Sabina Spielrein: Forgotten Pioneer of Psychoanalysis

By Coline Covington; Barbara Wharton | Go to book overview

Chapter 12

Kindred spirits

Nicolle Kress-Rosen

(Translated from the French by Barbara Wharton)

Documents discovered in 1977 in a cellar in the former Institute of Psychology in Geneva which, thanks to the enthusiasm of two Italian professors, Carlo Trombetta and Aldo Carotenuto, have allowed us to rescue the figure of Sabina Spielrein from oblivion, contain enough to satisfy even the most avid of puzzle enthusiasts. This collection of pieces—fragments of letters, scraps from an intimate diary—presents us in fact with a quite particular difficulty, since they are incomplete and there is no pattern to follow for reassembling them; we can imagine the pleasure of those who uncovered the image that was hiding there, even if it meant filling the gaps with hypotheses and constructions of various sorts. Those who discovered Sabina also invented her, and ever since we have continued to do just that, discovering her and inventing her at the same time.

The task was all the more exciting because the picture that was being reconstituted revealed the imposing figures of Freud and Jung at a particularly critical moment in their relationship and in the history of the psychoanalytic movement. In addition there was a spicy scandal based on a love story, and this played a significant part in the commotion caused by the publication of these documents. It was like a novel in which all the characters were represented: the young girl who is seduced and abandoned, the wicked seducer, even the confidant in the wings treacherously intent on pulling strings. It is a classic threesome; Faust comes to mind, Gounod's bourgeois version rather than Goethe's, although the only merit in this comparison is that both Freud and Jung referred to it. As for knowing which one was Mephisto, the question remains open…

However interesting the literature inspired by these documents, it is important that the reader discovering this story today approach it by means of the documents themselves, and if possible in the original language. Sabina's own writings, especially her first letters and her diary, will perhaps evoke the same reaction as they did in Freud when he read one of the young woman's letters at the end of June 1909. He had just received 'an amazingly awkward answer—is she a foreigner by any chance?—or very inhibited, hard to read and hard to understand' (McGuire 1974, 30.6.1909:238). And Sabina's

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