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Powell, A. (1986). Sherlock Holmes and the Case of Dr Freud by Michael Shepherd. Published by Tavistock Publications, 1985.. Brit. J. Psychother., 3(2):182-183.

(1986). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 3(2):182-183

Sherlock Holmes and the Case of Dr Freud by Michael Shepherd. Published by Tavistock Publications, 1985.

Review by:
Andrew Powell

This little book is itself an elegant piece of detective work, of Holmesian analysis, we might say. Professor Shepherd directs the reader to a number of clues which taken singly we might be excused for regarding as trivial, but taken together incontrovertibly reveal that Sigmund Freud and Sherlock Holmes were one and the same man, if not actually of the flesh, as alike as ‘twinn'd lambs that did friski’ the sun'. One of these spiritual twins looks at the outer world, the other at the inner world, and Professor Shepherd argues that the method of investigation used by them both is equally implausible and improbable.

At the 1984 Squibb history of psychiatry lecture on which this book is based, the elegant, scholarly and witty presentation must have delighted Professor Shepherd's audience (I don't suppose many psychoanalysts attended). The book of the talk is amusing too although here and there the tone becomes rather acerbic. However there are a couple of points it would be nice to argue, preferably over a glass of port. The first is that Michael Shepherd's essay rests on observations made with the same kind of accuracy and salience as those of his two myth-making protagonists. As a result his lecture is imaginative and illuminating (it has a consistent and internally coherent structure not unlike the musical grammar of, say, sonata form) but which, thankfully, does not prove anything. Could Professor Shepherd be less of a scientific rationalist than he would have us sometimes think? Secondly, the kind of psychoanalysis he depicts is curiously antiquated, reminiscent of Freud's own early case studies.

He cites the Wolf Man as a ‘white hotel’ story since the Wolf Man never was sure he witnessed the primal scene (that the cause led to the consequence). In fact it was psychoanalysis which led to an understanding of the acausal nature of unconscious logic, detailed in recent years by Matte Blanco as a formidable series of mathematical propositions.

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