Freud's Dora
A Victorian Fable

Doug Davis

What Lily of the Valley says in a dream
Herr K said with a jewelry box.
What one says with flowers
Papa said with pearls
What Dora did not say
the doctor said with smoke.
--Hélène Cixous

In his work The History of Sexuality, Michel Foucault notes that, far from being a period in which sexual matters were ignored or completely suppressed, the last three centuries have witnessed a "veritable discursive explosion" around sexuality, a cacophony of sublimated speech in which Freud emerged as a major rhetoretician:

Areas were thus established, if not of utter silence, at least of tact and discretion: between parents and children, for instance, or teachers and pupils, or masters and domestic servants. (Foucault, 1976, p. 18)

"Dora" was Ida Bauer (1882-1945).[1] She was born in Vienna, in an apartment at Bergasse 32 (just up the street from the Freuds). Her paternal grandparents had probably moved from Bohemia, near the Moravian border, probably in the late 1850s as a result of growing anti-Jewish pressure following the revolution of 1848 (Decker, 1991, p. 14). Her father made his living from cloth factories in Bohemia. Her mother, Katharina (Käthe) Gerber Bauer, had been born in 1862 in what is now north central Czechoslovakia; and she visited her birthplace with her two children when they were young. She died in 1912 of tuberculosis, as did her father, Philipp, in 1913. Ida married an aspiring (but unsuccessful) composer who was an employee of her father. The brother, Otto Bauer, was a leader of the Austrian Socialist party between 1918 and 1934. He married in 1914 an older widow with three children, and maintained a long relationship with a younger mistress.

Psychoanalytic Prehistory: Seduction

(cf. Breuer & Freud, 1895; Freud 1896a,b,c)

Freud notes three senses in which the case is incomplete:

(1) "The treatment was not carried through to its appointed end, but was broken off at the patient's own wish when it had reached a certain point." Freud calls the reader's attention to the great change in psychoanalytic technique since Breuer and Freud, noting that where earlier therapy "started out from the symptoms, and aimed at clearing them up one after the other," he now has learned to "let the patient himself choose the subject of the day's work, and in that way I start out from whatever surface his unconscious happens to be presenting to his notice at the moment" (p. 12).

(2) "I have as a rule not reproduced the process of interpretation to which the patient's associations and communications had to be subjected, but only the results of that process." This omission -- not revealing the "technique of the analytic work" -- he justifies from his intention "to demonstrate the intimate structure of a neurotic disorder and the determination of its symptoms. He suggests, however, that discussion of technical issues would not have greatly changed the case history, because "the factor of 'transference', which is considered at the end of the case history [116ff.], did not come up fo discussion during the short treatment" (p. 13).

(3) No single case history can "provide an answer to all the questions arising out of the problem of hysteria," and "any one who has hitherto been unwilling to believe that a psychosexual aetiology holds good generally and without exception for hysteria is scarcely likely to be convinced of the fact by taking stock of a single case history" (p. 13).

The Bauer Menage

Philipp Bauer, the father

Her father was the dominating figure in this circle, owing to his intelligence and his character as much as to the circumstances of his life. It was those circumstances which provided the framework for the history of the patient's childhood and illness, At the time at which I began the girl's treatment her father was in his late forties, a man of rather unusual activity and talents, a large manufacturer in very comfortable curcumstances. His daughter was most tenderly attached to him, and for that reasoon her critical powers, which developed early, took all the lore offense at many of his actions and peculiarities (p. 18).

Katherina Gerber Bauer, the mother

I never made her mother's acquaintance. From the accounts given me by the girl and her father I was led to imagine her as an uncultivated woman and above all as a foolish one, who had concentrated all her interests upon domestic affairs, especially since her husband's illness and the estrangement to which it led (p. 20).

On Käthe Bauer's 'housewife's psychosis' see Deutsch (1957) and Decker (1991, pp. 50-55). The theme appears to have been fears of dirt and contamination: obsessive cleaning, removed shoes, locked rooms.

Otto Bauer, the brother

During the girl's earlier years, her only brother (her elder by a year and a half) had been the model which her ambitions had striven to follow. But in the last few years the relations between the brother and sister had grown more distant (p. 21).

