Saturday 5 November 2022

Sigmund Freud, Oxfordian

 I used to think that Nabokov's epithet for Sigmund Freud, 'the Viennese quack', was a little harsh. Having been obliged to read Freud at university (bizarrely, as part of a course on  'The English Moralists'), I found him sometimes impressive, if usually wrong-headed. Since then, having read more about Freud and his methods, particularly his early experiments on 'hysterical' women, I have inclined more to Nabokov's characterisation. Now, in the course of reading James Shapiro's Contested Will, I discover that Freud – whose Oedipal interpretation of Shakespeare I never bought – was an 'Oxfordian', convinced that the works of 'Shakespeare' were in fact written by Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford. Oh dear. This notion, based largely on the researches of the unfortunately named John Thomas Looney, became a loudly buzzing bee in Freud's bonnet, and he never lost an opportunity of pressing Looney's 'Shakespeare' Identified on reluctant recipients. One such was Freud's most devoted disciple, Ernest Jones. In a particularly deplorable episode, Freud responded to the terrible news that Jones's beloved daughter had died, not with the consoling thoughts Jones was pleading for, but with a recommendation that he take his mind off his troubles by investigating Looney's claims about Shakespearean authorship. 
  This callousness silenced even Jones for more than a month, and he hinted at his disappointment  when he did write back. But the hint was lost on Freud, who was more concerned to profess himself 'dissatisfied' by Jones's failure to be suitably impressed by Looney's theory, and treated him to a further lecture on why he and Looney were right. To the end of his days, Freud remained convinced that the Earl of Oxford wrote the plays attributed to Shakespeare. Here the Viennese quack becomes the Viennese crackpot.


  1. I guess you've got to be a stubborn bastard to undergo thirty three (33!) jaw surgeries and keep smoking away all the while. God bless old Freud! "Sorry about your loss, but you really must read Looney"...

  2. Yes, the saga of Freud's jaw is a real horror story... Thanks R.

  3. Happily for me, in college I read (on my own) Frederick Crews's Skeptical Engagements about the Viennese quack.

    1. Excellent. That's a book I must look into...