Schreber’s case revisited with echoes noted in the family of Fred West

by Julia Evans on January 11, 2015

Austin Gross (see 17th December 2014) raises three questions which interest me:

Am I right that, after a hundred years, we still have no idea what was censored in chapter three of Schreber’s Memoirs?

I haven’t managed to track down one of the more recent editions to be printed in Germany, and nothing on Google indicates that the censored chapter was restored.

Is this chapter not even conserved somewhere in someone’s archive or private collection?

Has anybody made any efforts so far to track it down?

In researching these questions I became intrigued by the absence of any mention of Schreber’s mother, and the very few comments on his wife. Further, I propose that there are similarities between Schreber’s plight and the experiences of Fred and Rose West’s three older children. I propose that the women should not be left out of the case history and will therefore attempt to include them.


A. The omissions from the ‘Memoirs’ & the Superior Court judgment

Second Part

B. Daniel Paul Schreber’s (Schreber’s) relationships with his family

Third Part :

C. Comparison with Fred & Rosemary West and their family

Fourth Part :

D. Similarities between the two cases : Fathers, Mothers, punishing regimes

Appendix I

Timeline of Schreber’s illness

Endnotes – References

A. The omissions from the ‘Memoirs’ & the Superior Court judgment

From ‘Memoirs of my nervous illness’[i] p43 [see endnote i for reference] :

Chapter 3 – The content of Chapters 1 and 2 was a necessary preliminary to what follows. What could so far only partially be put up as axiomatic, will now be proved a far as at all possible.

I will first consider some events concerning other members of my family, which may possibly in some way be related to the presumed soul murder; these are all more or less mysterious, and can hardly be explained in the light of usual human experience.

[The further content of this chapter is omitted as unfit for publication]

Further deletions are given in the footnotes to the 2000 (See endnote i) edition of Memoirs. P454 :

Footnotes : There are no footnotes 17, 18 & 102. Footnotes 24 & 91 were not printed because they referred to Flechsig (One of Schreber’s physicians).

Footnote 28 is missing. It was not printed because it contained a reference to the reigning King.

So the edits or omissions are related to his family, probably his wife, Dr Flechsig and the King. 

From Memoirs : Appendix E, Judgment of the Royal Superior Country Court, Dresden of 14th July 1902 :

Reference to the Lower Court’s judgment by the Superior Court

p409 [i] – The Country Court in its judgment of 13th April 1901 dismissed Dr Schreber’s action. … nevertheless there was a danger of unreasonable action. … p409 In two matters the detrimental effect of Dr Schreber’s delusional ideas on his whole outlook, is particularly clear: in his relation to his wife who suffers much from his delusion of being unmanned, and to whom, when she tries to object to his ideas, he always readily suggests that she could divorce him. Further, plaintiff has the urgent desire to make his “Memoirs” known to the public in print, and strives to have the order of tutelege rescinded mainly to be able to conclude a valid contract for publishing his manuscript. Actually the “Memoirs” are quite unfit for publication; plaintiff would thereby compromise his family and himself in an unheard-of fashion, might even expose himself to the danger of criminal prosecution.  That plaintiff cannot recognize this himself proves to what extent, in consequence of his pathologically altered conception of the world, the proper appreciation of the actual circumstances of life, the capacity of distinguishing between the permitted and the impermissible, have been lost. 

The Superior Court’s judgment on the Lower District Court’s

P414 – (b) The second example of to what extent he acts under the compulsion of his pathological ideas was seen by the District Court in the content of the “Memoirs” and his wish to see them published.

He never concealed from himself and in fact expressed in the Preface to the “Memoirs” that there are certain objections to their publication. Should they reach the printer, he would continue to keep in mind erasing certain passages and toning down certain expressions beforehand. He does not intend publishing them in their present form. He only submitted the manuscript for inspection to the publishers in Leipzig with whom he entered into negotiations about the publication of the “Memoirs.”

Even if the manuscript remained completely unaltered he wishes to protest strongly that he would thereby “compromise” any member of his family, as the District Court seems to [p416] assume. There can be no question of this. The “Memoirs” do not contain the least that might be constructed as damaging to the reputation of his father, his brother or his wife.  Plaintiff accepts fully any risk of compromising himself in publishing his “Memoirs”. The worst that could befall him is that one would consider him mentally deranged and this one does in any case. Actually he believes that there is no danger that anybody who reads his “Memoirs” carefully would think less of him afterwards than before. At all times his only aim has been to discover the truth.