Otto Bauer (1881-) was an important figure in socialist politics. At the University of Vienna he, like Freud, was strongly infuenced by growing anti-Semitic feelings, and there he met and "came to worship" (Decker, 1991, p. 60) Victor Adler (1852-1918).

the governess

... an unmarried woman, no longer young, who was well-read and of advanced views. The teacher and her pupil were for a while upon excellent terms. Until suddenly Dora became hostile toward her and insisted upon her dismissal. So long as the governess had any influence she used it for stirring up feeling againgst Frau K (pb. 52).

She saw that the governess was in love with her father....

Herr K

Decker (1991, p. 65), citing a communication from Peter Loewenberg, identifies K. as Hans Zellenka. He had brought Philipp Bauer to Freud for treatment of syphillitic symptoms in 1894, when Ida/Dora was 12.

Frau K

When Dora talked about Frau K., she used to praise her `adorable white body' in accents more appropriate to a lover than to a defeated rival. (p. 61)

She told herself incessantly that her father had sacrificed her to this woman, and made many noisy demonstrations to show that she grudged her the possession of her father; and in this way she concealed from herself the contrary fact, which was that she grudged her father Frau K.'s love, and had not forgiven the woman she loved for the disillusionment she had been caused by her betrayal. The jealous emotions of a woman were linked in the unconscious with a jealousy such as might have been felt by a man. These masculine or, more precisely speaking, gynaecophilic currents of feeling are to be regarded as typical of the unconscious erotic life of hysterical girls. (p. 62)

The Clinical Picture

In my Interpretation of Dreams I showed that dreams can be interpreted, and that after the work of interpretation has been completed they can be replaced by perfectly ordinary thoughts which can be assigned a recognizable position in the chain of events. I wish to give an example in the following pages of the only practical application of which the art of interpreting dreams seems to admit ( p. 15).

The First Dream

`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 children be burnt for the sake of your jewel-case." We hurried downstairs, and as soon as I was outside I woke up." (p. 64)


Kanzer (1980) treats the imagery of fire and water in Dora's first dream as instances of universal symbolism, calling attention to the biblical accounts of the flight from Egypt, suggesting that Freud's unreadiness to apply these clues in Dora's case is connected to his counter-transference problems (problems not explicitly addressed for another decade):

[Freud] consistently perceived more readily her desire to flee from him than her desire to remain and be seduced by him, although his own analysis unmistakably demonstrated this. Actually, though he insisted that transferences were taking place between Dora's attitudes to Herr K. and himself, and he tried to win from her acknowledgment of her sexual responsiveness to Herr K., he was singularly unable to press this parallel as far as he himself was concerned (p. 74).

Kanzer goes on to suggest treating these themes in Dora as part of the 'flight from the father fantasy:

We become more aware of a particular aspect of all symbols: their communicative function and their organizational uses in controlling diverse forces within the individual as well as between the individual and the outside world. The prototype of all imagery in that the total experience in which the cry of the hungry infant elicits the need-satisfying appearance of the mother and the primary unit of language is thus established. Dora, further along in her maturation, was an anxious adolescent, identified with the mother (through the common possession of a jewel case) and calling for rescue by the "good father" who was, in one aspect of the treatment, the analyst himself (p. 75).

Kanzer discusses Freud's inconsistently transferential treatment of Dora's subsequent addendum to the dream (that on awakening she had smelled smoke) in light of Freud's insistence on this element as indicating a [warded-off] desire to kiss him [and hence a resolution to break off treatment rather than succumb to this wish] (p. 77).

The Second Dream

I was walking about in a town which I did not know. I saw streets and squares which were strange to me. Then I came into a house where I lived, went to my room, and found a letter from Mother lying there. She wrote saying that as I had left town without my parents' knowledge she had not wished to write to me saying that Father was ill. "Now he is dead, and if you like you can come." I then went to the station ["Bahnhof"] and asked about a hundred times: "Where is the station?" I always got the answer: "Five minutes." I then saw a thick wood before me which I went into, and there I asked a man whom I met. He said to me: "Two and a half hours more." He offered to accompany me. But I refused and went alone. I saw the station in front of me and could not reach it. At the same time I had the usual feeling that one has in dreams when one cannot move forward. Then I was at home. I must have been travelling in the meantime, but I know nothing about that. I walked into the porter's lodge, and enquired for our flat. The maidservant opened the door to me and replied that Mother and the others were already at the cemetery ["Friedhof"].
(SE 7, p. 94)

Freud's preamble to the interpretation notes (SE 7, 95) that the dream was incompletely understood since the analysis was broken off while it was being discussed, and suggests that the circumstances of the dream's interpretation were related to the termination of the therapy. His way of expressing this strikes me as peculiar:

