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Werman, D.S. Guilbert, Y. (1998). Freud, Yvette Guilbert, and the Psychology of Performance: A Biographical Note. Psychoanal. Rev., 85(3):399-412.

(1998). Psychoanalytic Review, 85(3):399-412

Freud, Yvette Guilbert, and the Psychology of Performance: A Biographical Note

David S. Werman, M.D. and Yvette Guilbert

The friendship of Freud and Yvette Guilbert, the famous French “diseuse,” well-known today by Toulouse-Lautrec's pictures of her, was based manifestly on mutual admiration, affection, and respect, if not on reciprocal understanding. Guilbert had little or no knowledge of Freud's research into unconscious processes, and Freud seemed not to have understood or empathized with Yvette.

Their superficial albeit congenial friendship was challenged when Yvette asked Freud to explain how she was able to enter into the characters she portrayed on the stage. Freud provided an answer based on the influence of early unconscious memories. Yvette roundly rejected this view, and defended the intense effort of the performer.

It is the opinion of the author that Freud and Yvette had each seized one end of the performer's activity: the regressive, on one hand, and the conscious, creative ego work on the other. While advancing the concept of “regression in the service of the ego,” psychoanalysts have paid little attention to the actual work of the ego.

On a wall in Freud's study, at Bergasse 19, were the photographs of three women: The first two were of Lou Andréas-Salomé and Marie Bonaparte, well-known to psychoanalysts as among Freud's cherished friends and colleagues. The third photograph was inscribed “Au savant Sigmund Freud le salut d'une artiste,” and was signed Yvette Guilbert, the French diseuse (Engelman, 1976).1


This paper was presented at the Mid-Winter Meeting of the American Psychoanalytic Association, in New York, December 17, 1995 in a slightly shorter version.

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