P438 – The appellant knows that this might have unpleasant consequences for him. But he is justified in denying the accusation of the Lower Court that he had written anything in the “Memoirs” damaging to the honour of his family. It is a fact that nothing of the kind can be found in the manuscript.

I suggest that, as the Supreme Court did not consider the materials to be damaging, then the omissions must have been insisted on by a combination of his wife probably with Drs Weber & Flechsig. The suppression of the references to the King may have been linked to his appointment, by the King, as a Presiding Judge (see Appendix I – the timeline of Schreber’s illness).  Foototes on Dr Flechsig also disappear. Now Schreber states in his ‘Memoirs’ [[ii]] that his wife keeps a portrait of Dr Flechsig on her writing table.  Sigmund Fred in ‘Notes on a case of paranoia’ : 1911 states: It may be added that there were certain people by whom he thought he was being persecuted and injured, and upon whom he poured abuse. The most prominent of these was his former physician, Flechsig, whom he called a ‘soul-murderer’; and he used to call out over and over again: ‘Little Flechsig!’ putting a sharp stress upon the first word. So no wonder Flechsig gets removed from ‘Memoirs’ and it does not seem to me unrelated to the portrait displayed on Schreber’s wife’s writing table.

So the initial answers to Austin Gross’s questions are

1) Schreber’s wife seems to have successfully removed and destroyed Chapter 3 even though the Supreme Court did not find it contained anything defamatory.

Questions 2) & 3) is that despite much effort Chapter 3 and some of the footnotes, do not seem to exist. People have, however, dug around the Mental Institutions archives and found letters addressed to Schreber and his doctors’ reports.  As a first stop do consult David Ferraro (2010), see endnote x, which ties this material together in an interesting summary and also has an excellent reference list.  A wild idea is that there may very well be a full copy of the ‘Memoirs’ in the Dresden Supreme Court’s archives.

Second Part B. Daniel Paul Schreber’s relationships with his family

This is the start of an attempt to understand Schreber in relation to the people surrounding him from the few links that are known. Schreber was one of 5 children, with a brother, Daniel Gustav, and three sisters. 

Relationship with his Mother

From the Timeline in Appendix I, Schreber’s mother did not die until just before the start of his third illness, so was alive when the Memoirs were written. From David Ferraro (2010) [see x], The letter from Anna (sister) provides one of the few references to Schreber’s mother (Niederland, 1963 [see [iii]]): ‘Father discussed with our mother everything and anything; she took part in all his ideas, plans, and projects, she read the galley proofs of his writings with him, and was his faithful, close companion in everything’.  It is, of course, impossible to verify the accuracy of Anna’s observations here, but they suggest that the father’s manuscripts, orthopaedic projects and devices were developed in collaboration with Schreber’s mother.

From Rosemary Dinnage [i] : Pxxiii : Though we know much – much that is all too grim – about Paul Schreber’s father, we know too little about the women in his life. From family testimony it seems that his mother was a strong matriarch, indeed must have been when her husband withdrew into his long depression. (See Appendix I) In spite of his father’s legacy of manly exhortations, she could have been the stronger figure for the son to identify with. 

Relationship with his Father

Schreber was 19 years old when his father died.

Quoted from David Ferraro (2010) [x] :Anna described the Schreber household as ‘oriented towards God’, a god present at all times, not merely in their daily prayers, but in all of the family’s activities. She adds that ‘All this was finished with the sudden death of our beloved father…the childhood paradise was destroyed’. (Niederland, 1963 [iii]).

Dr Daniel Gottlieb Moritz Schreber was, in his own day, described as ‘a physician, teacher, nutritionist, anthropologist, therapeutic gymnast and athlete, and above all, a man of action, of tremendous enthusiasm and endurance’ (Niederland, 1959b [see [iv]]). The essence of Dr Schreber’s system was that parents and educators should use ‘the maximum of pressure and coercion during the earliest years of the child’s life’ (Niederland, 1959b) [iv]. Dr Schreber was preoccupied with discipline, order, cleanliness, posture, muscle-building, and opposition to masturbation during childhood and adolescence. The child’s progress (and failures) were to be regularly reviewed before the entire family, and, when punished, the child must ‘stretch out its hand to the executor of the punishment’ to prevent ‘against the possibility of spite and bitterness’. One brief note from Sonnenstein Asylum, whereby younger Schreber was admitted, said that the father ‘suffered from compulsive manifestations with murderous impulses’ (Niederland, 1959b [iv]). 