It was not without some difficulty that the interpretation of the dream proceeded. In consequence of the peculiar circumstances in which the analysis was broken off -- circumstances connected with the content of the dream -- the whole of it was not cleared up. And for this reason, too, I am not equally certain at every point of the order in which my conclusions were reached.[4] I will begin by mentioning the subject matter with which the current analysis was dealing at the time when the dream intervened. For some time Dora herself had been raising a number of questions about the connection between some of her actions and the motives which presumably underlay them. One of these questions was: 'Why did I say nothing about the scene by the lake for some days after it had happened?' Her second question was: 'Why did I then suddenly tell my parents about it?' Moreover, her having felt so deeply injured by Herr K.'s proposal seemed to me in general to need explanation, especially as I was beginning to realize that Herr K. himself had not regarded his proposal to Dora as a mere frivolous attempt at seduction.[5] I looked on her having told her parents of the episode as an action which she had taken when she was already under the influence of a morbid craving for revenge. A normal girl, I am inclined to think, will deal with a situation of this kind by herself.

I shall present the material produced during the analysis of this dream in the somewhat haphazard order in which it recurs to my mind (p. 95).

This passage is the more remarkable given what we know about Freud's long involvement with the manuscript: breaking into work on The Psychopathology of Everyday Life to write it up [and revealing more than he seems to have realized by his discussion there (SE 6, 241) of the difficulties coming up with a pseudonym for Ida (cf. Moi, 1981, p. 198)], announcing its impending appearance to Fliess, then apparently either withdrawing it after its acceptance by the publisher Ziehen (who accepted it, and with whom he eventually published it) or resubmitting it to Brodman at the Journal für Psychologie und Neurologie, who refused it -- and finally shelving it for four more years. Is Freud, by half-apologetically drawing attention to the role his own unconscious will play in the ordering of the material, reacting to what so many have now surmised: that his thinking about Dora is at every turn deflected/subverted by unanalyzed counter-transferences? What more do we want in the way of an admission?

Dora and Freud

On the pseudonym "Dora"

Freud discusses his difficulty choosing a name in The psychopathology of everyday life (1901), where he reports choosing "Dora" with reference to to name of his daughter Rosa's maid, only to learn that her name was really Rosa and that she'd been asked to use Dora to avoid confusion with the daughter (SE 6, p. 241). Freud's use of this example of the over-determined character of his choice is especially revealing in that (a) it underscores the preoccupation with issues of confidentiality he has reiterated in the introduction to the work, (b) it implies an association of the patient's identity both to that of a maid and to his own daughter, and (c) it so strikingly fails to acknowledge what must have been an equally important preconscious determinant -- his troubled relationship with Josef Breuer. In selecting for his patient the name of Breuer's daughter Freud was, Decker (1982, 1991) argues, comparing not only Ida Bauer to Dora Breuer but his relationship with her to Breuer's with "Anna O"/Bertha Pappenheim. Both Anzieu (1975, pp. 57-58, 538, 542, 550) and Decker (1991, p. 136) note that Freud's choice of the name "Dora" must have been determined in large part by Dora Breuer, born March 11, 1882 (see Ellenberger 1970, p. 483), during her father's treatment of Bertha Papenheim. Like "Dora," she was 18 in 1900. Since Freud's October 1900 "Company at table d'hôte" dream coincides with the beginning of Freud's treatment of "Dora," it suggests another link between that analysis and Freud's break with Breuer, even as it supports Anzieu's claim that Freud was using "E."'s termination also as a means to break his attachment to Fliess (Anzieu, pp. 524-526). Noting that "Freud's associaitons to the second dream contain not only the same message, but also, to a greater extent, the same cast of characters as the first dream": Fliess, Breuer, O. Rie, L. Rosenberg, and Martha (p. 535). Anzieu calls attention to other likely day-residues influencing Freud's "Company at table d'hôte" dream (Freud, 1901 [SE 6], pp. 633-637):

the marriage of one of Breuer's daughters to a friend of Fliess's, and the serious illness of Fliess's mother-in-law, who was being given treatment by Breuer of which Freud disapproved (Anzieu, 1986, p. 531).

"Dora" plays a role analogous to that of "Irma" in 1895, and Anzieu Freud's dream-image of Frau E.L.'s placing her hand on his knee in an intimate manner like that of taking Irma aside suggests his relations with Minna Bernays (p. 535).

