Sigmund Freud & Hilda Doolittle : a transference contextualised

by Julia Evans on April 28, 2014

In Miquel Bassols’ text, here , he refers to an example of transference between Hilda Doolittle (See endnote [i]) and Sigmund Freud. (See endnote  [ii]). Sigmund Freud’s letter (See endnote vii) is dated 1938, so the incident must have occurred during Hilda Doolittle’s meetings with Freud when he was based in London. H. D. only saw Sigmund Freud on one other occasion, after his letter. The details of the case are given on p8 to 11 (See here)

In tracing Miquel Bassols’ references, I came across the following:

From Case 2 : Frau Emmy von N., Age 40, from Livonia : 1889 : from Studies on Hysteria : 1893 – 1895 : Sigmund Freud & Joseph Breuer : Volume 3 of Penguin Freud Library :  p124 Footnote 1 [See also for SE publication & available  #14 of ] :

There seems to be a necessity for bringing psychical phenomena of which one becomes conscious into causal connection with other conscious material. In cases in which the true causation evades conscious perception one does not hesitate to attempt to make another connection, which one believes, although it is false. It is clear that a split in the content of consciousness must greatly facilitate the occurrence of ‘false connections’ of this kind.

So it may be that Sigmund Freud is operating to cut a ‘false’ connection of this kind.

To deviate: during the IXth World Association of Psychoanalysis’s 2014 Congress in Paris, I was much moved by hearing for the first time Arnold Schoenberg’s ‘A Survivor from Warsaw’[iii]. Also, in his exposition to the 2014 IXth WAP congress, Miquel Bassols[iv] used Alan Turing’s probable suicide[v] as an example. What all three: H.D. & Sigmund Freud, the words Schoenberg set, & Alan Turing have in common is the connection to World Wars. This particular way of being attached to the real, is examined by Freud in Civilisation and its Discontents : 1929[vi] & by Jacques Lacan from 1936.

There is much in H. D.’s history and current events during her first two analyses, which derive from this connection with the chaos of World Wars.

H.D’s history: from ‘Introduction’: Kenneth Fields : July 1973:

The significant years are 1915 to 1920, a period marked by an accumulation of personal as well as public catastrophes and by intense experiences that were either visionary or halluccinatory; 1933 and 1934, the period of her psychoanalysis by Freud; and 1944, when she wrote the ‘Tribute’ from memory, without being able to consult her original notebooks.

In 1915 her first child was stillborn, ‘from shock and repercussions of war news,’ just after the sinking of the ‘Lusitania’. In 1918 her older brother was killed in France, and shortly afterward her father died from a stroke, brought on, she thought, by the death of his son. When the news of her father’s death reached her, she ‘was alone outside London in the early spring of that bad influenza winter of 1919,’ pregnant with her second child. She had double pneumonia, which the doctors thought would certainly kill her or the child, but they both survived it. During the same year she separated from her husband, Richard Aldington, and she began her travels, to the Scilly Isles and to Greece, with her friend Bryher (Winifred Ellerman), the historical novelist. Her recuperation, the visions she called her ‘writing on the wall,’ and the apparitions of the mysterious Peter Van Eck, all before or during 1920, were the occasions for many of her discussions with Freud.

Her motives for analysis appear to be complicated, but they were not entirely private: ‘I had begun my preliminary research in order to fortify and equip myself to face war when it came, and to help in some subsidiary way, if my training were sufficient and my aptitude suitable, with war-shocked and war-shattered people.’ When she arrived in Vienna in 1933 she was terrified by the growth of Nazism and by atrocities against Jews in Berlin. Although she seemed quite unable to discuss thee matters with Freud, she turned to them frequently in her notebook and the ‘Tribute’. The long passage in sections 43 through 45 (pp58-60 – available here) renders the change of public mood with subtlety and keen awareness: first she sees showers of golden paper swastikas falling through the air, with slogans on them, next she sees swastikas falling through the air, with slogans on them, next she sees swastikas chalked on the pavement in front of Freud’s door, and then the rifles stacked in the street. Progressing from tiny, almost beguiling fragments to more ominous general signs, the passage bears an analogy to the course of H.D.’s literary preoccupations, which were prompted, at least part, by her public awareness.

