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Sigmund Freud Urged His Disciple to Divorce : Wanted Him to Marry Another Woman, Daughter Finds

November 12, 1987|MICHAEL SPECTER | The Washington Post

Helen Kraft began tracking her father's story a decade ago. She knew vaguely that he had some association with Sigmund Freud and she knew that he was one of America's first psychoanalysts.

But the Alexandria, Va., woman's tireless inquiries into the life of Horace Westlake Frink, who died in 1936, have shed light on far more than her family heritage. In correspondence she is donating to Johns Hopkins University, Freud emerges as a kind of grand puppeteer who helped dissolve her parents' marriage by urging her father to marry another woman. And the Frink case again raises an essential question about Freud and the profession he invented: How much control should an analyst exert over his patients' lives?

Frink, a founder of the New York Psychoanalytic Society, was Sigmund Freud's last American Wunderkind. Dazzled by his early promise, Freud installed Frink as his American heir in 1921. Brilliant and arrogant, Frink had the bearing of a Brahmin, and the vision to lead Freud's movement in the New World.

Married Wealthy Patient

While under analysis by Freud in Vienna, however, Frink decided to leave his wife and marry one of his wealthy patients, Angelika Bijur. Despite Freud's insistence that the marriage would succeed, it proved brief and painful. When his discarded first wife died unexpectedly in 1923, guilt apparently drove Frink to madness. His brilliant career was over before he turned 40.

The dizzying fall of Horace Frink has never been much more than a bizarre footnote in the history of psychoanalysis. His highly regarded 1918 textbook, "Morbid Fears and Compulsions," disappeared from the shelves long ago. But the correspondence assembled by Helen Kraft, which is now available to scholars at Johns Hopkins' Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives, may bring Frink's name to the fore once again--though not in the manner he might have preferred.

The letters show that Freud pushed openly for Frink to discard his first wife, Doris Best Frink, for Bijur, to whom Freud himself was deeply attached. Insisting that Frink's analysis was complete, Freud failed to diagnose the psychosis that later emerged. And when Bijur inquired about Frink's mental health before they married, Freud neglected to tell her of a psychotic break Frink had suffered under his care.

"It is true that you are taking all pains to put me in the wrong," Freud wrote to a troubled Frink on Sept. 12, 1921. "Yet I know I am right. I think diplomacy on my side would be too riskful (sic). I should cling to what I consider the truth.

"As for your wife," the letter continued, referring to Frink's uneasiness about divorcing Doris, "I do not doubt your kind intentions, but her letters are cool and reasonable. I am sure when the storm has passed she will become what she has been before."

Freud brushed off Bijur's doubts with similar indifference. When her husband Abraham threatened to provoke a scandal over the affair that would ruin Frink professionally, Bijur sent a "long and desperate cable" to Freud, seeking advice.

He answered quickly and simply, telling Bijur--whom he described as "a treasure of the heart"--that the liaison was "no mistake" and urging her to "be kind and patient."

Stumbling on a packet of his letters in 1976, Kraft decided to research her father's life. She wrote to every person or institution she could think of that might have information or correspondence. She pored over minutes of meetings and studied illegible letters, often written in German. In the Library of Congress, she searched passenger lists to see when Bijur had been in Vienna.

'A Terrible Mistake'

"I personally don't have any bitterness toward Freud or psychoanalysis," she said in an interview. "Freud contributed immensely to the understanding of human nature. But I just feel that in my father's case, he made a terrible mistake."

She spoke quietly, as if talking about a typing error rather than something that destroyed her family. Her mother died of pneumonia in 1923, only months after the divorce. (Abraham Bijur had died earlier of cancer.)

"I could never understand why my mother was so compliant," Kraft said. "But she understood that my father was a sick man even if Freud did not. And if the greatest authority of our time said it would make him happy to be divorced, my mother was willing to make that sacrifice."

Frink was trained as a physician at Cornell University Medical School, graduating in 1905. He served as a house surgeon at New York's Bellevue Hospital, but by 1908 he had become disenchanted with surgery. He began his study of neurosis in 1909 and was analyzed by A. A. Brill, the first practicing American psychoanalyst.

His letters show signs of self-doubt even during his early training.

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