"She showed signs of recalcitrance." -- "I removed her hand unresponsively."

Note the transformation: (1) female resists male's (Freud's) physical (oral) intrusion -- > (2) male (Freud himself) resists female's advances. A bit later Anzieu suggests that the table d'hôte, "with its colliding hands, knees, and glances, is associated with heterosexual seduction (1986, p. 537).

Anzieu then suggests (p. 538) that "E.L." is in fact Breuer daughter Margarethe, who had married another Hammerschlag daughter. Anzieu, I think, gets the credit for first fully appreciating the link between the "Dora" pseudonym and 18-year-old Dora Breuer, born during the treatment of Anna O (p. 538).

According to Anzieu (1975/1986, p. 58), Ida Breuer killed herself in 1942, to escape deportation by the Nazis. This is strikingly at variance with Jones' assertion that she was conceived on a "second honeymoon" the Breuers took after he fled Bertha's pseudocyetic bedside, and "was nearly sixty years later to commit suicide in New York" (Jones, 1953, p. 225).

25 Jan 01: I finished "Dreams and Hysteria" yesterday, and today I already miss a narcotic. It is a fragment of an analysis of a case of hysteria [the eventual title] in which the explanations are grouped around two dreams; so it is really a continuation of the dream book. In addition, it contains resolutions of hysterical symptoms and glimpses of the sexual-organic foundation of the whole. It is the sublest thing I have written so far and will put people off even more than usual. Still, one does one's duty and does not write for the day alone (Masson, 1985, 433).

January 30, 1901: [After assuring Fl that "Dreams and Hysteria" "if possible should not disappoint you."] There are only glimpses of the organic [elements], that is, the erotogenic zones and bisexuality. But bisexuality is mentioned and specifically recognized once and for all, and the background is laid for detailed treatment of it on another occasion. It is a hysteria with tussis nervosa and aphonia, which can be traced back to the character of the child's original sucking, and the principle issue in the conflicting thought processes is the contrast between an inclination toward men and an inclination toward women. (Masson, 1985, p. 343).


Somatic compliance: Hysteria and anorexia[6]

In the Victorian era the restricted female role considered the norm by society actually demanded a heavy price and a compromise that many women could not easily make. Hysteria is the thorn in the rosy picture of soft femininity that was idealized by our Victorian forefathers (Bemporad et al., 1988, pp. 96-97).

The anorexic girl -- typically starved, exercising to extremes, and perfectionistic in all her activities -- is a hyperbolic version of the slim, strong, active, autonomous, accomplished young women our society admires (Decker, 1991, p. 207)

Primary (paranosic) & secondary (epinosic) gain

Erikson poses the problem of distinguishing "deeds," significant actions, from mere [neurotic] "behavior," and then [re-]asks the question: "what was it that Dora wanted from Freud?" (Erikson, 1961, p.47). Noting that Dora offended (or at least failed to please) Freud by confronting her family with the "historical" rather than herself with the "genetic" truth during the year after her treatment (i.e., she tried to get them to own up to what had been going on), Erikson comments on her "preoccupation with truth" in light of Piagetian formal operations. Dora's case, on this view, becomes a classical example of "fatefully perverted fidelity", with each member of this unfaithful menage trying to make Dora their confidante (1961, p. 51). From an Eriksonian point of view, Dora has been denied by societal and family (her brother's "superior example") circumstances the fulfillment of a "vital identity fragment: "the woman intellectual" (1961, p. 52).

In summary, it is probable that Dora needed to act as she did not only in order to vent the childish rage of one victimized but also in order to set straight the historical past so that she could envisage a sexual and social future of her choice, call infidelities by their name before she could commit herself to her own kind of fidelity, and establish the coordinates of a young woman of her class and time, before she could utilize more insight into her inner realities (Erikson, 1961, p. 53).

Erikson concludes with a remark concerning Dora's first dream:

[T]he house and the jewel case, besides being symbols of the female body and its contents, represent the adolescent quandry: if there is a fire in "our house" (that is, in our family), then what "valuables" (that is, values) shall be saved first? (1961, P. 54)

Hysteria, Dora, and Freud's psychosexual theory

In the transitional years between The Interpretation of Dreams and both "Dora" and the Three Essays Freud was preoccupied with the developmental and clinical implications of the theory of bisexuality he had picked up from Fliess (cf. Freud, 1908; Kerr, 1993, pp. 75-87).

