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Life and Works of Edgar Allen Poe, The: A Psychoanalytic Interpretation


In Sigmund Freud's preface to Marie Bonaparte's book on Poe, he writes, "My friend and student Marie Bonaparte has projected the light of psychoanalysis onto the life and work of a great writer with pathological tendencies." Two years earlier, another psychoanalyst, René Laforgue, had published The Defeat of Baudelaire: A Psychoanalytical Study of the Neurosis of Charles Baudelaire with the same publisher. Poe's mother died of consumption when he was three and Bonaparte's mother died of a pulmonary embolism when she was only two months old. This similarity was to play a role in the enthusiasm Marie Bonaparte put into her analysis of Poe's work. Bonaparte discovered Poe when she was eighteen through the Baudelaire translation, a gift from her father. In 1925 she reread Poe during her analysis with Freud (she was then forty-three years old) and made the following reconstruction: The fear that some of Poe's heroines had once caused her, especially the ghosts, was the fear of the return of her dead mother, whose death she had caused by her birth and who, like an "oedipal ogress," would return to take her revenge.

Bonaparte's work contains four books in two volumes. Book I is devoted to Poe's life and poems. Book II covers the stories devoted to the "mother cycles"the dead mother-living mother, the landscape-mother, the avowal of impotence, the assassinated mother. Book III covers the "father cycle" storiesthe revolt against the father, the conflict with conscience, passivity toward the father. Book IV, "Poe and the Human Soul," compares Baudelaire's genius with that of Poe.

Bonaparte questions recurrent themes found in Poeghosts, still waters or seas that grow motionless in the polar icein which she detects the fantasy of the return of the mother's body or passive submission to the father. In her comments on "The Purloined Letter," she makes the letter a symbol of the maternal penis. Jacques Lacan made use of her commentary in his seminar on "The Purloined Letter." Marie Bonaparte's book remains a classic of psychobiography.

Anne-Marie Mairesse

See also: Bonaparte, Marie León; Literary and artistic creation; Literature and psychoanalysis; Psychobiography.

Source Citation

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


Bertin, Célia. (1982). Marie Bonaparte, a life. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

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

Laforgue, René. (1932). The defeat of Baudelaire: A psychoanalytical study of the neurosis of Charles Baudelaire (Herbert Agar, Trans.). London: Hogarth Press. (Original work published 1931)

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