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Appelbaum, A.H. (1994). The Incest Theme in Literature and Legend: Fundamentals of a Psychology of Literary Creation: By Otto Rank. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1991, 692 pp., $65.00.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 42:1283-1286.

(1994). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 42:1283-1286

The Incest Theme in Literature and Legend: Fundamentals of a Psychology of Literary Creation: By Otto Rank. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1991, 692 pp., $65.00.

Review by:
Ann Halsell Appelbaum, M.D.

Otto Rank was twenty-one in 1905 when Adler introduced him to Freud. The youth had in his hand the manuscript of Der Künstler: Ansätze zu einer Sexual Psychologie (The Artist: Approach to a Sexual Psychology). Those 48 pages constitute the outline of the work under review.

Rank had been supporting himself by working in a machine shop. He had had only technical schooling, as his father had been unable to afford higher education for his second son. Rank's diaries of those years portray both the despair of the stifled intellectual and his hungering forages through the literature of the world as he strove to compensate through independent study for the formal education that had been denied him. He devoured Freud's works as they became available, took up Freud's notion, put forward in The Interpretation of Dreams, of the effect of civilization on art as demonstrated by incestuous longings being "out in the open" in Oedipus, the King and repressed in Hamlet. Rank expanded this idea into a more detailed examination of a succession of literary works. It was this essay that he presented to Freud at their first encounter.

Impressed, Freud arranged for Rank to enter the University of Vienna, and helped him finance his studies by appointing him as salaried secretary to the Psychological Wednesday Evenings, a group that had been meeting in Freud's apartment, without minutes, since 1902. The first three meetings he recorded, October 10, 17 and 24, 1906, contain the essence of Rank's three-part presentation of The Incest Drama and its Complications as well as the ensuing discussions.

Over the next six years Rank completed his undergraduate and graduate studies. He published The Artist in 1907, The Myth of the Birth of the Hero in 1909, and his Ph.D. thesis, The Lohengrin Legend, in 1911. The latter was the first dissertation at any university to employ a psychoanalytic method, as Peter Rudnytsky points out in his excellent essay introducing the current translation of The Incest Theme in Literature and Legend, which first appeared in 1912.

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