Requiem for Ida Bauer -or- Dora's Curiosity about Women

Growing up as an adolescent, who wasn't curious about what the adult world had to offer and at times seemed to be concealing? As a child, there were questions like; who was the "tooth fairy" for some children, for others who was "Santa Claus", who was "God"? Perhaps, no therapeutic story has held my on ongoing curiosity and interest more than Freud's medical work with "Dora". Since reading the case study almost 20 years ago, I have researched, collected ideas, thoughts, and placed scraps of information from secondary literature on the case and stuck them into a file. This is a fragment of those researches.

Feminists have dissected the case and the failings of Freud. I believe, there are still to this day many therapeutic loose ends to the case and not only Freud's problems with "transference". One of the most important of which is the so-called cultural "milieu" that Dora and Freud lived in. This cultural mileau is not only the milieu of her family, but instead and I believe more importantly their community, namely the Vienna and European culture as a whole at the beginning of the 20th century. This "Field Note of a Dream Researcher" discusses the dreams Dora presented to Freud and the patriarchal poetic tone of Freud's interpretations and ideological therapeutic conversation.

However, before I present the dreams of Dora, here is a telling poetic quote that Freud reportedly made; "The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is ‘What does a woman want?'"

The argument could be made, that his patients Anna O, Irma (Irma's injection dream) and Dora among others were trying their best to tell him. Given the Victorian male dominated and political ideological voice of the European epoch that Freud and Dora lived under, Freud spoke for Dora through the published case study. Dora's dreams I believe allude to, and are not only the voice of one young girl growing up in Vienna, instead they represent women's dreams as a collective cultural expression of the political Austrian and European "Zeitgeist" at the beginning of the 20th century. At the turn of that century, the women's suffrage movement was beginning to mobilize. It could be argued that the poetic feminine symptoms that left Dora silent and "speechless", helped to give a voice to the Western woman's suffrage movement (via Freud's publication of the case). The IIDR dream interpretation The Vagina Monologues gives a female voice to the problems of femininity that Dora could not. Here are the two dreams found in Freud's "Dora":

Dora's First dream: Home on Fire -or- Dora's Jewel Case

"A house was on fire. My father was standing beside my bed and woke me up. I dressed quickly. Mother wanted to stop and save her jewel-case; but father said: ‘I refuse to let myself and my children be burnt for the sake of your jewel-case.' We hurried downstairs, and as soon as I was outside I woke up."

Dora's Second dream: Where is the Train Station? -or- Father is Dead

"I was walking about in a town which I did not know. I saw streets and squares which were strange to me. Then I came into a house where I lived, went to my room, and found a letter from Mother lying there. She wrote saying that as I had left home without my parents' knowledge she had not wished to write to me to say Father was ill. ‘Now he is dead, and if you like you can come.'

I then went to the train station and asked about a hundred times: 'Where is the station?' I always got the answer: 'Five minutes.' I then saw a thick wood before me which I went into, and there I asked a man whom I met. He said to me: 'Two and a half hours more.' He offered to accompany me. But I refused and went alone.

I saw the station in front of me and could not reach it. At the same time I had the feeling of anxiety that one has in dreams when one cannot move forward. Then I was at home. I must have been travelling in the meantime, but I know nothing about that. I walked into the porter's lodge, and inquired for our flat. The maidservant opened the door to me and replied that Mother and the others were already at the cemetery."

"Das Weib" -or- Freud's Gynecological Curiosity

"What does a woman want?" Sigmund Freud

"Dora" (published 1905) concerns the case of an 18-year-old woman, whose real name was Ida Bauer. Dora's severe physical (hysterical) symptoms which were psychologically caused included aphonia, the inability to speak, or voice one's thoughts. Dora's thoughts and dreams included such dramatic mise en scene images; as a book on her writing table, a house fire, her father standing beside her bed, a jewel case, a secret suicide note, a train station, a mystery man in the forest, a graveyard (in which her father was going to be buried), a monument in a square.

Freud would like to therapeutically lead us to believe that a lock-box for her jewels symbolized a disguised (was a censored and euphemized word) body image of the female genitals, and that Dora had erotically fantasized about losing her virginity. Freud: "I informed Dora of the conclusion I had reached. The impression made on her must have been forceful" since she then recalled a forgotten piece of the dream in which "she went to her room, and began reading a big book that lay on her writing table."

Freud notes that; "The numerous questions that she had been raising latterly seem to have been belated derivatives of questions inspired by sexual curiosity" which she had tried to satisfy by reading an encyclopedia: "The subjects she read up in it were presumably pregnancy, childbirth, virginity." "Her illness had resulted from her reading, since she had punished herself for dipping into its pages." Interestingly Freud himself justified his own sexual curiosity to be purely medical, in the guise of a "gynecologist". Freud tells us in his own words; "I have not hesitated to converse upon such subjects in such language even with young women. Am I, then, to defend myself upon this score as well? I will simply claim for myself the rights of the gynecologist-or rather much more modest ones-and add that it would be the mark of a singular and perverse prurience to suppose that conversations of this kind are a good means of exciting or of gratifying sexual desires." Note; The image after Ida Bauer and Freud in the theatre above is a 1822 drawing by Jacques-Pierre Maygnier showing a physician who is kneeling to examine a woman but cannot see her genitalia. Modern gynecology has no such visual or verbal medical inhibitions to speak of.