Other family members

From David Ferraro (2010) [x] : Another sister – Klara Klause – wrote of Schreber in 1900, upon his release from hospital, that Schreber’s ‘hasty, restless and nervous manner’ were noticeable even during his youth (Baumeyer, 1956 [See [v]]). Little is known about the other sister, Sidonie, other than that she remained unmarried and was ‘mentally no longer quite right’ by the end of her life (Baumeyer, 1956 [v]).  In the timeline (Appendix I), the suicide of Schreber’s older brother (Daniel Gustav), when Schreber was 35, on being appointed a judge, is noted.

Schreber’s wife – Sabine

Pxxii of [i] – Rosemary Dinnage : Too little is also known about Paul Schreber’s wife Sabine. The chapter that was originally removed from the Memoirs for discretion’s sake might have had many relevant secrets in it. She is known to have been close to her influential father, to have admired Flechsig and kept a photograph of him on her desk, to have consented to her husband’s forced removal to a public asylum, and to have been far from eager to have him home. All could have been good cause for Schreber’s anguish and protest. The couple’s adopted daughter Fridoline told an interviewer in her old age that her adoptive father was “more of a mother to me than my mother”; she preferred him, because he was “loving, just and kind.” There is some mystery about Fridoline’s adoption and it has even been suggested that she was Sabine’s illegitimate daughter, but there is no proof. There may have been further hidden dramas within the Schreber family.

P414 : Appendix E of ‘Memoirs’ [i] : Superior Court’s judgment : P414 – (a) The matrimonial bond between himself and his wife has in consequence of his illness for years been as good as non-existent and would remain in abeyance, if his tutelege were continued in the future, …p415 – The expert’s remark that, when his wife argues about his belief in miracles he is quick to indicate that she could divorce him, apparently rests on a misunderstanding. He has never toyed with the idea of divorce nor shown indifference to the continuance of the marital bond. The whole extensive correspondence he maintained with his wife for years proves how heartfelt his love for her still is and how it pains him that she too has been made so deeply unhappy by his illness. Accordingly he discussed the possibility of divorce only by mentioning a few times that if his disturbing states of bellowing should make life with him intolerable, or should it be impossible for her to continue loving and respecting him because of certain other peculiarities arising from his belief in miracles, she had the legal right to divorce him.

From David Ferraro 2010 [x] : What can be learned of the marriage between Schreber and his wife derives largely from letters from the latter to the former. Schreber’s wife wrote a number of letters to the relevant authorities, expressing concerns about her ability to ensure her husband’s safety if he were to be released into her care. Schreber, for his part, seems to have been eager to persuade his wife of the validity of his belief-system, amongst his numerous efforts to secure discharge from the hospital.

The couple had had two miscarriages or stillborns by 1884 (after 7 years of marriage), the time of Schreber’s first breakdown, and are known to have taken in a 13-year old girl as a foster child in the early 1900s.

One commenter (i.e. Baumeyer, 1956 [v]) describes Schreber’s wife’s, nee Ottilie Sabine Behr as having a ‘primitive’ and ‘almost childlike’ style of writing. Whilst Ottilie was not impoverished, she was born into a family who were connected with the theatre, and whose wealth and prestige were far less than the Schreber’s. Needless to say, the marriage was not approved of by Schreber’s father.

Some descriptions of the underlying mechanisms and turning points:

Schreber himself: p32 of [i] : end of Chapter 1 of ‘Memoirs’ :  The whole Order of the World therefore appears as a “miraculous structure,” {term suggested from the outside – footnote 14] the sublimity of which surpasses in my opinion all conceptions which in the course of history men and peoples have developed about their relation to God. [p33 of i] Chapter 2, Crisis in God’s realms? Soul murder : This “miraculous structure” has recently suffered a rent, intimately connected with my personal fate. But it is impossible even for me to present the deeper connections in a way which human understanding can fully grasp. My personal experiences enable me to lift the veil only partially; the rest is intuition and conjecture. I want to say by way of introduction that the leading roles in the genesis of this development, the first beginnings of which go back perhaps as far as the eighteenth century, were played on the one hand by the names of Flechsig and Schreber (probably not specifying any individual member of these families), and on the other by the concept of soul murder.

