The Psychogenesis of a case of Homosexuality in a Woman: 1920: Sigmund Freud

by Julia Evans on January 1, 1920

Originally published in German as:

Über die Psychogenese Eines Falles von Weiblicher Homosexualität

(A) References to German Editions:

1920    Int. Z. Psychoanal., Vol 6 (1), p1-24

1947    Gesammelte Werke, Vol 12, p271-302

(B) References to English Translations:

‘The Psychogenesis of a case of Homosexuality in a Woman’

1920    Int J. Psycho-analysis, Vol 1 Part 2, p125-149, Translated by Barbara Low and R. Gabler

Available here

1924    Collected Papers, Vol 2, p202-231, Translated by Barbara Low and R. Gabler

1955    Standard Edition, Vol 18, p145-172, Translated from the German under the general editorship of James Strachey

1979    Penguin Freud Library, Vol 9 – Case Histories II, p367 – 400, Translated from the German under the general editorship of James Strachey

Available from here

Quoted from James Strachey’s introduction (probably 1955-ish):

We learn from Ernest Jones (1957, p42)[i] that the present work was completed in January 1920 and published in March. After an interval of nearly twenty years Freud published in this paper a fairly detailed, if incomplete, case history of a woman patient. But wheras the case of ‘Dora’ (1905e[1901])[ii],as well as his contributions to ‘Studies on Hysteria (1895d)’[iii] , dealt exclusively with hysteria, he now began to consider more deeply the whole question of sexuality in women. His investigations were to lead subsequently to his papers on the effects of the anatomical distinction between the sexes (1925j)[iv] and on female sexuality (1931b) [v] and to Lecture 23 (JE notes that this should read Lecture 33 on ‘Femininity’) of his New Introductory Lectures (1933a) [vi] .  (A detailed account of his developing views will be found in the Editor’s Note to 1925j [vii] PFL Vol 7 p326 ff,) Apart from this, the present paper contains an exposition of some of Freud’s later views on homosexuality in general, as well as some interesting remarks on technical points.

References to Sigmund Freud’s works in the text or footnotes:

The following works of Sigmund Freud are referenced in the text or the footnotes:

1901[published 1905e]: Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria: Penguin Freud Library Vol 8 Case Histories I

1905d: Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality: Penguin Freud Library Vol 7

1909 :Notes upon a case of obsessional neurosis (The ‘Rat Man’): Penguin Freud Library Vol 8 Case Histories I

1910h : A Special Type of Choice of Object made by Men: Penguin Freud Library, Vol 7

1914 (published 1918) : From the History of an Infantile Neurosis (The ‘Wolf Man’): Penguin Freud Library Vol 8 Case Histories I

1915-1917 (Published 1916-1917): Lecture XXIV, The Common Neurotic State : Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis: PFL, Vol 1

1915b : Thoughts for the Times on War and Death: Penguin Freud Library, Vol 12

1922b : Some neurotic mechanisms in jealousy, paranoia and homosexuality : Penguin Freud Library, Vol 10

1931b: Female Sexuality: Penguin Freud Library, vol 7


1)  The technical device of ‘constructions’ in analysis was considered by Freud in the case histories of the ‘Rat Man’ and the ‘Wolf Man’ as well as this case – see Endnote viii. In page 5 (approx) of this case study, Freud writes about the process of constructions: ‘For these reasons I refrained altogether from holding out to the parents any prospect of their wish being fulfilled. I merely said I was prepared to study the girl carefully for a few weeks or months, so as then to be able to pronounce how far a continuation of the analysis would be likely to influence her. In quite a number of cases, indeed, an analysis falls into two clearly distinguishable phases. In the first, the physician procures from the patient the necessary information, makes him familiar with the premises and postulates of psychoanalysis, and unfolds to him the reconstruction of the genesis of his disorder as deduced from the material brought up in the analysis. In the second phase the patient himself gets hold of the material put before him; he works on it, recollects what he can of the apparently repressed memories, and tries to repeat the rest as if he were in some way living it over again. In this way he can confirm, supplement, and correct the inferences made by the physician. It is only during this work that he experiences, through overcoming resistances, the inner change aimed at, and acquires for himself the convictions that make him independent of the physician’s authority.’

2)  On the subject of the ‘gain from illness’ see Endnote xv.  On page 9 (approx), Freud notes that ‘There was, in addition, a practical motive for this change, derived from her real relations with her mother, which served as a [secondary] ‘gain from her illness’. The mother herself still attached great value to the attentions and the admiration of men. If, then, the girl became homosexual and left men to her mother (in other words, ‘retired in favour of’ her mother), she would remove something which had hitherto been partly responsible for her mother’s dislike.¹  This libidinal position of the girl’s, thus arrived at, was greatly reinforced as soon as she perceived how much it displeased her father. …’

3)  ‘retiring in favour of someone else’ from among the causes of homosexuality, or in the mechanism of libidinal fixation  See Endnote vi: Freud writes: ‘As ‘retiring in favour of someone else’ has not previously been mentioned among the causes of homosexuality, or in the mechanism of libidinal fixation in general, I will adduce here another analytic observation of the same kind which has a special feature of interest.’ & page 9 (approx): ‘The mother herself still attached great value to the attentions and the admiration of men. If, then, the girl became homosexual and left men to her mother (in other words, ‘retired in favour of’ her mother), she would remove something which had hitherto been partly responsible for her mother’s dislike.¹’

