Feminist criticism and psychoanalysis

Madelon Sprengnether

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Feminism, psychoanalysis and literary interpretation have more in common than their early histories might seem to suggest – or promise. Each of these intellectual and socially engaged activities is based on premises (about text, psyche and culture) that undermine familiar or received wisdom. At times, they seem to ignore one another, but often they have coincided – and collided – in startling and productive ways. What follows is an overview of a challenging set of engagements – beginning with Freud's analyses of female hysterics in the 1890s, continuing into the 1920s with the first wave of feminist encounter with Freud, jumping to the early second-wave critique of Freud's oedipal phallocentrism, then moving to an interrogation of the possibilities of pre-oedipal subversion into something that we might describe as our current decentred, post-Freudian, post-postmodernist era. STORIES OF ORIGIN The story of psychoanalysis, insofar as it may be said to begin with Freud's co-authored Studies on Hysteria (1895/1986), may also be said to begin with a woman – referred to as Anna O. in the case history reported by Freud and his mentor Josef Breuer. Anna O., who suffered from partial paralysis and aphasia (an inability to speak in her native German, though she was capable of speaking English, French and Italian), is described by Freud and Breuer as effecting her own cure by freely associating each of her symptoms to their point of origin in her conflicted feelings about nursing her father in his last illness.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationA History of Feminist Literary Criticism
EditorsGill Plain, Susan Sellars
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages28
ISBN (Electronic)9781139167314
ISBN (Print)9780521852555
StatePublished - 2007


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