Dreaming For Freud: A Novel

Paperback | May 28, 2014

bySheila Kohler

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An award-winning author reimagines one of Freud’s most famous and controversial cases

Acclaimed for her spare prose and exceptional psychological insights in her novels Becoming Jane Eyre and Love Child, Sheila Kohler’s latest is inspired by Sigmund Freud’s Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria. Dreaming for Freud paints a provocative and sensual portrait of one of history’s most famous patients.

In the fall of 1900, Dora’s father forces her to begin treatment with the doctor. Visiting him daily, the seventeen-year-old girl lies on his ottoman and tells him frankly about her strange life, and above all about her father's desires as far as she is concerned. But Dora abruptly ends her treatment after only eleven weeks, just as Freud was convinced he was on the cusp of a major discovery. In Dreaming for Freud, Kohler explores what might have happened between the man who changed the face of psychotherapy and the beautiful young woman who gave him her dreams.

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From the Publisher

An award-winning author reimagines one of Freud’s most famous and controversial casesAcclaimed for her spare prose and exceptional psychological insights in her novels Becoming Jane Eyre and Love Child, Sheila Kohler’s latest is inspired by Sigmund Freud’s Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria. Dreaming for Freud paints a provocative...

Sheila Kohler was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. She is the author of thirteen works of fiction, including the novels Becoming Jane Eyre and Cracks, which was nominated for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award made into a film starring Eva Green. She teaches at Princeton University and lives in New York City.

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see all books by Sheila Kohler
Format:PaperbackDimensions:256 pages, 7.73 × 5.14 × 0.67 inPublished:May 28, 2014Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0143125192

ISBN - 13:9780143125198

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INTRODUCTION"Now he will pin her down with his pen like a butterfly on the page for posterity" (p. 184)In October of 1900, a beautiful seventeen-year-old girl begins therapy with Dr. Sigmund Freud. Formerly healthy and robust, she is now hobbled by unexplained physical ailments. At forty-four, the ambitious doctor has already achieved some renown for his studies into the human mind, albeit less than he desires. Their sessions last only three months, but both Freud and the girl-whom he calls "Dora"-will be forever changed by their brief time together.When Dora met Freud two years earlier, she dismissed him as another member of Vienna's well-to-do Jewish bourgeoisie. "How could such a boring, middle-aged man, with his silly pinstriped pants . . . understand the strange story she has to tell?" (p. 43). Moreover, other doctors have subjected her to painful and humiliating treatments and she isn't eager for more. Freud's interest in Dora is twofold. His recent book on dream interpretation was not the success he expected, and "his critics have accused him of not giving verifiable examples to back up his theories. "Perhaps this patient . . . will provide some" (p. 26). Freud is also much poorer than Dora imagines and-with a large family to support and a dwindling clientele-he desperately needs the money her wealthy father will pay him.For his part, Dora's father seeks more than his daughter's return to health from her sessions with Freud. She has accused a family friend of forcing unwanted attentions upon her and, in turn, accused her father of attempting to trade her favors to this man so that her father can continue his own affair with the man's wife. Her father insists that she is lying and wants Freud to convince her to recant. Dora knows that her father has already told Freud that she is untrustworthy and influenced by unsuitable literature. But Freud reassures her, saying "I need you to simply tell me freely and frankly what comes to your mind without censoring your thoughts. . . . I would like to hear your side of the story" (p. 33). Unlike her other doctors, Freud seems to want only to listen."I am an ordinary girl, except for my recent illness" (p. 42), Dora obligingly begins. But as her story unspools, it is clear that Dora, in fact, considers herself wild, clever, and perhaps even a budding genius. Yet, Dora does more than talk. She observes her observer. "She wonders whether the doctor has so many art objects in his cluttered consulting rooms because he is afraid of emptiness, of space, of silence" (p. 49). She reads his book on dreams and offers to share her own. And in return, Dora allows Freud to see himself in ways that are both liberating and deeply unsettling. Years after Dora abruptly leaves his care, Freud's Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria immortalizes her.Novelist Sheila Kohler is internationally acclaimed for her spare storytelling style and probing psychological insights. In Dreaming for Freud, she builds upon the known facts of Freud and Dora's lives to brilliantly reimagine the story behind psychology's most famous and controversial work.ABOUT SHEILA KOHLERSheila Kohler was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. She lived in Paris before moving to the United States in 1981 to earn her MFA in writing from Columbia University. She currently teaches at Princeton University and Bennington College. Dreaming for Freud is her thirteenth work of fiction. She lives in New York City.DISCUSSION QUESTIONSWhen Dora arrives at Freud's office, she suffers from uncontrollable fits of coughing, constipation, and mysterious pains. Do you believe they are contrived or caused by her mental and emotional distress?Is Dora's father genuinely concerned for her welfare, or-as she suspects-does he want her to give herself to Herr Z so that he can continue his affair with Frau Z?To what do you attribute Freud's passion for artifacts and antiquities?Why does Dora take such care to dress well for her visits to Freud?In telling Freud about her brother, Otto, Dora laments, "In the beginning, I could keep up with my brother, as he shared many of the books he read at the Gymnasium, but now since he has continued with his studies at the university, where I am not allowed to go, he has passed me by" (p. 48). To what degree might Dora's maladies stem from the limited opportunities available to women of her era?Although most of their romantic relationships are heterosexual, both Dora and Freud experience a strong attraction to someone of the same sex. Do you agree with Freud's view that all humans are innately bisexual?"As [Freud] writes up the case he is increasingly aware that he has failed this girl" (p. 185). Do you agree? Why or why not?Did Freud simply use Dora to further his own career? What leads you to your conclusion?Throughout the novel, Kohler strongly foreshadows the coming Holocaust and its consequences for both Freud and Dora. How does this affect the way you read their stories?Freud waits five years to publish his book about Dora. He thinks that once she is married, "his time with her will no longer have the same importance it did initially. This son will replace the other men in her life" (p. 207). Does having a child somehow neuter Dora's memories of Freud?Discuss the relationship between literature and psychology. How has Freud influenced the way we think about and discuss literature?How well do you believe Kohler captures the nature of Freud and Dora's relationship? Have you read Freud's Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria? Does Dreaming for Freud make you want to read or revisit it?