Pxxii of  Memoirs [i] Rosemary Dinnage : Other mitigations of his forsakenness – seeing a children’s procession in the street, getting a letter from a relative with an identifiable stamp on – began to win him round to the idea that the human race still existed. He drowned the voices by learning pieces of poetry by heart; he played chess with other patients. …

Perhaps a suppressed femininity in Moritz had to be acted out by his son; perhaps the son had to throw out an unreal masculine ethos clamped on him like the Geradehalter. It is an irony, in any case, that the commanding Moritz Schreber is now remembered for being the father of a madman.

Pxviii The key word is forsaken. The Memoirs are an account of what it is to be forsaken by everything familiar and real, and of the delusionary world that gets invented in its place. As Freud said, “the delusion is found applied like a patch over the place where originally a rent has appeared in the ego’s relation to the external world.”

Some provisional conclusions:

Screber’s mother & father act as one, to create a world where god is always present and submission is the only possible position. This child’s achievement of this prescribed position is judged, as in a court of law, by Schreber’s parents. Of their 5 children, Paul & Gustav both fail to adjust to new roles within the law. The sister, Sidonie, also appears to be unable to sustain herself outside her parents’ enforced regime. 

Third Part : C. Comparison with Fred & Rosemary West and their family

Fred West was an English serial killer. Between 1967 and 1987, West – alone and later with his second wife, serial killer Rosemary West – tortured and raped numerous young women and girls, murdering at least 11, including their own family members. The crimes often occurred in the couple’s homes in the city of Gloucester, at 25 Midland Road and later 25 Cromwell Street, with many bodies buried at or near these homes. Gordon Burn, in his 2011 book ‘Happy like Murderers’, first drew my attention to the similarities.

From Burn p317 [ [vi]]: Fred West’s fascination with the possibilities of the speculum eerily echo those of … of another Victorian doctor, the German child-rearing zealot Daniel Schreber. p315 : Fred saw himself as being experimental; an experimenter. He cast himself in the role of scientist, investigator and sociological note-taker. And in this and many other ways he was closer to the Victorians than to the ‘permissive’ times going on in his house all around him and which he would so like to have felt himself a part of.

The sexual torture of women, masquerading as social or moral hygiene, was a practice advanced by many Victorian social reformers and investigators. The contagious Diseases acts of the late-nineteenth century, for example, were meant as sanitary measures to control the spread of venereal disease. What they meant in practice was that any prostitute or ‘fallen’ woman could be made to submit to a gynaecological inspection which involved her being forcibly strapped down and ‘speculumed’.


And the metal contraptions Fred dreamed up at the wagon works for his children bear a striking resemblance to the inventions of another Victorian doctor, the German child-rearing zealot Daniel Schreber. Inventions like the Geradehalter, a portable, T-shaped metal contraption that could be screwed on to any desk at school or at home, and was for preventing slumping while doing homework. By pressing hard against the child’s crotch, the vertical bar of the Geradehalter discouraged leg-crossing and thigh-pressing and other acts of moral degeneracy. The Kopfhalter, or head holder, prevented the child’s head from falling forwards or sideways. The ‘abominal’ head-pressing machine did what (p318) its name suggested. Both resembled the head cage that Stephen West would be forced to wear as he grew older. Made of ribs of metal, it was closed around Stephen’s head and hooked over the back of the settee and he would be made to watch filmed pornography in it without any sign of blinking. If he blinked or attempted to move his mother would hit him in the face with a shoe or an ashtray or whatever was closest. Smash him in the face. Stare him out. The West children, like the Schreber children, were chained or strapped or handcuffed to their beds at night so that all body movement was rendered impossible. ….

