THE LITERATURE concerning Freud and psychoanalysis is so immense that one's heart sinks when confronted with yet another long book on the subject. However, Frank J. Sulloway's book is original and important and makes a number of points about Freud's work and personality which have not previously been brought out so clearly. Sulloway is neither a Freudian disciple nor an opponent of psychoanalysis. He recognizes Freud's genius; but, more than any other writer except L. L. Whyte, author of The Unconscious before Freud , he places Freud in the context of his time and shows how great Freud's debt was to his predecessors and his contemporaries.
Because men seek hero figures to worship, original thinkers tend to be portrayed as even more original than they actually are. Freud, for example, is often credited with the discovery of the unconscious, with the recognition of infantile sexuality, and with inventing a new theory of dreams. In fact, as Sulloway demostrates, Freud had been anticipated in all these fields by other theorists. "Terms and constructs like libido, component instincts, erotogenic zones, autoerotism, and narcissism -- all generally associated in twentieth-century consciousness with Freud's name alone -- were actually brought into scientific circulation between 1880 and 1900 by other contemporary students of sexology. Similarly, the problematical subject of infantile sexuality had been repeatedly discussed by pediatricians, educators,and sexologists before Freud himself broached this issue in his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality ." This is not to deny that Freud made original contributions, but to dispel the myth that Freud was a lonely pioneer, who stood quite apart from the climate of his times.
It has long been supposed that one of Freud's fundamental works, The Interpretation of Dreams , made little impact at the time of its publication in 1899, and that the few reviews which it did receive were notably hostile. In fact, although the first printing of the book did not sell well, it was "widely and favorably reviewed in popular and scientific periodicals."
Sulloway has been concerned to establish that Freud's thought and the structure of psychoanalysis was not so much derived from his supposedly "heroic" self-analysis as from the tradition of medico-biological research in which he was originally trained. Sulloway perhaps over-emphasizes what he calls "Freud's psychobiological vision of man." For, although Freud certainly owed a debt to Darwin, which Sulloway most interestingly discusses, psychoanalysis, during Freud's lifetime, soon became partially alienated from biology, an alienation which John Bowlby, with his knowledge of modern ethological theory, has endeavoured to overcome with considerable success in his writings.
The myth which gave Freud the status and romance of an isolated, heroic genius was partly the invention of his followers, but was also contributed to by his own attitude to collaborators and predecessors. In this account of Freud's early development, he appears as an intensely ambitious man, always anxious to prove himself to be the first, with the consequence that he sometimes failed to acknowledge his indebtedness to others. Sulloway discusses in detail Freud's relationship with both Wilhelm Fliess and Josef Breuer. Of the former he ways: "His previous dependence upon Fliess gradually turned to rivalry, and he began to see their scientific work as potentially competing." Breuer, Freud's original collaborator in Studies on Hysteria , is shown to be far more sympathetic to Freud's early theories than is generally supposed; but Freud was so intolerant of criticism and disagreement that, when the two men met in the street long after their collaboration had ended, Breuer opened his arms, whilst Freud marched by, cutting him.
The more one learns about Freud's personality, the more understandable become the quarrels and "defections" with which the history of psychoanalysis is so liberally loaded. There is a sense in which Freud "knew he was right" with the paranoiac intensity which the phrase implies. In this connection, Sulloway is right to draw attention to Freud's own theory of paranoia, based on the writings of Daniel Paul Schreber, a German judge who "developed paranoid delusions in the 1890s and who had subsequently published an autobiographical account of his illness." But Freud, in developing his theories from those writings, entirely failed to take accout of Schreber's actual childhood and the tyrannical character of his pedagogue father. As Breuer wrote: "Freud is a nam given to absolute and exclusive formulations; this is a psychical need which, in my opinion, leads to excessive generalization."
It must not be concluded that Sulloway is out to discredit Freud, whom, in fact, he greatly admires. Sulloway is a Harvard-trained historian of science. His first object is to demonstrate that Freud's ideas have more of a history than is usually recognized. His second is to show that the psychoanalytic movement has created a myth around Freud, making him out to be much more isolated, rejected and original than in fact he was. Sulloway has made an important contribution to our understanding of how, because of man's need for archetypal heroes, history can be retrospectively falsified. Freud is not unique in being exalted in this way; and I hope that Sulloway, with his extensive grasp of the history of ideas, will turn his attention to other "heroic" figures.