Her early poems reflect a world that she and her contemporaries thought had been broken into pieces, whereas her later work reflects a search for wholeness. The unity that she strove for was the realm of the myths and dreams that embody, as she thought, the unconscious history of mankind. Freud ‘had opened up, among others, that particular field of the unconscious mind that went to prove that the traits and tendencies of obscure aboriginal tribes, as well as the shape and substance of the rituals of vanished civilizations, were still inherent in the human mind – the human psyche….’ It is commonly said that this was the time when people were choosing between Marx and Freud, two men whose work promised different kinds of unity.

Some observations:

The time sequence of H.D.’s ‘negative transferential reaction’ (see Bassols  here) is given p8 to 12 of the 1944 ‘Writing on the Wall’ – written from memory.

H.D. seems to have finished her analysis with Freud on 15th June 1933 in Vienna, though she returned for some further session in 1934.

Freud’s letter[vii] (p11) is dated 28th November 1938 and has his London address.

The negative transferential reaction (p16) is after H. D. declares (p14) : In any case, affectionately yours…. I did not know what enraged him suddenly. I veered off the couch, my feet on the floor. I do not know what I had said. I have certain notes that I jotted down while in Vienna, but I never worked them over and have barely glanced at them since. I do not want to become involved in the strictly historical sequence. I wish to recall the impressions, or rather I wish the impressions to recall me.

On p16, H. D. alleges Freud said, ‘The trouble is – I am an old man – you do not think it worth your while to love me.

I suggest there is absolutely no evidence that Freud ever said this. Indeed, if it is the gardenia incident, then firstly H. D. was not in analysis with Freud at the time and secondly, H. D. did not see Freud by himself after the gardenia incident.

Something else appears to be going on. As I wish to explore the context for the relationship I will not go further into this question. I refer you back to Kenneth Field in his Introduction (see above) who states that H. D. had ‘intense experiences that were either visionary or halluccinatory’. Also that H. D. strove for unity to overcome the brokenness. (See sections 61 & 62 on p84: Available here) This unity she ascribed to Freud, for example from : Foreward by Norman Holmes Pearson : pxiv : Available here

Others never quite took the places of these three. Stephen Haden-Guest was a more casual friend. Arthur Waley was at best an acquaintance, Kenneth Macpherson, Bryher’s husband, was much closer. H. D. liked his novels as well as his company. With him a film director she acted with Paul Robeson in ‘Borderline’. To ‘Close-up’, of which Macpherson was an editor, she contributed articles on the cinema. But none of these, nor others later, had the gloire. Freud was the exception.

So Freud is THE man – a position from which he was not allowed to fall.

Some quotes which indicate what was going on and Sigmund Freud’s reaction to it – to protect H. D.

Hilda Doolittle : information  A Tribute to Freud, Writing on the Wall (1944) : Advent (1933 to 1934) : Hilda Doolittle or here

Section 42, p58, ‘Writing on the Wall’

Already in Vienna, the shadows were lengthening or the tide
was rising. The signs of grim coming events, however, manifested in a curious fashion. There were, for instance, occasional coquettish, confetti-like showers from the air, gilded
paper swastikas and narrow strips of printed paper like the
ones we pulled out of our Christmas bon-bons, those gay
 favours that we called ‘caps’ as children in America and that
 English children call ‘crackers.’ The party had begun, or this 
was preliminary to the birthday or the wedding. I stooped to
scrape up a handful of these confetti-like tokens as I was leaving the Hotel Regina one morning. They were printed on 
those familiar little oblongs of thin paper that fell out of the
 paper cap when it was unfolded at the party; we called them
 mottoes. These mottoes were short and bright and to the
point. One read in clear primer-book German, ‘Hitler gives work,’ and so on.

Was I the only person in Vienna who had stooped to scrape up a handful of these tokens? It seemed so. One of the hotel porters emerged with a long-handled brush-broom. As I saw (p59) him begin methodically sweeping the papers off the pavement, I dropped my handful in the gutter.


