The Fiancée Letters: "Be Mine as I Envision You" ["Sei Mein, Wie Ich Mir's Denke. Die Brautbriefe"], Vol. 1: June 1882-July 1883 by Sigmund Freud, Martha Bernays
von Freytag-Loringhoven, Hannsjörg, International Journal of Psychoanalysis
The Fiancée Letters: "Be mine as I envision you" ["Sei mein, wie ich mir's denke. Die Brautbriefe"], Vol. 1: June 1882-July 1883 by Sigmund Freud, Martha Bernays edited by Gerhard Fichtner, Ilse Grubrich-Simitis and Albrecht Hirschmüller Fischer, Frankfurt am Main, 2011; 628 pp; e48
Curiosity for The Fiancee Letters was piqued decades ago by Ernest Jones in his biography of Freud and by Freud's son, Ernst. The first volume of the complete set of five (1882-1886) has just now been published in German. It was presented at the opening of the 47th International Psychoanalytic Association Congress in Mexico City, in honour of the 100th Anniversary of the founding of the IPA, by one of the editors: psychoanalyst and Freud researcher, Ilse Grubrich-Simitis. It is her view that The Fiancee Letters describe the progress of a man who initially presented himself in the role of a radical paternal authority, but who then learned that his fiancee would accept this stance only on the condition that he accepted her as his peer. This hypothesis may provide some understanding of why Martha, even as his beloved, repeatedly referred to him by his doctor title, as if in jest. In actuality, this was not an act of submission! By addressing him in this manner, she was meeting the autonomy afforded him by his high academic standing with the equality of her own femininity. By doing so, she was unaware that she was also setting forth a basic tenet of later psychoanalysis.
It was precisely in this way that psychoanalysis differentiated itself from the other treatment methods of the day. This principle of equality which Martha Bernays implicitly introduced quite simply conveyed the understanding that an authentic human relationship can only come into being if the more powerful figure forgoes some of the use of his power. Sigmund Freud developed this principle further by explicitly introducing the rule of abstinence: every encounter is set up from the start for him to remain himself. Even in the process of analysis when everything imaginable might develop in his internal life, for example, demands, compulsions, even maturity. One can observe the various psychic states in the quotes that preface each volume. There is something monistic, single-minded in Freud's demand: "Be mine, as I imagine you"; perhaps a triangulated aspect in Freud's declaration: "To have you just as you are" (p. 37). As he gradually let this necessary duality deepen within him, Freud was, "after struggle and agitation" (p. 37) in a position to accept Martha Bernays's autonomy. Excited by an endearing letter from her, he wrote back on 4 July 1883: "I am happy that you can write like this after I offended you so ... I was very worried, anticipating your reply" (p. 496). He now entered the 'depressive position', later discovered and coined as a psychoanalytic term by Melanie Klein. Martha Bernays claimed her equality a year earlier on 12 July 1882 with the words: "I assure you of my full, exclusive, intimate love, but also wish that you not disturb my affectionate, friendly sentiments for my old friend" (p. 183). Even in this early interaction, it was always Martha who came to the rescue of the situation without, however, relinquishing her own autonomy.
In The Fiancee Letters, we also find Martha dispelling some of Freud's behaviour, like the monistic, single-minded demands that stem from his "unfathomable nature" (p. 48). On 15 August 1882 she writes with some humour: "My sweet, sometimes ... somewhat quite insufferable friend" (p. 284). Freud's continued attempts to shape his fiancee according to a fixed, 'frozen' image of her were time and again gently thawed by Martha (p. 470 f., p. 480 f.). Under the influence of his fiancee's loving manner, triangulation can also be observed as Freud begins to recognize and understand his own projections (p. 482 f). Who would have known that these discoveries have their roots in mid-1883!
Elsewhere the insights into the basic principle of triangulation in psychoanalysis can be found in the enthusiasm of the betrothed couple for the ideas of the Enlightenment: in the work of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1776) (p. …