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Niederland, W.G. (1960). The First Application of Psychoanalysis to a Literary Work. Psychoanal Q., 29:228-235.

(1960). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 29:228-235

The First Application of Psychoanalysis to a Literary Work

William G. Niederland, M.D.

Contrary to widespread belief neither Gradiva (1907) nor the Denkwürdigkeiten eines Nervenkranken (1911) are the first works of literature to which Freud applied the sensitive methods of his newly discovered investigative system. The first application of psychoanalysis to a work of literature was in 1898 when Freud employed it in the analysis of a small, little-known novel by the Swiss writer, Conrad Ferdinand Meyer (1825-1898), called Die Richterin.

To be sure, a number of references to literary works, as Hamlet, Grillparzer's Ahnfrau, Jacobsen's Niel Lyhne, Gottfried Killer's Der Grüne Heinrich, and to medieval documents like the Malleus Maleficarum, appear in Freud's letters to Fliess with growing frequency between the years 1895 and 1897. Into that period also falls the first direct reference to Oedipus, mentioned in a letter to Fliess dated October 15, 1897. The earliest example of a literary work methodically analyzed in a separate essay is undoubtedly Die Richterin. Late in 1897, or early in 1898, Freud became acquainted with the writings of the Swiss poet and novelist through Wilhelm Fliess who had drawn Freud's attention to Meyer's poem, Am Himmelstor, in which the washing compulsion of a young woman is described with the impact and immediacy of a clinical experience. Kris (2) has pointed out that Freud subsequently paid much attention to Meyer's works, and his interest in them remained with Freud for the rest of his life (5). A number of Freud's letters to Fliess contain references to the Swiss poet who is repeatedly mentioned as 'our beloved C. F. Meyer' or 'our author', and he is also quoted in one of the case histories (1).

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