There were other swastikas. They were the chalk ones now; I followed them down Berggasse as if they had been chalked on the pavement especially for my benefit. They led to the Professor’s door – maybe, they passed on down another street to another door but I did not look any further. No one brushed these swastikas out. It is not so easy to scrub death-head chalk- marks from a pavement. It is not so easy and it is more conspicuous than sweeping tinsel paper into a gutter. And this was a little later.


THEN THERE WERE rifles. They were stacked neatly. They stood in bivouac formations at the street corners. It must have been a weekend; I don’t remember. I could verify the actual date of their appearance by referring to my notebooks, but it is the general impression that concerns us, rather than the historical or political sequence. They were not German guns – but perhaps they were; anyway, these were Austrian soldiers. The stacks of rifles gave the streets a neat, finished effect, as of an 1860 print. They seemed old-fashioned, the soldiers seemed old-fashioned; I was no doubt reminded of familiar pictures of our American Civil War. This was some sort of civil war. No one would explain it to me. The hall porter, usually so talkative, was embarrassed when I questioned him. Well, I must not involve him in any discussion or dangerous (p60) statement of opinion. I went out anyway. There were some people about and the soldiers were out of a picture or a film of a reconstructed Civil War period. They did not seem very formidable. I had meant to go to the opera – it was late afternoon or early evening – so I might as well go to the opera, if there were an opera, as mope in my room or loiter about the hotel, wondering and watching. When challenged on one of the main thoroughfares, I said simply, in my sketchy German,, that I was a visitor in Vienna; they called me the English lady at the hotel, so I said I was from England, which in fact I was. What was I doing? Where was I going?I said I was going to the opera, if I was not disturbing them or getting in their way. There was a little whispering and shuffling and I was embarrassed to find that I had attracted the attention of the officers and had almost a guard of honor to the steps of the opera house, where there were more guns and soldiers, seated on the steps and standing at attention on the pavement. It seemed that nothing, at any rate, could stop the opera. I stayed for part of the performance of – I don’t remember what it was – and had no trouble finding my way back.


THEN IT WAS QUIET and the hotel lobby seemed strangely empty. Even the hall porter disappeared from behind his desk .Maybe this was the following Monday; in any case, I was due at Berggasse for my usual session. The little maid, Paula, peered through a crack in the door, hesitated, then furtively ushered me in. She did not wear her pretty cap and apron. Evidently, she was not expecting me .’But – but no one has come today; no one has gone out.’ All right, would she explain to the Professor, in case he did not want to see me. She opened the waiting-room door. I waited as usual in the room, with the (p61) round table, the odds and ends of old papers and magazines. There were the usual framed photographs; among them, Dr. Havelock Ellis and Dr. Hanns Sachs greeted me from the wall. There was the honorary diploma that had been presented to the Professor in his early days by the small New England university. There was also a bizarre print or engraving of some nightmare horror, a ‘Buried Alive’ or some such thing, done in Düreresque symbolic detail. There were long lace curtains at the window, like a ‘room in Vienna’ in a play or film.

The Professor opened the inner door after a short interval. Then I sat on the couch. The Professor said, ‘But why did you come? No one has come here today, no one. What is it like outside? Why did you come out?’

I said, ‘It’s very quiet. There doesn’t seem to be anyone about in the streets. The hotel seems quiet, too. But otherwise, it’s much the same as usual.’ He said, ‘Why did you come?’ It seemed to puzzle him, he did not seem to understand what had brought me.


WHAT DID HE expect me to say? I don’t think I said it. My being there surely expressed it? I am here because no one else has come. As if again, symbolically, I must be different. Where was the Flying Dutchman? Or the American lady-doctor whom I had not seen? There were only four of us at that time, I believe, rather special people.



is standing in his study. The professor is asking only one thing of me. I was right in my premonition, it is a shalt not – He is asking something of me, confiding in mc, treating me in his courteous, subtle way as an intellectual equal. He is very firm about this, however, and he is patiently explaining it to me. ‘of course, you understand’, is the offhand way in which he offers me, from time to time, some rare discovery, some priceless finding, or ‘Perhaps you may feel differently,’ as if my feelings, my discoveries, were on a par with his own. He does not lay down the law, only this once – this one law. He says, ‘Please, never – I mean, never at any time, in any circumstance, endeavor to defend me, if and when you hear abusive remarks made about me and my work.’

