences and of the relationships of these to the two dreams, this is documented not only by Freud in the case-study itself, with some remarkable or unknowing honesty, but in historical (e.g., Decker, 1971) and feminist (e.g., Bernheimer & Kahane, 1990) accounts of the case that, to many, do not reflect well on Freud. This enables us to contrast instances where free-association does seem to elucidate or find meaning in a dream, with instances that seem more contrived or motivated by other considerations.
Timeline (from Freud, 1905. Page numbers refer to Freud, 1905) 1st November 1882, Dora is born at an apartment on the Berggasse, Vienna. 1895 – Dora’s father, Philipp, and Frau K. commence an affair. Spring 1896 – Herr K. invites Dora to his office to see a church festival, he kisses her, she escapes. June 1998 – Dora and Philipp go to the K.’s house near a lake in the Alps; Herr K. propositions Dora after a boat trip on the lake, she slaps him. For four nights she has the burning house dream; after the fourth night she leaves with her father. Her parents refuse to believe what happened on the lake, siding with Herr K., who denies it. 1898 – 1900 – Dora begs her father to break off the friendship with the K.s, seeing herself as ‘handed over to Herr K. as the price of his tolerating the relations between her father and his wife.’ (p.66.) October 1900, Philipp tells Freud that Dora’s ‘phantasy’ of the scene by the lake is causing her to be depressed, and that she is pressing him to break off relations with the K.’s. He asks Freud to ‘bring her to reason.’ (p.57.) Dora starts to see Freud. November/December 1900, six weeks into treatment, Dora again has the burning house dream. Night of 27 – 28th December 1900, Dora has her second dream, which is discussed in three sessions with Freud. 31st December 1900, Dora leaves analysis.
The first dream (p.99): ‘A house was on fire. My father was standing beside my bed and woke me up. I dressed quickly. Mother wanted to stop and save her jewel-case; but Father said “I refuse to let myself and my two children be burnt for the sake of your jewel-case.” We hurried downstairs, and as soon as I was outside I woke up.’
For her first free-association, Dora spoke about how recently her father and mother had been having a dispute, because her father did not want her mother to lock the dining room door at night, as her brother’s room could only be reached through the dining-room. Her father said, ‘something might happen in the night, so that it might be necessary to leave the room’ (p.100), and this had made Dora think of fire. She then free-associated to the time when they arrived to stay with the K.s. Her father was afraid of fire in the K.s’ small wooden house because of a violent thunderstorm. She also said that the recurrent dream started after the scene by the lake. She stayed at the K.s’ house for four more nights, on each night dreaming the same dream. Freud concluded that the dream, when it first occurred, was an immediate effect of Dora’s experience with Herr K. at the lake. Dora gave another free-association, that after returning with Herr K. from the lake she had gone to lie down in her bedroom to have a short sleep, but suddenly awoke to see Herr K. standing beside her. Freud’s reply was ‘… just as you saw your father standing beside your bed in the dream?’ (p.101) to which Dora said ‘yes’, and that this episode with Herr K. had put her on her guard. The next morning she had locked herself in while dressing but later that day the key to the room she was staying in was gone, and she believed that Herr K. had removed it. Freud observed that the theme of locking or not locking a room also appeared in the exciting cause of the recent recurrence of the dream. Freud next asked about the I dressed quickly phrase in the dream. Dora replied that she had made up her mind not to remain at the K.’s without her father, as she felt afraid that Herr K. would surprise her while she was dressing, ‘so I always dressed very quickly.’ (p.102.) Freud replied: ‘I understand. On the afternoon of the day after the scene in the wood you formed your intention of escaping from his persecution, and during the second, third, and fourth nights you had time to repeat that intention in your sleep.’ (p.102.) Freud then asked about the jewel-case. Dora replied that, a year before the dream first occurred, her father and mother had a great dispute about a piece of jewellery he had bought her, which she did not want: ‘She was furious, and told him that as he had spent so much money on a present she did not like he had better give it to someone else.’ (p.104.) (Dora stated that her father would indeed give jewellery to her mother and herself as cover for when he was giving jewellery to Frau K.; p.65.) Dora also said that Herr K. had given her an expensive jewel-case a little time before. To this, Freud responded: ‘Then a return-present would have been very appropriate’, and that jewel-case ‘is a favourite expression’ for female genitals (p.105). Dora replied ‘I knew you would say that.’ Although Freud here alludes to his conclusion that Dora was unconsciously in love with Herr K., his speculation that the jewel-case, which is in danger in the dream, is a reference to Dora’s genitals, is plausible. For in waking life she indeed was in danger. An equally plausible possibility is that her father’s dismissing of Dora’s mother and her jewel-case in the dream refer to the lack of sexual relations in their unhappy marriage, and refers to her as a person ‘whose peculiarities made the house unbearable for every one.’ (p.57.)
