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Holt, R.R. (2002). Freud and the Seduction Theory: A Brief Love Affair. Kurt R. Eissler. Madison, CT: International Universities Press, 2001. xii + 521 pp. $39.95 pb.. Am. Imago, 59(4):483-488.

(2002). American Imago, 59(4):483-488

Book Reviews

Freud and the Seduction Theory: A Brief Love Affair. Kurt R. Eissler. Madison, CT: International Universities Press, 2001. xii + 521 pp. $39.95 pb.

Review by:
Robert R. Holt

What an unfortunate title! Would it not suggest to anyone not already in the know that Kurt Eissler was discussing Freud's thoughts about romantic liaisons, rather than child abuse? It is hard to guess why it was chosen by the late author, for he does not present any evidence that Freud had a special fondness for this particular notion about the genesis of hysteria.

The title should call our attention to the fact that Eissler here is at some pains to correct those who have understood Freud's three early papers (1896a; 1896b; 1896c) as advocating a primarily traumatic etiology for neurosis. Eissler does refer to the alleged episodes from patients' early childhood as traumatic, but he makes it clear that Freud's point is that dreadful episodes during the first few years did not produce hysteria unless the genital organs of the children in question were directly stimulated. Moreover, Freud was willing to include events that were recalled as indifferent or even pleasant at the time. Indeed, there were cases involving liaisons lasting several years that, in “The Aetiology of Hysteria,” he calls “love-relations” (1896c, 21) between an adult and a child; and a history of multiple assaults is characterized by Eissler as an “extensive love life” (113).

Near the beginning, Eissler quotes Freud as having said, in prepsychoanalytic days:

As regards what is often asserted to be the preponderant influence of abnormalities in the sexual sphere upon the development of hysteria, it must be said that its importance is as a rule over-estimated.…. [H]ysteria is found in sexually immature girls and boys. … Furthermore, hysteria has been observed in women with a complete lack of genitalia [sic!].

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