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Dalsimer, K. (1992). Virginia Woolf and the Fictions of Psychoanalysis: By Elizabeth Abel. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. 1990. Pp. 182.. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 19:110-113.

(1992). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 19:110-113

Virginia Woolf and the Fictions of Psychoanalysis: By Elizabeth Abel. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. 1990. Pp. 182.

Review by:
Katherine Dalsimer

Virginia Woolf and the Fictions of Psychoanalysis is a bold and fascinating book. Elizabeth Abel, who is associate professor of English at the University of California at Berkeley, examines the work of Virginia Woolf in relation to questions which were the subject of lively, often heated discussion in psychoanalytic circles during the period when Woolf did her most important writing. Abel's interest is in the 'developmental narratives' of Freud and Melanie Klein, and in the developmental narratives that she infers from the writing of Virginia Woolf. Woolf's engagement with psychoanalysis, Abel states,

was deeply embedded in history. Increasingly through the 1920s—the major decade of her career, and the primary focus of this study—Woolf's narratives move backward toward a maternal point of origin that Freud, in the same decade, both acknowledged and occluded and that Klein mapped with greater complexity. In the 1930s, however, Woolf swerved abruptly, although reluctantly, from Klein toward Freud as the ideologies of motherhood that flourished in the 1920s and that fostered her critique of Freud were appropriated and irretrievably contaminated for her by the fascist state (p. xvi).

In Abel's view, the tension between Melanie Klein and Freud, between a matricentric and a patricentric view of development, both participated in and reflected debates within social anthropology over the place in human history of matriarchy and patriarchy. This 'gender discourse', in Abel's words, constitutes the background for her discussion.

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