Editorial Reviews

Praise for Dreaming for Freud:“Sheila Kohler is a gifted story teller, as this her latest attests.  Dreaming for Freud is well-crafted, depicting two great, strong-willed characters: the forty-five year old Sigmund Freud and the feisty seventeen-year-old patient he made famous as Dora.  Kohler reveals her secrets slowly, layer by layer, teaching us much about the early days of Freud’s ‘talking cure.’  Like any good mystery writer, she keeps us suspended until the very end.  This is a compelling and very satisfying read.”—Selden Edwards, New York Times bestselling author of The Little Book  “Sheila Kohler has written a slyly subversive, subtle and sensuous revisionist interpretation of Sigmund Freud and his iconic Dora case that might be subtitled ‘The Analyst Analyzed.’”—Joyce Carol Oates, New York Times bestselling author of We Were the Mulvaneys“Kohler reframes this controversial case, giving her protagonist a voice and letting readers see that the patient correctly assesses her doctor’s motivations even as he misunderstands hers. Reading about her stifling experience makes you want to cheer for today’s vocal, assertive young women....Kohler gives the girl the last word.”—Liesl Schillinger, The New York Times Book Review“Freud’s insecurities, frustrations, self-absorption and longing...are sensitively evoked, as are Dora’s internal conflicts. As both the patient’s and the doctor’s vulnerabilities are exposed, the very nature of a person’s ‘story’ is called into question.”—Kirkus “In this meticulously researched novel, Kohler infuses Freud’s case report of his analysis of Dora with a richly imagined, entirely credible reading between the lines. Her effortless  prose is powerfully evocative of the characters, the times, and the essence of the unique relationship that we call psychoanalysis.”—David I. Joseph, M.D., George Washington Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences“Known for her expressive writing and insightful explorations of her characters’ inner lives, Kohler is the ideal novelist to relate the story of Sigmund Freud and his best-known patient, the pseudonymous Dora....With delicate precision, Kohler traces their ongoing dynamic.”—Booklist“The sensual prose re-creates bourgeois 1900s Vienna and surrounding mountain resorts with a seductive lushness that draws the reader in. The author’s deftly perceptive characterizations, meanwhile—a nuance here, a reference there—create alternately sympathetic and frustrated reactions to both the patient and the doctor....Kohler’s intelligent novel will be very much enjoyed by fans of Karen Mack and Jennifer Kaufman’s Freud’s Mistress.”—Library Journal“[The] pages of absorbing prose turn themselves, as we read through the lies, betrayal, and, of course, sex....An inventive piece of reimagining.”—Publishers WeeklyPraise for Sheila Kohler's work:“Kohler is undoubtedly a talent to watch.” – Vogue “Hypnotic…unsettling…a combination of domestic drama and psychological thriller.” – San Francisco Chronicle “Erotic and disturbing.” – Vanity Fair “Riveting…. Kohler’s writing is so smoothly confident and erotic that she has produced a tale resonant with a chilling power all its own” – Elle “Spare, haunting” – Marie Claire “A real master of narrative.” – Kirkus “Her themes of displacement and alienation cut to the heart as she quietly strips away the tales we tell ourselves in order to go on from day to day.” – Booklist  “There is a territory – fictional and psychological – that Sheila Kohler has now marked as her own. It is a real achievement. I am full of admiration.” – J.M. Coetzee “Sheila Kohler’s timeless stories are always transporting. The elegance of her writing underscores the charged, disturbing behavior she presents so vividly.” – Amy Hempel “I was absolutely enthralled reading Sheila Kohler’s latest collection. Her stories are elegant, smooth, and gorgeously sensual, belying the tension that crackles beneath. Long after I’ve finished reading one of her stories, the image continues to pulse.” – Amy Tan “Compelling and beautifully nuanced.” – Elizabeth Strout