He explained it carefully. He might have been giving a lesson in geometry or demonstrating the inevitable course of a disease once the virus has entered the system. At this point, he seemed to indicate (as if there were a chart of a fever patient, pinned on the wall before us), at the least suggestion that you may be about to begin a counterargument in my defense, the anger or the frustration of the assailant will be driven deeper. You will do no good to the detractor by mistakenly beginning a logical defense. You will drive the hatred or the fear or the prejudice in deeper. You will do no good to yourself, for you will only expose your own feelings- I take for granted that you have deep feelings about my discoveries, or you would not be here. You will do no good to me and my work, for antagonism, once taking hold, cannot be rooted out from above the surface, and it thrives, in away, on heated argument and digs in deeper. The only way to extract the fear or prejudice would be (p87) from within, from below, and as naturally this type of prejudiced or frightened mind would dodge any hint of a suggestion of psychoanalytic treatment or even, put it, study and research along these lines, you cannot get at the root of the trouble. Every word, spoken in my defense, I mean, to already prejudiced individuals, serves to drive the root in deeper. If the matter is ignored, the attacker may forgo his anger- or in time, even, his unconscious mind may find another object on which to fix its tentacles….

This was the gist of the matter. In our talks together he rarely used any of the now rather overworked technical terms, invented by himself and elaborated on by the growing body of doctors, psychologists, and nerve specialist…..


(p93) THERE ARE THE WISE and the foolish virgins and their several lamps. Thou anointest my head with oil – the oil of understanding – and, indeed, my cup runneth over. But this purposes to be a personal reconstruction of intention and impression. I had begun my preliminary research in order to fortify and equip myself to face war when it came, and to help in some subsidiary way, if my training were sufficient and my aptitudes suitable, with war-shocked and war-shattered people. But my actual personal war-shock (1914-1919) did not have a chance. My sessions with the Professor were barely under way, before there (p94) were preliminary signs and symbols of the approaching ordeal. And the thing I primarily wanted to fight in the open, war, its cause and effect, with its inevitable aftermath of neurotic breakdown and related nerve disorders, was driven deeper. With the death-head swastika chalked on the pavement, leading to the Professor’s very door, I must, in all decency, calm as best I could my own personal Phobia, my own personal little Dragon of war-terror, and with whatever power I could summon or command order him off for the time being at any rate, back to his subterranean cavern.

Advent : Monday 5th March 1933 : p134 : No, how can I talk about the crucified Worm? I have been leafing over papers in the café, there are fresh atrocity stories. I cannot talk about the thing that actually concerns me, I cannot talk to Sigmund Freud in Vienna, 1933, about Jewish atrocities in Berlin.

Advent : 6:40pm, 13th March 1933 : p166 : The Professor asked me if I had noticed ‘trouble in walking.’ I did not know what he meant. I said I was feeling well and enjoyed going about. But he said, ‘I mean, on the streets.’ I did not even then quite realize what he meant; I said that I felt at home here and never frightened. I said, ‘The people in the shops are so courteous.’ The Professor said, ‘Yes … to a lady.’

Advent : 6:40pm, 18th March 1933 : 14 (p174) : I went up to Mrs Burlingham’s apartment at 4:20. She was quiet, slim, and pretty in her art-craft simple consulting room or setting room that Freud’s architect son had decorated for her. … I met her daughter, my own child’s age, and a boy of seventeen. … I was a little disconcerted by Mrs Burlingham’s reserved, shy manner, and her reminding me that I was due at five, downstairs with the Professor.

Then down to Freud … I told him of the visit. Then I felt a little lost. Perhaps that was partly because of the dream I had last had. I tried desperately to get back to my flat in Sloane Street, London. The flat is at the top of the house. As I enter the downstairs hall, a man and then a rough boy barred my way to the staircase and seemed to threaten me. I did not dare challenge them… (I could not tell the Professor that this terror was associated in my mind with news of fresh Nazi atrocities.) ….

