04/14/2024, 13:20, Vienna  DEUTSCH / ENGLISH

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THE VIENNA PSYCHOANALYST wants to give not only already internationally established psychoanalysts, but also still unknown psychoanalysts the opportunity to post a self-written and not yet published article on the FrontPage of our online magazine!

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(For reasons of readability, the male form is used with personal names, however the female form is also always intended.)

Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore!

Author: Sabrina Zehetner (TVP)


The famous author Edgar Allan Poe continues to be courted by psychoanalysts across the field´s spectrum. The princess, Marie Bonaparte, herself has written an enthusiastic 700-page psychobiography of the writer with “pathological tendencies” (Freud), Edgar Poe, étude psychanalytique (1933).

Indeed, Poe might not have been the mentally healthiest contemporary but neither was Marie Bonaparte, and biographically they had quite a few things in common. Bonaparte´s book contains two volumes - Book I discusses the author´s life and poetry while Book II concentrates heavily on the so-called “mother cycles”. Book III is entirely devoted to the father figures in his story and Book IV analyses the similarities between Poe and Baudelaire. Freud praised Bonaparte´s genius in the book´s preface:

Thanks to her interpretative efforts, we can now understand how much of the characteristics of his work were determined by their author´s special nature; but we also learn that this was itself the precipitate of powerful emotional ties and painful experiences in his early youth. Investigations of this kind are not intended to explain an author´s genius, but they show what motive forces aroused it and what material was offered to him by destiny. There is a particular fascination in studying the laws of the human mind as exemplified in outstanding individuals.

Poe´s emphasis on symbolism, hidden motives, obsessive behavior and altered states of reality proved to be fruitful for psychoanalytic scrutiny. In the 1920s, countless psychoanalytical studies focused on supernatural themes and the horror elements in literature.  Edgar Allan Poe´s life was one of tragedy and self-destructive tendencies. His mother died of pulmonary tuberculosis and since his father had abandoned the family, he was effectively orphaned by age two. His foster father, John Allen, neglected him, which led Poe to develop a gambling addiction he would never recover from and was eventually forced to join the military to make ends meet.

Frances Allen, his foster mother, died as well leaving him devoid of any mother figure in his life. He never recovered from the death of his first wife Virginia Clemm and struggled with heavy alcoholism and depression. To make matters worse, despite the success of the famous poem “The Raven”, he lived on the brink of poverty throughout his life. Why was Bonaparte so drawn to this tragic literary genius?

Marie Bonaparte first came into contact with Poe´s work when her father gave her a translation by Charles Baudelaire. Before Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Baudelaire himself had been the subject of psychoanalytical observation as well. Her father’s favourite books didn´t leave a lasting impression on her except for Ligeia: "I was so horrified by the description of the living and vengeful corpse of the woman that I was unable, I think, to finish the story. I soon abandoned the terrifying book". Marie-Felix Blanc, Marie Bonaparte´s mother, was afflicted with tuberculosis when she was pregnant and died of embolism a month after her daughter´s birth. Her tutors, wet-nurses and governesses failed to fill the void her mother had left behind and Bonaparte was raised in a restrictive environment. She wasn´t allowed to go outside when it was cold, run too fast or play with other children. The internalized fear of death and illness followed her from a very young age and eventually led her to develop various phobias. She was scared of buttons, the Egyptian god of death Anubis, medicine and of being poisoned.

Initially, these experiences made her wary of the author but these similarities were also part of her fascination for the author´s work:

“...for twenty-five years of my life I didn´t open a book where there might have been a story of a haunting-especially if the spirits were female (...) Because the female dead, as I realized early on, scared me a hundred times more than male ones. It was the dead women who haunt the stories of Poe that kept me away from his work”.  

In his theory of poetics, Poe explained that the most ideal subject for a poem would be "the death . . . of a beautiful woman". The dead-living mother represents a source of creativity that would inspire the uncanny and often morbid themes of life and death, reality and fantasy and horror and beauty. She read Poe´s Ligeia again while undergoing psychoanalysis with Freud and realized that the premature death of her mother had a profound effect on her personality and development of childhood fears. To her, Ligeia was “the vengeful mother who reappeared before the father to take the place usurped by Rowena=me; suddenly she lost all her terrifying power along with her mystery. This was one of the most wonderful therapeutic results of my analysis".

Bonaparte states that, "even in his life Edgar Poe was like the heroes of his stories: fixated on the moribund mother of his childhood, exhausting himself with his efforts to escape from her”. Every event or character in his work was representative of himself or his family. Following the footsteps of Freud, Bonaparte interpreted the maternal figure and female characters in Poe´s work such as Berenice, Morella, Madeleine, Eleonora or Ligeia and biography as symbolic expression of the author´s unconscious and sexuality. Paradoxically, by analyzing Poe she revealed more about herself than she perhaps intended to. The projection and transference of her own story onto the author´s helped her to better understand the origin of the sadness in her life.

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