It is probable – virtually certain – that Fred West had never heard of Dr Schreber. He couldn’t read. But the central library and reference library are only yards from Cromwell Street and he might have seen illustrations. The central library and reference library are only one street over and he might have gone in there and looked at pictures. Looked at drawings and illustrations of the hundred-year-old Schreber devices; the Geradehalter and the Koppfhalter and the literature of social purity and anti-vice groups, and misinterpreted them. Inverted them. Let his imagination run riot. In any case it would have tickled him to take contraptions that were intended to purge children of ‘unnatural’ passions and (p319) ….

So it seems that Fred West and Moritz Schreber shared ideas about childrearing practices and their implementation. In one case, this was to control sexual impulses in his children, in the other, to exploit them, sexually. In both cases these ideas, were shared with their wives and sex dominates both households – one by its suppression or absence and one by its forcible imposition. 

Fred West as father

Fred West committed suicide in November 1995, born September 1941.

From Nicci Gerrard (1999) [see  [vii]]For a few weeks, three years ago, the country was caught up in the loop of horror that was generated by the West trial, when a window was half opened on to a dark world we had never imagined existed. We glimpsed great acts of obscenity, made out shadowy figures who in life had been alone and who at their terrible death were subjected to sexual torture and drawn-out degradations: turned into living sex aids for Frederick and Rosemary West. They murdered their own children, tortured and murdered other peoples’ children. … Anne Marie was Daddy’s girl, she said, although Daddy raped her, gave her syphilis, got her pregnant and kicked her in the face with steel-capped boots. She called her younger, obedient self a ‘cry-baby’.

She was hungry for love. You could see it in her face and hear it in her words.

From Decca Aitkenhead (1995 – 2 months after Fred West’s suicide) [see [viii]] : She (Mae West) is also curiously oblivious to the awful black humour which overlays so much of what she says. “He was a brilliant dad, really,” she says at one point. “Well, apart from he wouldn’t leave you alone. But you could have a good old laugh with him. You would never think he was a murderer.”

Rosemary West as mother

Rosemary West used a vibrator on Anne Marie’s bound and gagged eight-year-old stepdaughter, before Fred West had intercourse with her. The couple whispered endearments to her as they fingered and tore her. They taught her to be grateful; they were ‘helping’ her. After they had abused her small, broken body, they stroked her, gave her a salty bath – were ‘so kind, so kind’, she said. [from viii]

There are other examples of Rosemary’s actions against her children. It would seem she acted to give Fred permanent sexual pleasuring. She also murdered one of Fred’s step-children whilst he was in prison.

At the centre of the West trial was Anne Marie, who had at last decided to give evidence against her parents. During her time in the dock, Anne Marie gazed at her stepmother, Rosemary – a docile, yearning, sorrowful gaze that contained no anger and capsized everyone in court. A plump, sweet survivor who seemed to stand in front of us with no defences. [from viii] 

The family

The Wests had eight children. They killed one, five were taken into care, Stephen, Anne Marie and Mae have all published books about their childhoods. In commenting on Anne Marie, Nicci Gerrard (1999) [vii] : A child loves its mother. Anne Marie never complained because she didn’t know she was being abused. She remained grateful to her parents. After she had run away at the age of 15, she still sent them Mother’s Day and Father’s Day cards. The gaze she turned on Rosemary West in the dock (October 1995) was full of love and affection and tears. After she had finished giving evidence in the dock, she tried to kill herself. Two weeks ago, shortly after she jumped off Westgate Bridge in Gloucester on Thursday November 18th 1999, she said that yes, she missed them still, despite all they did. ‘They were all I had.’

From Decca Aitkenhead (1995) [viii] : “It’s weird when people say they don’t get on with their family – it’s who I am. Family’s everything to us, and I could never let them down,” says Mae, 23. Eight months’ pregnant with her first child, Mae lives with a younger half-sister and her small son. Once a month, she visits her mother in Durham prison. They write most days. She has not changed her appearance, but has acquired a new name, she explains, for practical reasons.

Stephen (aged 21 – his father committed suicide 2 months before this interview. He was 17 when Fred was arrested.) lives near by with his wife, Andrea, and their one-year-old twins; she is about to give birth to their third. Like his father, he is a local builder. Until last year he worked for Fred’s old boss and drove Fred’s van. When the twins were born, he reluctantly decided not to call his son Fred, but named the daughter Rose. … Stephen says. “The police told me: ‘Face it, you’re abused and you’re an abuser.’ But before the twins were even born, I’d made a decision to break the cycle.” He sees a psychotherapist regularly, but feels others will have a wary eye on him all his life. Candid but eerie is his admission that he sometimes doubts himself. “I’ve sat down and thought, Jesus Christ, what if it entered my mind one day to hurt someone? I know I’m so much like my dad in his nature. Not his bad nature, mind, but certain things. Sometimes I say something and it’s like he said it. Then I get worried.”

