Bonaparte, Marie 1882–1962

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Bonaparte, Marie

Great-grandniece of Napoleon Bonaparte, Princess Marie Bonaparte was a writer, psychoanalyst, and devotee of Sigmund Freud. Not a medical doctor, Bonaparte worked in France to help establish groups, including the Société Psychoanalytique de Paris (SPP), for non-medical psychotherapies. Interested in issues of sexuality, lay analysis (the practice of psychoanalysis by analysts without medical degrees), and frigidity, as well as a translator of essays and Freud's correspondence with Dr. Wilhelm Fliess, Bonaparte used her influence to help Freud escape from the Nazis in 1938. She also maneuvered to get Freud the Nobel Prize, but did not succeed.

The wealthy daughter of Prince Roland Bonaparte and Marie-Félix Blanc, daughter of Monte Carlo real estate developer François Blanc, Marie Bonaparte married Prince George of Greece in 1907 and had two children. Concerned about her own sexual frigidity, Marie consulted Freud, and then trained to become an analyst. She had affairs with Rudolf Lowenstein, who later served as psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan's analyst, with whom she cofounded the SPP; as well as with leading French politician Aristide Briand. Bonaparte used her wealth and social position as a platform from which she could study psychoanalysis and anthropology, and approach sexual issues unapologetically. Endowed by Freud with a confidence typically enjoyed in this era only by men, Bonaparte became the most prominent woman psychoanalytic authority in France. Throughout her career, she would battle to empower forms of lay psychotherapy while at the same time advocate to ground psychoanalysis in biology and encourage psychoanalysis to adopt the ethics of medicine.

Lay analysis was an issue particularly bound up with the ability of women to practice as psychotherapists. Most women did not have access to a medical education during the first part of the twentieth century, thus their ability to work as psychoanalysts was hampered if a medical degree was required. Psychoanalysis, itself a young practice, sought simultaneously to secure the professional rigor of the medical community. Part of the importance of the SPP was that it provided some support to practicing lay analysts, such as Bonaparte. In 1934 Bonaparte financed an Institute for the Instruction of Analysts, and she served for many years as both officer and honorary president of the SPP.

Bonaparte is perhaps best known as a friend and sponsor of Freud and as an author and translator. She wrote a psychoanalytic study of the life and works of Edgar Allan Poe, a treatise on female sexuality, a commentary on child psychology, and a book on war and those lost in war. She was interested in the relation between psychoanalysis and folklore as well as in the organic bases for psychical phenomena.

In The Life and Works of Edgar Allan Poe: A Psychoanalytic Interpretation (1933), Bonaparte began with Freud's idea that dreams and creative writing derive from the same unconscious sources. She analyzed Poe's creative work in the same way that Freud analyzed dreams. Freud theorized that dreams were wish fulfillments often made up of memories and problems suffered by individuals as infants. Much of that infantile material, according to Freud, was sexual. By finding sets of recurrent patterns and preoccupations, an analyst might begin to hypothesize about the character of an individual's infantile material and unconscious memories. In analyzing Poe's writing in relation to his life, Bonaparte tried both to develop a significant practice of psychoanalysis based on an individual's literary production and an understanding of Poe himself as an author whose works reflect Oedipal conflicts and the repeated satisfaction of thwarted childhood sexual curiosity, as evidenced in the clever deductions of Poe's fictional detective, Auguste Dupin.

In Female Sexuality (1951), Bonaparte takes up the question of female sexuality that baffled Freud throughout his career. Like Freud, Bonaparte believed individuals begin with bisexual potential, but that females can follow one of two paths to sexual development. Depending on the innate sensitivity of the clitoral and vaginal zones, girl children may either experience excitement and orgasm through the seductions of cleansing and fondling or through masturbation. The method and zone of early excitement establishes itself as a primary sexual pathway for the female who then seeks to repeat the satisfying experience in later sexual encounters. Bonaparte believed that infantile experience marks individuals for life.

Not many psychoanalytic practitioners took up Bonaparte's theories about female sexuality, but her work on Poe did influence the ways some critics analyze literary works as keys to the author's preoccupations.

see also Freud, Sigmund.



Bonaparte, Marie. 1949. The Life and Works of Edgar Allan Poe: A Psycho-analytic Interpretation, trans. John Rodker. New York: Humanities Press.

Bonaparte, Marie. 1951. Female Sexuality, trans. John Rodker. New York: Grove Press.


Roudinesco, Elisabeth. 1990. Jacques Lacan & Co.: A History of Psychoanalysis in France, 1925–1985, trans. Jeffrey Mehlman. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

                                             Judith Roof

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Bonaparte, Marie 1882–1962

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