Final comments

I suggest that Freud is not operating on false connections, because the connections to which both H. D. and Freud are being subjected are not what would be normally expected. They are more solid. Indeed, although the paper swastikas can be swept up, though the sweeper then disappears, the chalked swastika in front of Freud’s house cannot be moved. I am much moved by Freud’s lecture and explanation to H. D. that she must not defend him.

This explanation also makes sense. And it is necessary for me to write the sequel, commenting on Schoenberg’s ‘A survivor from Warsaw’ (there was an appearance from the real and the transmission got stuck and had to be cut), with Romans, chapter 7 & Jacques Lacan’s comments (Seminar VII : 16th March 1960 : p170 of Dennis Porter’s translation) thrown in. Why the movement from absolutes to brokenness has to be put in place (God is dead?).

Post script: The function of the cut is discussed in Jacques-Alain Miller’s presentation on Seminar VI : 26th May 2013 (here). One of Jacques-Alain Miller’s references is :

Seminar II: The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis: 1954-1955: begins 17th November 1954 : Jacques Lacan : Availability given here : Seminar II : 15th June 1955 : p284 of Sylvana Tomaselli’s translation :

‘All this can circulate in all manner of ways in the universal machine, which is more universal than anything you could imagine. One can imagine an indefinite number of levels, where all this turns around and circulates. The world of signs functions, and it has no signification whatsoever.

What gives it its signification is the moment when we stop the machine. These are the temporal breaks which we make in it. If they are faulty, we will see ambiguities emerge, which are sometimes difficult to resolve, but which one will always end up giving a signification to.’

Unfortunately, even for Hilda Doolittle, Sigmund Freud could not stop the universalising Nazi machine. He did try and protect her in her wanderings around Vienna by herself. His letter of 28th November 1938, it seems to me, continues to bring this into question: his substitution of Goods for Gods. The appearance of subjective meaning is for another post…..

[i] All references to Hilda Doolittle’s text are given A Tribute to Freud, Writing on the Wall (1944) : Advent (1933 to 1934) : Hilda Doolittle or here

[ii] From The Paradoxes of Transference : 15th February 2014 : Miquel Bassols : Let us give a well-known example, a Freudian example, that it is also a Lacanian example, that you will find in a beautiful text written by the American poet and novelist H. D., Hilda Doolittle. The text is entitled “A Tribute to Freud”. In this text, HD remembers her analysis with the famous Professor Sigmund Freud, which she undertook when Sigmund Freud was already in his seventies. There is an anecdote that carries a particular interest for us. HD had sent Freud a bunch of gardenias, his favorite flowers, for his birthday, a gift she never failed to give him on every birthday up until his death. On this occasion, however, she had forgotten to write down her name on the small note that accompanied the bunch of flowers. Freud was not very pleased with this oblivion and he replied back with a letter assuming that it was probably she who had sent the gift, and although he wasn’t sure, he added: “In any case, affectionately yours…” H D also didn’t know what had so suddenly enraged Freud. In her session she spoke with a certain indifference, a certain non-implication, until Freud interrupted her speech by beating with his hand on the head-piece of the couch and uttering the following words: “The trouble is —I am an old man— you do not think it worth your while to love me.” The impact of these words was too dreadful for her to add anything else, and she wondered about the meaning of what Freud meant to say.

Without any doubt, Freud was in a very admired place for Hilda Doolittle, as a professor, as an analyst, and as a man. She writes: “Exactly it was as if the Supreme Being had hammered with his fist on the back of the couch where I had been lying.”2 With these words, however, the very Supreme Being who exercises such a great power of suggestion over her, speaks from this place to say that she doesn’t consider him to be such a lovable being. At this moment, the Supreme Being exits from its place. There is always, thus, a lie in the love of transference, an

“2 H.D. A Tribute to Freud: Writing on the Wall-Advent, New Directions Books, New York 1984, page 16. See A Tribute to Freud, Writing on the Wall (1944) : Advent (1933 to 1934) : Hilda Doolittle or here

idealization of the object. In this sense, one can play with the equivocality of the subject’s words and say that the Supreme Being’s interpretation is beating on the very couch where she has been lying about the object of love.

