Dora's father had been a patient of Freud's and recommended that she seek treatment from him after discovering a suicidal note on or in her writing-desk (Freud's account is equivocal on this particular). Though her father did not suspect that she would harm herself, he was "none the less very much shaken" (Freud 17) and sought help for his obviously ailing daughter. Dora's symptoms included a host of somatic and mental affects such as dyspnoea (difficulty breathing or hysterical choking), aphonia (loss of voice), hysterical unsociability, and depression. All of these symptoms Freud would trace back to the repression of Dora's sexuality. The willful repression of the sexual urges Dora felt for the adults around her (including her father, her father's mistress Frau K., and her husband Herr K.), Freud concludes, is responsible for all of her hysterical symptoms and, using the interpretative techniques developed in The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud attempts to show that Dora's denial of these conclusions is a resistance to her own natural inclinations. In other words, Dora represses her true desires and this repression is the source of her hysterical symptoms.
"Whereas the practical aim of the treatment is to remove all possible symptoms and to replace them by conscious thoughts," Freud writes, "we may regard it as a second and theoretical aim to repair all the damages to the patient's memory. These two aims are coincident. When one is reached, so is the other; and the same path leads to them both" (Freud 11). In other words, Freud must convince Dora of the correctness of his psychoanalytical interpretation in order for her symptoms to abate. The impairments to her memory, Freud claims, are just those repressed desires that have caused her hysterical symptoms. She must accept Freud's analysis in order to be cured of her ailment. It is this diagnosis of the origin of Dora's symptoms and the path to a cure that I wish to challenge. In order to effectively demonstrate the flaws in Freud's account, I shall turn to the circumstances leading up to Dora's treatment.
Dora's father was in a loveless marriage with a woman whose interests in life, we are told, were confined to the upkeep of the family home. Dora's family had moved to a health-resort outside Vienna to provide a better climate for her father's tubercular ailments and made friends with a couple that had lived at the resort for several years, Herr K. and his wife Frau K. Frau K. became her father's nurse and, in time, his mistress. Dora cared for the K.'s two children and was "almost a mother to them" (Freud 19). Two incidents of a sexual nature occurred between Herr K. and Dora, both of which Freud would misinterpret to his patient's detriment. Herr K. would accompany Dora on walks and one day made sexual advances toward her after a trip to the lake. When she told her father about the incident, he called on Herr K. to explain himself. Herr K. denied any such overtures and conjectured that Dora had imagined the whole thing. She had, after all, "read Mantegazza's Physiology of Love and books of that sort in their house on the lake" (Freud 19). It was, Herr K. claimed, most likely that she had been over-excited by such reading and fantasized that Herr K. might be amorously intwined with her. Much to Dora's