Freud stated that the meaning of the dream was: ‘This man is persecuting me, he wants to force his way into my room. My “jewel-case” is in danger, and if anything happens it will be Father’s fault.’ (p.105.) But Freud then built upon his own phrase of ‘return-present’ so as to add ‘you are summoning up your old love for your father in order to protect yourself against your love for Herr K.’ (p.106.) Of this, Freud states, ‘Naturally Dora would not follow me in this part of the interpretation.’ (p.106.) He then proceeded, in the next session, to give his associations to the phrase ‘that it might be necessary to leave the room; that an accident might happen in the night’. (p.106.) He linked fire to water and wetted and then to bed-wetting and the need to wake children in the night to stop this occurring. He continued speculating on childhood links, concluding that the ‘essence of the dream’ is ‘the temptation is so strong. Dear Father, protect me again as you used to in my childhood, and prevent my bed from being wetted.’ (p.109.) However, it is important to note here that these words (… happen in the night) were not part of Dora’s dream, they were a free-association of Dora’s to which Freud was now making his own associations. Dora then remembered that, at the K.s’, ‘each time after waking up she had smelt smoke’ and that ‘Herr K. and her father were passionate smokers … and Herr K. had rolled a cigarette for her before he began his unlucky proposal.’ (p.109.) Whereas these recollections show additional reason to use fire in the dream to represent danger, Freud proceeds to speculate further, that the smell of smoke ‘was probably related to the thoughts which were the most obscurely presented and the most successfully repressed in the dream, to the thoughts, that is, concerned with the temptation to show herself willing to yield to the man. If that were so, this addendum to the dream could scarcely mean anything else than the longing for a kiss, which, with a smoker, would necessarily smell of smoke.’ (pp.109-110.) Again, it is important to note that ‘smell of smoke’ is not part of the dream, yet Freud associates to it and speculates from it to arrive at the thought of Dora wishing to kiss Herr K. Despite these extrapolations by Freud, his initial interpretations of the dream do show how it is a poignant depiction of the situation Dora found herself in at Herr K.’s (a situation that Freud saw as persecution), and of her wish to be rescued by her father. However, rather than relying only on her free-associations to the dream, Freud claimed that there was also ‘temptation to yield to the man, out of gratitude for the love and tenderness he had shown her during the last few years’ (p.123), but based this on his own associations, and not even to the dream, but to Dora’s associations about the dream. This should serve as warning to speculations becoming unbounded, and showing more relevance to the beliefs of the analyst/therapist rather than the associations of the client/analysand. Freud correctly notes that in the first dream ‘it was necessary to put on one side a certain thought which stood in the way; but it was her father himself who had brought her into the danger’ and that ‘this was, as we shall discover, one of the motive forces of the second dream.’ (p.127.) This essay thus now addresses the second dream, for which we must note that, after the four occurrences of the fire dream at Herr K.’s house, Dora had confronted her father about his affair and about Herr K.’s actions, and he had dismissed her concerns. Contrary to the wish expressed in the first dream, when dreamt at the K.s’, he was thus not going to rescue her, and had instead sent her to see Freud, to ‘bring her to reason.’ (p.57.)
In the second dream Dora is walking in a town that she doesn’t know, seeing streets and squares, with a monument in one of the squares. She goes to where she lives in the town and finds a letter from her mother, saying that as Dora had left home without her parents’ knowledge she had not written to say that her father is ill, and writes to say that he has now died. On the way to the train station Dora sees a wood and declines a man’s offer to accompany her to the station. She sees the station and is then at her parent’s home, where a maidservant tells her that the family is already at the cemetery. (pp.133-134, summarised here due to length of the dream.)