Freud does not name the encyclopedia that Dora may have been reading. After doing some investigative research, work and digging, I came up with Hermann Ploss's Das Weib in der Natur- and Voelkerkunde (Woman in Nature and Ethnology). The book was very popular in the 19th century and had numerous editions. The very fact that Freud invokes the rights of a gynecologist, would in itself suggest an allusion to Ploss, in that Ploss was considered a gynecologist, anthropologist and part of the medical community and faculty of Leipzig University. Contacting the curator of the Freud Museum as to whether Freud had a copy, I was informed that he (Freud) had an 1891 edition in his library.

Feminism in Europe, Austria and Vienna-or-The Totalization of Women's Voices

Some feminists such as Kate Millet Sexual Politics would argue that political alienation, and not a biochemical reaction, is what causes post-partum depression, a state of mind severe enough to result in murder and suicide. Post-partum is regularly seen and expressed in women's dreams. Catherine Belsey Critical Practice provides a clue as to the historical causes of woman's alienation, Belsey finds in the writings of Arthur Conan Doyle that the male perceptual representations of women are viewed as indefinable figures who cannot be explained logically. In this sense, Doyle and by extension (it could be argued), all men have an inability to provide a (female) voice or vision outside of their ideological male-centred political communication and perception. In a word, women were "disenfranchised". The political ideas of disenfranchisement ring through Dora's dreams and her conversations with Freud.

In her essay  Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, Laura Mulvey sees women as being characterized by the dominant cultural male ways of "looking," leading them to ignore and "totalize" women's narratives. In "fetishism and curiosity", Mulvey discusses the "jewel box" found in Dora's dream and finds a poetic allusion to "Pandora's Box" and curiosity about the female body. Mulvey agrees with Freud's interpretation of the word "jewel box" acting as a mask (sexual personae). For Mulvey, Dora's language strategy is one of; "polite speech that uses metaphor in order to avoid calling a spade a spade, and vulgar speech that uses metaphor for ‘.poetic' reasons, in order to proliferate and vary the ways in which the taboos of sexuality can be named or described, either erotically or derogatorily." What Mulvey really mean by "derogatorily", is Dora's sense of disgust which culturally references the "grotesque body".

What Freud could not identify with Dora, was her poetic need for her own feminist voice, her own writing table, her own feminine canon, one free of the political constrictions in the repressive male-dominated Victorian period she lived in. Women in Austria, literally did not have political rights that men had. It would be many years after her therapy with Freud that modern women in Austria would secure their right to vote and political freedom of speech. Anna O (aka Bertha Pappenheim) would be one of the women on the literary and political front line of the suffrage partisan fight. Bertha Pappenheim "Literarische und Publizistische Texte" (Literary and Political Journalism Texts), wrote numerous newspaper articles beginning in 1897 about women's right to vote (stimmrecht/right to a "voice", enfranchisement), work, and marriage. In this feminine body political sense, the "jewel-box", could also be seen as Dora's "voice-box", in that her conversion neurotic symtoms can be viewed as the censorship of her political voice. These ideas are also given voice from a legal perspective in the IIDR dream interpretation "The Law Student".

Madwoman in the Attic -or- Portrait de Dora

In search of a feminist poetic Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar "The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination" use a variety of metaphors such as the battle of the sexes, the metaphor of literary paternity and the Freudian parables of the Platonic cave. The cave as Freud pointed out is a womb shaped place, a sacred shrine, a secret house of the earth. Gilbert and Gubar attempt to understand and describe "both the experience that generates metaphor and the metaphor that creates experience".

For Gilbert and Gubar, Western literature and therefore the "family romance" are viewed as being based on a patriarchal poetic. They ask, "Where does such an implicitly or explicitly patriarchal theory of literature leave women?" Given Freud's case study of Dora, the answer is obvious, without a voice, disenfranchised.

Feminist critics ask; What would Dora have said had she been given her own voice? Kim Morrissey "Dora: A Case of Hysteria" and Hélène Cixous "Portrait de Dora" have produced plays that address the theme of Dora's voice. Dora's complex ruminations are about playing out archetypal feminine holy prostitute archetypes and the politics and deceits of the Viennese Victorian patriarchal family. This feminist perspective is given voice in the IIDR dream interpretation "The Holy Prostitute".

Both the medical work of Ploss and Freud were framed in the ideological language of patriarchal minds, politically projecting their thoughts and feelings on female minds and bodies. Dora was not the only adolescent to experience psychological problems in dealing with the cultural mileau of adults. The dream interpretation article Juvenile Dreams gives voice to both female and male adolescents.

All material Copyright 2006 International Institute for Dream Research. All rights reserved.