Bonaparte, Marie Léon (1882-1962)

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Marie Bonaparte, a French psychoanalyst, founding member of the Paris Psychoanalytic Society, and princess of Greece and Denmark, was born on July 2, 1882, in Saint-Cloud, France, and died on September 21, 1962, in Saint-Tropez. She was the only daughter of Prince Roland Bonaparte (great nephew of Napoléon Bonaparte) and Marie-Félix Blanc (who died a month after her birth). In 1907 she married Prince Georges of Greece and Denmark, with whom she had two children, Eugénie and Pierre.

The melancholic preoccupation of her writings attests to her state of mind. René Laforgue wrote in a letter to Freud that she suffered from an obsessive neurosis that did not affect her intellect but slightly disturbed her mental equilibrium. Bonaparte herself wrote, "At times I have the sensation of catastrophe. I wish an unknown star would destroy the planet." Dissatisfied with her life, she found solace in her imagination.

In 1924 Bonaparte published a collection of stories, Le Printemps sur mon jardin (Spring in my garden). Using the pseudonym A. E. Narjani, she wrote an article describing clitoral surgery entitled, "Considération sur les causes anatomiques de la frigidité chez la femme" (Consideration of the anatomical causes of frigidity in women). Later, the disappointments of her sexual and emotional life were reflected in her symbolic novel Les glauques aventures de Flyda des Mers (The sad adventures of Flyda des Mers).

Although she gave expression to her adult problems in her novels and essays, her other writings described the vicissitudes of her childhood. Raised by a nurse, she filled her child's world with imaginary characters whose adventures she described in small notebooks with black covers she called her "Bêtises " (Whimsies). Around the time of her father's death on April 14, 1924, she rediscovered them. On her father's nightstand she found a copy of Freud's Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1916-1917a [1915-17]).

Bonaparte began an analysis with Freud on September 30, 1925. She used her childhood writing to reinforce her creative work. In 1939 she began to publish facsimiles of her childhood writings together with her psychoanalytically informed commentaries on them.

As a result of her work with Freud and the friendship and confidence that developed between them, Bonaparte soon became his representative in the French psychoanalytic world, which was then being organized. In 1926, with the help of Eugenie Sokolnicka, René Laforgue, Rudolph Loewenstein, René Allendy, Edouard Pichon, and others, she founded the Société psychanalytique de Paris (Paris Psychoanalytic Society). As Freud's advocate, she firmly resisted the psychiatrists of Saint-Anne's Hospital, who were drawn to a form of French psychoanalysis swept clean of "Germanic slag."

She translated several of Freud's works, including Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood (1910c), An Autobiographical Study (1925d [1924]), Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious (1905c), The Future of an Illusion (1927d), "Prospectus for 'Schriften zur angewandten Seelenkunde'" (1907), and some of his papers on metapsychology.

Bonaparte's research on applied psychology, society, war, criminality, and female sexuality were published in the Revue francaise de psychanalyse, which she founded with René Laforgue, Angelo Hesnard, and Edouard Pichon. In the first issue of the journal, Bonaparte published her paper "Le cas de Mme Lefebvre," which describes the oedipal crime of a woman who murders her pregnant daughter-in-law. The paper also affirmed Bonaparte's opposition to and condemnation of the death penalty.

Bonaparte's two volume study of Edgar Allan Poe appeared in 1933. She divided his life and work into distinct cycles, which may be seen in her life as well. She characterized these cycles as cycles of the mother: the living-dead mother, the landscape mother, the murdered mother; and as cycles of the father: the revolt against the father, the conflict with consciousness, and passivity toward the father.

Anna and Sigmund Freud translated her book Topsy: The Story of a Golden-Haired Chow, illustrated with photographs taken by her daughter, Eugénie, into German. In June 1938, with the assistance of the American ambassador William Bullitt, Bonaparte helped Freud and his family leave Nazi Austria. During World War II, between 1941 and 1944, Bonaparte lived in Cape Town, South Africa, where she wrote articles about the myths of warfare.

Her talks at the Institut de psychanalyse de Paris (Paris Institute for Psychoanalysis) and her articles were published in the Revue française de psychanalyse and, after the war, were collected into several volumes: Psychanalyse et biologie (Psychoanalysis and biology; 1952), Introductionà la théorie des instincts (Introduction to the theory of instincts; 1951), Psychanalyse et anthropologie (Psychoanalysis and anthropology; 1952).

In Female Sexuality (1951/1953) she compared the libidinal evolution of the sexes. After a shared anal phase of passivity toward the mother, the young girl experiences a temporary phallic phase toward the mother, followed by a second (cloacal and phallic) phase of passivity toward the father. The final genital phase is passive and is accompanied by a relative exclusion of the phallus and affirmation of the vagina. Bonaparte insisted that the father had an important and beneficial role to play in the quality of the love expressed toward the daughter. When a young woman fails to make the transition from clitoral sadism to vaginal masochism in her sexual development, there are two types of alloplastic adaptation available: the Halban-Narjani operation, which involves surgically moving the clitoris toward the vagina, and psychoanalysis, which alone is capable of relaxing the young woman's intense fixation on the phallic clitoris.

During the 1950s, as vice president of the International Psychoanalytical Association, Bonaparte defended Margaret Clark-Williams, who was accused of illegally practicing medicine, and tried to save the life of Caryl Chessman, who had been condemned to death in the United States. Through her generosity a library and institute of psychoanalysis were created in 1954 in Paris. During the schism within the Société psychanalytique de Paris in the 1950s, she supported Sacha Nacht, though without much optimism, in his dispute with Jacques Lacan.

The first two volumes of her memoirs, Derrière les vitres closes (Behind closed doors) and L 'appel des sèves (The call of life), were published in 1953. Prince George of Greece, her husband and "old companion," died on November 25, 1957. In 1959 she presented her final paper, "Vitalisme et psychosomatique" (Vitalism and psychosomatics) to the Twenty-First International Psychoanalytic Congress. She died on September 21, 1962, of leukemia in Saint-Tropez, where she maintained her summer home, Le Lys de Mer, named after the plant.

Jean-Pierre Bourgeron

See also: Autobiography; Berman, Anne: Congrès des psychanalystes de langue française des pays romans; France;Gesammelte Werke ; Revue française de psychanalyse ; Société psychanalytique de Paris and Institut de psychanalyse de Paris.


Bertin, Célia. (1982). Marie Bonaparte, la dernière Bonaparte. Paris: Perrin.

. (1982b). Marie Bonaparte, a life. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Bonaparte, Marie. (1949). The life and works of Edgar Allan Poe, a psycho-analytic interpretation (John Rodker, Trans.). London: Imago Pub. Co. (Original work published 1933)

. (1951). Introductionà la théorie des instincts; De la prophylaxie infantile des névroses. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

. (1952). Psychanalyse et anthropologie. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

. (1952). Psychanalyse et biologie. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

. (1953). Female sexuality (John Rodker, Trans.). New York: International Universities Press. (Original work published 1951)

Bourgeron, Jean-Pierre. (1993). Marie Bonaparte et la psychanalyse à travers ses lettres à René Laforgue et les images de son temps. Geneva: Champion-Slatkine.

. (1997). Marie Bonaparte. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

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Bonaparte, Marie Léon (1882-1962)

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