Freud’s interpretation therefore strikes the subject and awakes her from suggestion, from her demand to be loved, by pointing to her division with the question: What do you want? What is the object of your desire? This is not an interpretation of the transference itself, but an interpretation that leans on transference in order to interpret its effects of suggestion.

[iii] This was during Diego Masson’s ‘Impromptu, Les Chemins du réel en musique’ on Thursday 17th April 2014 from 3pm to 4.30pm. There is a post on this experience brewing…  Further details, including the words Schoenberg set, are given here. In the meantime, anyone wishing to explore this area is referred to Bruno de Florence’s recent presentation, details here, or his book ‘Musique, Sémiotique et Pulsion’ : 2008 : Availability given here

[iv] World Association of Psychoanalysis : IXth Congress : A real for the 21st century : Paris : Miquel Bassols [ELP] presented on ‘El deseo de seguir durmiendo’ : Monday 14th April at 9.30am to 10.30am. (Internet translation ‘The desire to keep on sleeping’)

[v] From Wikipedia here : Alan Mathison Turing, OBE, FRS; 23 June 1912 – 7 June 1954) was a British mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst, computer scientist and philosopher. He was highly influential in the development of computer science, providing a formalisation of the concepts of “algorithm” and “computation” with the Turing machine which can be considered a model of a general purpose computer. Turing is widely considered to be the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence.

During World War II, Turing worked for the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) at Bletchley Park, Britain’s codebreaking centre. For a time he led Hut 8, the section responsible for German naval cryptanalysis. He devised a number of techniques for breaking German ciphers, including improvements to the pre-war Polish bombe method, an electromechanical machine that could find settings for the Enigma machine.

After the war, he worked at the National Physical Laboratory, where he designed the ACE, among the first designs for a stored-program computer. In 1948 Turing joined Max Newman’s Computing Laboratory at Manchester University, where he assisted development of the Manchester computers and became interested in mathematical biology. He wrote a paper on the chemical basis of morphogenesis, and predicted oscillating chemical reactions such as the Belousov–Zhabotinsky reaction, first observed in the 1960s.

Turing was prosecuted for homosexuality in 1952, when such acts were still criminalised in the UK. He accepted treatment with estrogen injections (chemical castration) as an alternative to prison. Turing died in 1954, 16 days before his 42nd birthday, from cyanide poisoning. An inquest determined his death a suicide; his mother and some others believed it was accidental. On 10 September 2009, following an Internet campaign, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made an official public apology on behalf of the British government for “the appalling way he was treated.” The Queen granted him a posthumous pardon on 24 December 2013.

[vi] Civilization and its Discontents: 1929: Sigmund Freud: available here  or at

[vii] 6 : Writing on the Wall : 1944 : Hilda Doolittle

But in imagination
at least, in the mist of a late afternoon, I could still continue a quest, a search. There might be gardenias somewhere (see p8-9 Section 4 for the selection of gardenias). I found them in a West End florist’s and

Scribbled on a card, ‘To greet the return of the Gods. The gardenias reached the professor. I have his letter.

20 Maresfield Gardens,

 London, N.W.3

 Nov. 28th, 1938

Dear H.D.,

I got today some flowers. By chance or intention they are my favourite flowers, those I most admire. Some words ‘to greet the return of the Gods’ (other people read: Goods). No name. I suspect you to be responsible for the gift. If I have guessed right don’t answer but accept my hearty thanks for so charming a gesture. In any case,

affectionately yours,

Sigm. Freud

I only saw the Professor once more. It was summer again. French windows opened on a pleasant stretch of lawn. … I was not alone with the Professor.


Note : If links to any required text do not work, check If a particular text or book remains absent, contact Julia Evans


Julia Evans   

Practicing Lacanian Psychoanalyst


Further posts:

By Miquel Bassols here or  /authors a-z (Bassols)

Some Lacanian history here

Lacanian Transmission here 

Of the clinic here 

Case Studies  here   

Cases from history   here   

Translation Working Group here 

 From LW working groups here

Topology   here    

Use of power here 

By Hilda Doolittle  here   

By Sigmund Freud here 

Notes on texts by Sigmund Freud  here 

By Jacques Lacan here     

Notes on texts by Jacques Lacan here 

By Julia Evans here