Dora’s associations (pp.134-139) were:
Strange town, streets, square and monument: At Christmas, a few days before, Dora had been sent an album of views of a German health-resort, and on the day before the dream had shown it to relatives. It was from a young engineer she knew who had gone there to work, and who wrote often to her.
Wandering around a strange town: She had once visited Dresden, wandered alone, and declined a male cousin’s offer to be her guide.
She had seen her father look tired and ill at a family gathering the previous evening and wondered how long he would live.
Letter: She had once written a suicide letter to her parents. The letter in the dream had a phrase from a letter from Frau K. inviting the family to their house by the lake.
Woods and a man: The shore of the lake where she had had the scene with Herr K. had woods, and afterwards she had spoken to a man there for directions.
These associations point to a wish or wondering about a life on her own, away from her family, but also the dangers of being away from home, with association also to the K.s, and to her concern for her father’s health. After these free-associations Dora remembered that when in the dream she arrived at her parent’s house she ‘went calmly to her room, and began reading a big book that lay on her writing table’ (p.140), the book being in ‘encyclopaedia format.’ Freud’s association to this was that she had read forbidden sexual matters in an encyclopaedia when young, and that in the dream she is asserting her freedom to do so on her father’s death. Dora’s free-association was of reading in an encyclopaedia about symptoms that a cousin had, and that she had once had symptoms of appendicitis after her aunt’s death. This occurred nine months after the scene on the lake, leading Freud to conclude that the appendicitis symptoms were a ‘phantasy of childbirth’ (p.143), and telling Dora ‘”your love for Herr K. did not come to an end with the scene … it has persisted down to the present day - though it is true that you are unconscious of it.” – And Dora disputed the fact no longer.’ (pp.144-145.) As with the first dream, Dora’s free-associations do lead to plausible waking life causes and meaning of the dream, of living independently and of her father dying, but again Freud associates to a waking life memory that she brings forth, so as to again demonstrate the love he says she has, unconsciously, for Herr K. The two dreams thus may poignantly reveal Dora’s hope of rescue by her father, and then her wish for an independent life in another town, and fears for her father. This may have been so clear to Dora that it may explain why, after two hours of the second dream being ‘elucidated’ and Freud having expressed his ‘satisfaction at the result,’ ‘Dora replied in a depreciatory tone: “Why, has anything so very remarkable come out?”’ (p.146.) The clarity of Dora’s memory sources for the dreams may have been obscured in the case study, and by reviews and writings about the case study, by Freud’s associations being given equal weight to Dora’s associations, and with many of Freud’s associations being not to the dream, but, one step removed, to Dora’s associations. In summary, Freud did have oppressive and patriarchal judgements and advice to Dora, yet he did believe that Dora was subjected to ‘persecution’ by Herr K. We must credit Freud, though, for recording, and interpreting the two dreams of Dora, on the basis of her free-associations to her waking life, even though his own associations may overshadow that success and instead relate the dreams to unconfirmable unconscious processes. Finally, though, a speculation, based on the similarity in age between Freud and Dora’s father, due to which Freud wrote in the postscript to the case study that ‘At the beginning it was clear that I was replacing her father in her imagination…’ (p.160). The first dream had first occurred after the scene of the lake and when Dora wanted her father to take her away from the K.s’ house. After this it was clear that her father would not rescue her from Herr K. The dream then recurred some weeks after Dora had started to see Freud. Changes in dreams can indicate the progress of therapy (Ellis, 2020). It may be that the first dream, of being rescued, and the second dream, of living independently in another city, away from the hoped-for rescuer who has now died, could depict the early and final state of Dora’s relationship with Freud, as well as her changing relationship to her father.
References Bernheimer, C. & Kahane, C. (eds.) (1990). In Dora’s Case: Freud – Hysteria – Feminism. Columbia University Press. Decker, H.S. (1991). Dora and Vienna 1900. New York: Macmillan. Ellis, L. (2020). A clinician’s guide to dream therapy. New York & London: Routledge. Freud, S. (1900/1976). The Interpretation of Dreams. Penguin Freud Library, volume 4, translation first published 1953. London: Penguin. Freud, S. (1905/1977). Fragment of an analysis of a case of hysteria (‘Dora’). Pelican Freud Library, volume 8 Case Histories I, translation first published 1953. London: Pelican.