In the book, Mae recounts incidents where Stephen beat his wife. The couple had been together only three months when Fred West was arrested, and the relationship has been volatile at times.

Mae is no longer with the father of her baby. She says: “I don’t really trust anyone any more. A lot of men won’t ever want to know me now, and there are others who just want to go out with you so they can say they’ve been with Mae West.”

From a Daily Mail news report: Fred West’s son jailed for under-age sex : 3 December 2004 : available here :

The son of serial killers Fred and Rosemary West was today jailed for nine months after admitting underage sex with a 14-year-old girl.

Stephen West, 31, committed the offences between October 2003 and May 2004 while living in Worcester.

The builder, of Stroud, Gloucestershire, pleaded guilty to seven counts of unlawful sexual intercourse at a hearing at Worcester Crown Court in October.

… Stephen Mooney, defending, urged the judge not to impose a custodial sentence because of the effect his client’s “traumatic” and “distressing” childhood had had on his emotional development.

Referring to psychological reports, the lawyer said there was a “chronological difference” between his real age and his emotional age, and that he had not matured when it came to developing relationships.

The court also heard West was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder because of the events that took place at 25 Cromwell Street in Gloucester, where he was brought up.

He was also undergoing psychotherapy to deal with his severe childhood trauma.

Mr Mooney said West was still “very much an adolescent” emotionally and was therefore more likely to relate to teenagers.

The offences arose out of a “relationship for relationship’s sake”.

He added: “He related to (his victim) on a very similar emotional level to herself. He felt she could confide in him and he could confide in her.

Fred was also involved with minors. After two head injuries, one aged 17, Fred’s subsequent behavior became erratic, and he became known to the police for various petty crimes, which escalated until, in 1961, he was accused of impregnating a 13-year-old girl who was a friend of the West family. This caused his banishment from the family home. He became a construction worker, and was soon caught stealing from his employers, and again having sex with minors. At his trial for the rape of the young family friend, he escaped a jail sentence, as it was claimed that he was suffering fits as a result of his head trauma, but he was convicted of child molestation. It is said that Fred’s father told him to do whatever he wanted sexually but do not get caught.

From Sunday People (20th March 2011) – 17 years after his parents’ murder trial [see [ix]]) : A dad of five with two failed marriages, Stephen now runs a stable with his fiancé of four years. 

The wider family

There is evidence of incest in both Rosemary and Fred West’s families. It is possible that the father of at least one of Rose’s children was her father, Bill Lets.  Two cousins of Fred West have previously been convicted of sex offences, while his brother, John, hanged himself in the garage of his Gloucester home the night before a jury was due to return its verdict on charges that he raped young teenage girls.

Fourth Part : D. Similarities between the two cases : Fathers, Mothers, punishing regimes

I suggest that the similarities are as follows:

Both households, use top-down power to impose an absolute view of relationships which either seeks to obliterate sexuality or use others for their own sexual gratification.   Both households have punishments in place for non-conforming.

Both Moritz and Fred suffered head injuries, Fred when he was 17 years old and a couple of years later, and Moritz when he was 51 yrs. Fred’s rages were blamed on this accident. Moritz was noted in Schreber’s medical records as ‘suffering from compulsive manifestations with murderous impulses.’

Both Mothers were implementers of their husbands’ schemes and upheld their view of childhood.  Both Mothers survive their husbands by decades.

The relationship between Schreber and his wife seems, at best, distant. Schreber’s wife appears to put Dr Flegsig in place as the preferred expert which is similar to his mother putting his father in place, causing in his youth ‘a hasty, restless and nervous manner’.  This does not stop Schreiber believing there is a good, married relationship in place in his submissions to court. Stephen West was described in court as “very much an adolescent” emotionally. He has a “relationship for relationship’s sake”. This description seems to apply to both men and their relationships. Stephen is treated with psychotherapy. None of the institutions holding Schreber deviated from defining the condition as a medical problem.

