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Akavia, N. (2005). Hysteria, Identification, and the Family: A Rereading of Freud's Dora Case. Am. Imago, 62(2):193-216.

(2005). American Imago, 62(2):193-216

Hysteria, Identification, and the Family: A Rereading of Freud's Dora Case

Naamah Akavia


Freud's first major case history, Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria (1905), has long been recognized as one of the classic texts of psychoanalysis.1 While analysts have been inclined to mine the Dora case for its description and treatment of hysteria, feminists have reframed it as an illustration of the gender conflicts in Victorian Europe. From this standpoint, Freud is seen as a typical patriarch who, by using his position of power in the analytic situation, suppressed a woman's desperate attempt to extricate herself from a stifling role and reinforced the inequality that had caused her distress in the first place. Romanticizing hysteria, some feminists regard Dora as a heroine whose “illness” is a form of revolt against societal norms, while others tend to pity her as a victimized figure who constitutes her subjectivity around a pathological narrative that renders her protest impotent.

In the present essay, I seek to reexamine Dora's hysteria in the context of her “extended family,” comprising both members of the family and close friends, which I conceptualize as a system. Grounding my interpretation in Christopher Bollas's (2000) theory of hysteria as a form of identification, I shall argue that hysteria was the preferred mode of communicative interaction governing this system.

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