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Roberts, M. (1996). Freud and the Jazz Age: A review of Terrible Honesty: Mongrel Manhattan in the 1920s by Ann Douglas. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1995. 605 pp.. Contemp. Psychoanal., 32:674-676.

(1996). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 32:674-676

Freud and the Jazz Age: A review of Terrible Honesty: Mongrel Manhattan in the 1920s by Ann Douglas. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1995. 605 pp.

Review by:
Michael Roberts, Ph.D.

This social history of Manhattan in the flamboyant postwar period of the 1920s is well worth reading as a guide to the early days of such cultural and social forces as jazz and modernist literature. But it is of particular interest in the development of psychoanalysis. This was the period when Freud's influence truly became evident in the United States. Psychoanalysis added a quiet yet significant voice in the tumultuous, crowded narrative of that distant but oddly familiar epoch. It is a crowning irony that it should be so in a country that Freud maligned as a “gigantic mistake.”

The irony is compounded by the fact that one of the most energetic proponents of psychoanalysis in the United States was none other than Freud's nephew, Edward Bernays, who sought to apply psychoanalytic principles of “truth” to the burgeoning field of advertising. Whatever the psychoanalytic merit of Bernays's efforts, he was in fact enormously successful, and indeed, is regarded as the doyen of that distinctly American enterprise. Of course, Bernays was hardly alone in spreading the message of psychoanalysis to these shores; he was merely a vociferous popularizer.

By the beginning of the 1920s, a decade after Freud's visit to Clark University, psychoanalysis was beginning to be taken seriously both as a cultural force and as a private therapy. It is to Douglas's credit that she adumbrates the social and political forces that led to the rise of psychoanalysis in what was—from Freud's perspective—the least likely of all places.

Douglas attaches importance to several factors with respect to this interesting development. Looming in the background is the spectre of the barely ended Great War with its everyday savagery and monstrous waste of life. She argues that the 1920s ushered in an epoch of “terrible honesty” in which Freud's pessimism found fertile ground. The pious prewar atmosphere of Victorian sentimentality, with its promise of a glorious “war to end all wars,” had crumbled under the brutal reality of that appalling engagement. The acknowledgment of the inherent aggressive

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