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Pontalis, J.B. (1974). Freud in Paris. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 55:455-458.

(1974). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 55:455-458

Freud in Paris

J. B. Pontalis

It is not only hysterics who suffer from reminiscences …

Freud arrived in Paris on an October morning in 1885 and put up in a small hotel, half-way between the Panthéon and the Sorbonne. He was to live there for five months. It was to be a time of poverty, with only a grant to live on; of chastity, despite the contemporary cliché associating Paris with loose and easy living; and of isolation, as he wandered through a town that spoke a strange language, amidst disconcerting crowds and customs. At times he retreated for hours on end to the top of the towers of Notre Dame. He went to the theatre (Sarah Bernhardt, what a voice!) accompanied by a Russian doctor, a friend whom he met by chance. He wrote long letters to his fiancée, which alternated between dejection and exaltation.

What did he come to look for? Something new. He wanted—and I quote him—'to learn something new' which he said he could no longer expect of the German universities. This 29-year-old doctor, already a qualified neurologist and only recently appointed Privatdozent, came to Paris as one goes to a rendezvous to discover what one doesn't know and yet suspects, regarding one's vocation.

He knew who to turn to: Charcot. He had come to Paris because of him.

What a contrast between the two men! Charcot, in 1885, was at the height of his glory, a glory which we are hard put to imagine today since it coincided with a time when medical power was at its zenith. It was this same power that Charcot personified and exercised in every sphere.

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