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Feinstein, H.M. (1983). The Sins of the Fathers. Psychoanal. Rev., 70:95-100.

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(1983). Psychoanalytic Review, 70(1):95-100

The Sins of the Fathers

Howard M. Feinstein, M.D., Ph.D.

In an earlier essay in this journal (Feinstein, 1982) I called attention to the productive interaction between an imagined therapeutic stance and psychobiographical research. Culling illustrations from my study of William James (1842-1910) I showed how James's depression at the age of 19 (1861) emerged out of a vocational struggle with his father. After a brief show of resistance over his choice of career, William dutifully murdered his artist self and became depressed. The evidence is strong and allows for a reconstruction that is both clinically and historically sound. It will not surprise experienced clinicians, particularly those who work with families, to learn, as I did, that vocational choice was not an issue for William alone, but had been a source of conflict between father and son for at least three generations. The bitterness that set young James's teeth on edge can be linked to his father's fight with his father over the very same issue. The earlier episode is replete with financial intrigue, political scandal, and a pathetic failed rebellion. It is a story that seems remarkably contemporary and might aptly be called “Dropping Out in 1829.”

During the winter of 1829-1830 Henry James Senior (the father-to-be of William James, the psychologist), then 18 years old and a senior at Union College, fled to Boston to work as a proofreader. His fatr, William James of Albany (1771-1832), a successful merchant, real estate investor (he owned much of the village of Syracuse), and banker wanted him to be a lawyer but Henry had no use for the law or his father's business. Henry was in a unique position at Union. His father was tied to Eliphalet Nott, the college's President, and Archibald McIntyre, manager of a New York State Lottery run for the


* I am indebted to the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation and the National Institute of Mental Health for providing financial support for the research upon which this paper is based.

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