4)  Endnote xxi See page 16 (approx.) Quote: ‘She was in fact a feminist; she felt it to be unjust that girls should not enjoy the same freedom as boys, and rebelled against the lot of woman in general. At the time of the analysis the idea of pregnancy and child-birth was disagreeable to her, partly, I surmise, on account of the bodily disfigurement connected with them. Her girlish narcissism had fallen back on this defence,¹ and ceased to express itself as pride in her good looks.’  JE notes that footnote 1 has been added by Freud and references, ‘Cf. Kriemhilde’s admission in the Nibelungenlied.’  From Wikipedia (here): ‘The Nibelungenlied, translated as The Song of the Nibelungs, is an epic poem in Middle High German. The story tells of dragon-slayer Siegfried at the court of the Burgundians, how he was murdered, and of his wife Kriemhild‘s revenge.’

It is interesting that after this case had been written up, a silent movie was produced in 1924. Further details here.   Fritz Lang 1890-1976 produced it and Thea von Harbou 1888-1954 was the author. The title on the container is: Fritz Lang’s Kriemhilde’s revenge. The alternative title is: Fritz Lang’s Kriemhilde’s revenge, Nibelungenlied.

Summary: The conclusion of Lang’s 1924 two-part interpretation of the Nibelungenlied. Siegfried’s death is avenged by the woman he loved. Kriemhilde, widowed when her family murders Siegfried, first marries the king of the Huns, then carries out her vendetta of massacres, chaos, and devastation

5) JE requests that you read Freud’s concluding paragraphs.  Here is the last one: ‘It is not for psychoanalysis to solve the problem of homosexuality. It must rest content with disclosing the psychical mechanisms that resulted in determining the object-choice, and with tracing back the paths from them to the instinctual dispositions. There its work ends, and it leaves the rest to biological research, which has recently brought to light, through Steinach’s¹ experiments, such very important results concerning the influence exerted by the first set of characteristics mentioned above upon the second and third. Psychoanalysis has a common basis with biology, in that it presupposes an original bisexuality in human beings (as in animals). But psychoanalysis cannot elucidate the intrinsic nature of what in conventional or in biological phraseology is termed ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’: it simply takes over the two concepts and makes them the foundation of its work. When we attempt to reduce them further, we find masculinity vanishing into activity and femininity into passivity, and that does not tell us enough. I have already tried to explain how far we may reasonably expect, or how far experience has already proved, that the work of elucidation which is part of the task of analysis furnishes us with the means of effecting a modification of inversion. When one compares the extent to which we can influence it with the remarkable transformations that Steinach has effected in some cases by his operations, it does not make a very imposing impression. But it would be premature, or a harmful exaggeration, if at this stage we were to indulge in hopes of a ‘therapy’ of inversion that could be generally applied. The cases of male homosexuality in which Steinach has been successful fulfilled the condition, which is not always present, of a very patent physical ‘hermaphroditism’. Any analogous treatment of female homosexuality is at present quite obscure. If it were to consist in removing what are probably hermaphroditic ovaries, and in grafting others, which are hoped to be of a single sex, there would be little prospect of its being applied in practice. A woman who has felt herself to be a man, and has loved in masculine fashion, will hardly let herself be forced into playing the part of a woman, when she must pay for this transformation, which is not in every way advantageous, by renouncing all hope of motherhood.’

[i] JE adds: Ernest Jones: 1957: Sigmund Freud: Life and Work, Vol 3: London and New York: p42

[ii] JE adds: Sigmund Freud: 1905e[written in 1901]: Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria: Standard Edition Vol 7 p3 or Penguin Freud Library Vol 8 Case Histories I p29

[iii] JE adds: Sigmund Freud and Josef Breuer: Studies on Hysteria: Published London 1956 or Standard Edition Vol 2 or Penguin Freud Library Vol 3

[iv] JE adds: Sigmund Freud : Some Psychical Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction between the Sexes : 1925j : Standard Edition Vol 19 p243 or Penguin Freud Library Vol 7 p323

[v] JE adds: Sigmund Freud:1931b: Female Sexuality: Standard Edition vol 21 p223 or Penguin Freud Library, vol 7, p367

[vi] JE adds: Lecture XXXIII: ‘Femininity’: 1932 (published 1933) of Sigmund Freud: New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, New York, 1966; London 1971; Standard Edition Vol 22; Penguin Freud Library vol 2.

[vii] JE adds: Sigmund Freud: Some psychical consequences of the anatomical distribution between the sexes: 1925j : Standard Edition Vol 19 p243 or Penguin Freud Library Vol 7 p323. James Strachey is the Editor

One comment

Der Ring der Nibelungen is an lengthy 4 part opera by Wagner, first staged in 1869. His text sources were Das Nibelungenlied, an epic poem written in Middle High German c1200; and Thidreks Saga af Bern, a prose narrative written c1260–70 in Old Norse (Cf. Groove Music). Those texts were (and still are) part of German/Austrian stock culture. On another note, Magnus Hirschfeld had started in 1919 he Institute for Sexual Science in Berlin, where he studied in depth cases of “inversion”, as it was then called, trying to show its “naturalness”, and had been since as early as 1897 a strong campaigner for the de-criminilisation of homosexuality. He was aware of Freud’s work.

by Bruno de Florence on 14/09/2012 at 1:05 pm. Reply #