Screber’s father died when he was 21, after two years of depressive illness. Stephen’s father committed suicide when he was 19, having been in prison for 2 years.  So the all-invasive father goes at a similar age.

Both Schreber and Stephen have an image of manhood clamped onto them. Screber’s may have been one of a writer and scientist, see below for details of some of his relatives. Stephen admits to being like the good parts of his father, two months after his father’s death (1995) and 9 years later commits an offence with an under age girl. Fred has an early history of such offences, and evades a prison sentence. Stephen admits guilt.

Suicide is present in Schreber, Schreber’s brother Gustav and Anne Marie. In all three, it seems to be when the world in which they operate, changes. In Schreiber’s words: the world suffers a rent. The world as they know and trust it, falls away from them so they cannot engage with it.

Naming and names appears in the Schreiber family : Daniel Gottlob Moritz (father), Daniel Gustav (brother) and Daniel Paul (author), Daniel Gottfried (?-1777), Professor of Agriculture and Economics and prolific writer on many subjects, Gottfried’s son, Schreber’s great-uncle, Johann Christian Daniel (von) Schreber was the most famous. He was active in many fields if science, Professor of Medicine and Superintendent of the Botanical Gardens at the University of Erlangen and ennobled in 1791. A different form of weight is given by the name West. Anne Marie’s second suicide attempt seems to have been driven by wanting to get away from Fred’s legacy. Stephen is both proud of being Fred and Rose’s son, enjoying the recognition, and names one of his first born twins, Rose, but decides against Fred for the other twin. Mae has changed her surname by the time of the interview in 1995.


These are provisional conclusions which need further analysis to see if there are similarities of process. With Gordon Burn, I see overlaps between the two families, though meaning is driven in one from the elimination of sexual feelings and masturbation and in the other from the imposition of sexual acts and physical abuse. In both this seems to be the only form of exchange. Humiliation and the denial of subjectivity are present in both.


Appendix I Timeline of Schreber’s illness

Probably derived from Baumeyer, F. (1956). The Schreber case. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, Vol 37, p61-74

Adapted from James Strachey’s introduction to Sigmund Freud’s Notes on a case of paranoia : p135 of Volume 9 – Case Histories II : Penguin Freud Library

1842    25th July. Daniel Paul Schreber born at Leipzig

Moritz Schreber, Schreber’s father, entered a deep and isolating depression ten years before his death, while Screber was still in his teens. Pxiii, Rosemary Dinnage, endnote i.

In either 1858 or 1859, Dr Schreber suffered an injured when an iron ladder fell on his head in his gymnasium, in which he did his usual calisthenics. He never recovered from a series of vaguely recorded symptoms, described as a ‘chronic head conditions’ which could have actually been a ‘severe nervous breakdown’. The onset of his condition was age 51, with his death arriving at 53 due to a perforation in the intestinal tract near the appendix.  From Ferraro (2012)[Endnote x].

1861    November. Father died, aged 53.

1877    Elder brother (3 years his senior) died, aged 38. (Suicide on being appointed a Judge – see pxiii, Introduction by Rosemary Dinnage, endnote i)

From David Ferraro (2012) [[x] ]: The eldest of the Schreber children, Daniel Gustav, became head of the family in 1861 after the father’s sudden death. He himself was likely to have been psychotic, and died by his own hand at the age of 38 (Niederland, 1963), a few weeks after being promoted to a judge (Gerichtstrat). He was unmarried, and died by a gunshot wound, with ‘melancholia’ ascribed as the cause of the event in obituaries.

Similarly, Schreber’s breakdown occurred after a roughly comparable promotion, and his account of reading his own death notice in his memoirs may be an instance of identification with the deceased brother, who may already have been linked from birth by virtue of their similar names.

1878    Married.

At this time Schreber was already filling an important judicial office, as judge presiding over the Landgericht (a court of inferior jurisdiction) at Chemnitz.

First Illness

Schreber’s first breakdown occurred in October 1884, when he was 44, and had, a few weeks earlier, failed in his candidacy for the Reichstag. The official diagnosis was ‘hypochondria’. Schreber himself attributed his condition to ‘mental over-exertion’ (Schreber, 1955) following his unsuccessful election. (Ferraro 2012 [x])

1884    Autumn. Stood as candidate for the Reichstag & failed

1884    October . For some weeks in Sonnenstein Asylum

8 December. Leipzig Psychiatric Clinic

1885    1 June. Discharged.