Lacan (1951) interprets as counter-transferential Freud's insistence that Dora imagines fellatio performed by her father on Frau K. suggesting Freud reversed subject and object:

It is remarkable that up to now nobody has stressed that the case of Dora is set out by Freud as a series of dialectical reversals. This is not a mere contrivance for presenting material whose emergence Freud clearly states here is left to the will of the patient. What is involved is a scansion of structures in which truth is transmuted for the subject, affecting not only her comprehension of things, but her very position as subject of which her 'objects' are a function. This means that the conception of the case history is identical to the progress of the subject, that is, to the reality of the treatment. (p. 64)

Woman is the object which it is impossible to detach from a primitive oral desire, and yet in which she must learn to recognize her own genital nature. (One wonders why Freud fails to see that the aphonia[7] brought on during the absences of Herr K (pp. 39-40) is an expression of the violent appeal of the oral erotic drive when Dora was left face to face with Frau K, without there being any need for him to invoke her awareness of the fellatio undergone by the father (pp. 47-48), when everyone knows that cunnilingus is the artifice most commonly adopted by 'men of means' whose powers begin to abandon them.) In order for her to gain access to this recognition of her femininity, she would have to take on this assumption of her own body, (to refer to the theoretical contribution of the mirror stage), which constitutes conversion symptoms.

Now, if she was to fulfil the condition for this access, the original imago shows us that her only opening to the object was through the intermediary of the masculine partner, with whom, because of the slight difference in years, she was able to identify, in that primordial identification through which the subject recognizes herself as I....

So Dora had identified with Herr K, just as she is in the process of identifying with Freud himself. (The fact that it was on waking from her dream 'of transference' that Dora noticed the smell of smoke belonging to the two men does not indicate, as Freud said (p. 73), a more deeply repressed identification, but much more that this hallucination corresponded to the dawning of her reversion to the ego.) And all her dealing with the two men manifest that aggressivity which is the dimension characteristic of narcissistic alienation. ...

As is true for all women, and for reasons which are at the very basis of the most elementary forms of social exchange (the very reasons Dora gives as the grounds for her revolt), the problem of her condition is fundamentally that of accepting herself as the object of desire for the man, and this is for Dora the mystery which motivates her idolatry for Frau K. (1951, pp. 67-68).


Bernheimer, C. & Kahane, C. (Eds.) (1985). In Dora's case: Freud -- hysteria -- feminism. New York: Columbia University Press.

Cixous, Hélène. Portrait of Dora. Diacritics, 1983, 2-32.

Decker, Hannah S. (1982). The choice of a name: "Dora" and Freud's relationship with Breuer. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 30.

Decker, Hannah S. (1991). Dora, Freud, and Vienna 1900. New York: The Free Press.

Erikson, E.H. [1961] Reality and actuality: An address. In C. Bernheimer & C. Kahane (Eds.) In Dora's case: Freud -- hysteria -- feminism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.

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Freud, S. (1908). Hysterical phantasies and their relation to bisexuality. S.E. 9, 159-166.

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Sartre, J.-P. (1959/1984). (J.-B. Pontalis, Ed.; Q. Hoare, trans.). The Freud scenario. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1985.

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Szasz, T. (1961). The myth of mental illness.

[1]As noted below, Freud's response to her evocative name and his revealing selection of the pseudonym "Dora" is a complex tale (see Freud, 1901).

[2]cf. Swales' (1983) attempt to place this conversation in relation to Freud's alledged sexual phantasies as he longed for Martha during a mountain sojourn.

[3]As Freud had done the previous year (1895) by having Fliess operate on Emma Eckstein, with such fateful consequences (cf. the Fliess letters; "Dora," pb. 97; Hirschmüller, 1978/1989, pp. 324, 416).

[4]Implying that Freud's sense of the order in which material became known in the analysis was different as the analysis was completed, or afterwards--that he cannot be sure how much his memory has reordered the phenomena? Recall the five year delay in publication.

[5]How? Has Freud so identified himself with K. that he can infer his thought? Was this middle-aged man then thinking to marry this 18-year-old daughter of his wife's lover?!

[6]First described, according to Decker (1991, p. 261, n. 70), in 1868; and named in 1874.

[7]Note that the symptom is "attacks of coughing accompanied by loss of voice" (SE, 7, 39).

Copyright (C) Douglas A. Davis, 1995. All rights reserved.