Sigmund Freud Urged His Disciple to Divorce : Wanted Him to Marry Another Woman, Daughter Finds
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.
“I gathered from your remarks that you thought I was a prodigy or a genius,” Frink wrote to Doris Best before they were married. “You are alone in your beliefs. I am the worst ever. If my brains were dynamite they wouldn’t blow my hat off.” His frequent letters to Best were often filled with remorse and sadness.
Freud never saw Frink as an emotionally fragile man, however, and felt strongly that an alliance between Frink and Bijur would be good for the psychoanalytic movement. When Frink wavered in his resolve, Freud told him that the storm of criticism he would face in New York would make the couple stronger, and urged him never to turn back. As leader of the New York Psychoanalytic Society, Frink would have to endure constant criticism, and Freud wanted him prepared.
“You may have practical difficulties and have to fight opposition,” Freud wrote to Frink, arguing strongly for the marriage. “But the prize is still worth the struggle. I remember it did me a lot of good to stand up in opposition to the whole world. I did so for fifteen years. I trust your time of trial will be shorter.”
Deeper, More Constant Despair
As Frink slipped into deeper and more constant despair, Freud repeatedly asserted that his second course of analysis was complete, and that nothing more could be done for him. When Frink lost a drastic amount of weight in 1922, Freud told another of his pupils, Abraham Kardiner, that the analysis was the cause and he should not fear for Frink’s health.
“Freud needed Frink in New York,” said Paul Roazen, author of “Freud and His Followers,” when asked to comment on the case. “He was picked to lead a major movement and Freud was very capable of overlooking the obvious. You can look at the story of Frink as tragedy, or as a touching human story. But it’s really the story of Freud’s incredible will.
“Frink was a man who could shoulder the burden of the movement in a way that appealed to Freud,” Roazen continued. “He was sophisticated and charming. He was a Gentile. He reminded him of Jung. When Frink failed him, Freud turned his back on American disciples for good.”
Both of Frink’s wives decided that Freud had made a mistake with Frink. When his mental health deteriorated, Bijur left him. When Freud wired Bijur in June, 1923, to say that he was sorry the marriage had fallen apart, he argued that “the point where you failed was money.”
Bijur was shocked by Freud’s willingness to wash his hands of the marriage he had created and the man he had chosen as his apostle. “I wish I had the courage to publish this as an example of Freud’s therapeutics in my case,” she scrawled on the back of the telegram.
By 1924 Frink had withdrawn from the New York Psychoanalytic Society due to declining health. In May of that year he turned for help to Dr. Adolph Meyer, the director of the Phipps Psychiatric Clinic at Johns Hopkins and his former teacher at Cornell University Medical School.
According to the correspondence, Frink was depressed and had difficulty sleeping while committed to Phipps. In October he took an overdose of drugs and nearly died. He was placed under the care of a nurse, but his condition did not improve.
By the middle of 1924, Bijur had “irrevocably decided to seek a divorce.” Meyer tried to talk her out of it, writing that Frink was “in a condition endangered for suicide, which we must avoid.”
At about that time, Bijur sent her lawyer a copy of a detailed letter describing Frink’s condition and asking Dr. Frederick Packard, superintendent of McLean Hospital in Massachusetts, to admit him. On the back of Page 2 of the letter she wrote: “Examples of Freud’s participation in our affairs.”
Frink entered McLean in December of 1924 and was released the following April. “Beginning at that time, in the mid-1920s, my father raised us,” Kraft said. “He took us hunting and antiquing, and it should be pointed out he was a normal, caring parent. The picture of him as totally crazy was wrong.”
Never Talked About Past
Kraft, 67, said she never talked about the past with her father, and only vaguely knew of his association with Freud. He never mentioned their mother to her or her brother John, although he faithfully kept her picture on the wall, along with that of Freud.
“He was silent on the subject. He never brought her up,” Kraft said. “Though he must have been terribly, terribly guilty.”
A year or so before her father’s death of heart disease at 53, she asked him, “If I were ever to meet Freud, what message should I give him from you?”
“Tell him he was a great man,” Frink said, “even if he did invent psychoanalysis.”
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