1886    1 January. Took up appointment as Judge in Leipzig Landgericht.

Second Illness.

1893    June. Informed of approaching appoitment to Appeal Court.

1 October. Took up appointment as Presiding Judge.

The status of his promotion would have endowed him with a ‘lasting and practically irreversible life status’, with refusal constituting something akin to lèse majesté, since his promotion was made by the King of Saxony. As one researcher put it (Niederland, 1959 [[xi]]): ‘Illness…was the only way out, and with a lifelong position of this kind as a permanent threat before the patient, it could not be of short duration’. (Ferraro 2012[iii])

21 November. Re-admitted to Leipzig Clinic.

1893-1894       The younger Schreber complained of similar symptoms as his father (see 1858 or 1859 above), and at a very similar age. At 51, he complained of ‘softening of the head’, and by 53, he attempted suicide. (Ferraro 2012 [x])

1894    14 June. Transferred to Lindenhof Asylum.

29 June. Transferred to Sonnenstein Asylum.

1900-1902. Wrote Memoirs [i] and took legal action for his discharge.

1902    14 July. Court judgement of discharge.

1903    Memoirs [i] published.

Third Illness

1907    May. Mother died, aged 92.

14 November. Wife had stroke. Fell ill immediately afterwards

27 November. Admitted to asylum at Leipzig-Dösen.

Schreber remained there in an extremely disordered and largely inaccessible state until his death, after gradual physical deterioration, in the spring of 1911 – only a short time before the publication of Freud’s paper. See description of Moritz Schreber’s death above by 1858 or 1859.

1911    14 April. Died.

1912    May. Wife died, aged 54.


Endnotes – References

[i] Memoirs of my nervous illness : Daniel Paul Schreber (1842-1911) : Published 1903 : Translated and edited by Ida MacAlpine & Richard A. Hunter : New York Review Books : 31st January 2000 : Introduction by Rosemary Dinnage.

[ii] p142 of Sigmund Freud : Psychoanalytical notes on an autobiographical account of a case of paranoia (Dementia Paranoides) : 1910 : in Volume 9. Case Histories II : Penguin Freud Library : We learn that Dr Schreber had been married long before the time of his ‘hypochondria’. ‘The gratitude of my wife’, he writes, ‘was perhaps even more heartfelt; for she revered Professor Flechsig as the man who had restored her husband to her, and hence it was that for years she kept his portrait standing upon her writing-table.’ And in the same place: ‘After my recovery from my first illness I spent eight years with y wife – years, upon the whole, of great happiness rich in outward honours, and only clouded from time to time by the oft-repeated disappointment of our hope that we might be blessed with children.’ [p46 of Memoirs [i]]

[iii] Niederland, W. G. (1963). Further data and memorabilia pertaining to the Schreber case. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, Vol 44, p201-207.

[iv] Nioederland, W. G. (1959b). Schreber: Father and son. The Psychoanalytic Quarterly,       28, 151-169

[v] Baumeyer, F. (1956). The Schreber case. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, Vol 37, p61-74

[vi] Happy Like Murderers – Page 317  by Gordon Burn : Available here

[vii] ‘I can still taste the fear’ Most of us don’t want to remember the horrors of 25 Cromwell Street. But Nicci Gerrard , who was at the trial, says Fred West’s daughter has no choice : The Observer : Sunday 21 November 1999 : Available here

[viii] I’m so like my dad, says Stephen West. Decca Aitkenhead finds the children of Fred and Rosemary West strangely proud of their notoriety – and determined to tough it out in Gloucester : by DECCA AITKENHEAD : Independent : Sunday 17 December 1995 : Available here

[ix] I’m carrying Fred West’s grandchild and have nightmares the baby will be born with 666 on its head : Mar 20, 2011 : By Sunday People Available here

[x] David Ferraro : Biographical and Historical Background to Freud’s Schreber Case : March 2012 : Available here

[xi] Niederland, W. G. (1959). Three notes on the Schreber case. The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, Vol 20, p579-591