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Britton, R. (1992). The Oedipus Situation and the Depressive Position. New Library of Psychoanalysis, 14:34-45.

(1992). New Library of Psychoanalysis, 14:34-45

The Oedipus Situation and the Depressive Position Book Information Previous Up Next

Ronald Britton

An earlier version of this chapter was read in Vienna in 1985 and published in the Sigmund Freud House Bulletin, vol. 9, no. 1, 1985.

I find it a sobering thought that in a few years’ time a century will have passed since Freud first put pen to paper to describe what now we so often refer to as the Oedipus complex.

In May 1897, in a letter to his friend Wilhelm Fliess, he wrote that he now thought that an ‘integral constituent of neuroses’ was hostile impulses against parents (Freud 1897a: 255). This death wish is directed in sons against their father and in daughters against their mother. He wrote a succinct further note: A maidservant makes a transference from this by wishing her mistress to die so that her master can marry her (cf. Lisl's dream about Martha and me) Lisl was the Freuds’ nursery-maid and she had reported a dream of her mistress having died and the Professor marrying her. Five months later, in October, Freud described in a further letter his discovery of this same configuration in himself in the course of his own self-analysis. This persuaded him that such wishes might be ubiquitous. And he conjured up a universal audience for the Greek drama of Oedipus Rex, in which Each member was once, in germ and in phantasy, just such an Oedipus. Freud refers to the horror generated in the audience by ‘the dream fulfilment here transplanted into reality’ (Freud 1897b: 265)-the horror, that is, of Oedipus killing his father and marrying his mother, leading Jocasta his mother to suicide and Oedipus to blinding himself. However, whether it is the royal court of Thebes or Lisl in the nursery, we notice in the two different sexes the same elements:

a parental couple (symbolic in Lisl's case);

a death wish towards the parent of the same sex;

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