First fictional psychoanalysis?


Rose Allatini’s novel When I was a Queen in Babylon (1921) is uneven, but contains many pleasures and surprises. I’ll write a fuller account of it later, but now want to ask: Is this the first English novel to contain a description of Freudian psychoanalytical sessions?

Plenty of other novelists were interested in Freudian ideas – notably May Sinclair, who played a significant part in the foundation of the Medico-Psychological Clinic, and was on its Board of Directors. She dedicated her 1914 short-story collection The Judgment of Eve to the clinic’s staff. Sinclair’s novels – for example Mary Olivier and The Rector of Wyck -use Freudian motifs, but I don’t think she ever described psychoanalytic treatment.

In Allatini’s novel psychoanalysis is a treatment that the uncomprehending family of Pixie, the wayward heroine,  turn to in desperation. The therapist uses word association tests and asks her to recount her dreams. Her dislike of the process is described with some intensity:

She had to tell him her dreams, too: although she hated the man with his poking and prying into dark corners, she was cowed into obedience by his staring light-blue eyes. If he had asked her what his eyes made her think of, she would have said a dead fish – no, on second thoughts, something cold and sharp like a knife suddenly thrust between your shoulders.

the analyst does not come close to understanding the voices in Pixies head, and her  father decides ‘the rate at which his guineas were disappearing into the psycho-analyst’s pocket was not justified by a corresponding improvement in Pixie’s condition’. She is moved on to other, even less pleasant, treatment.

I think the consensus is that Italo Svevo’s Zeno’s Conscience (1923) is the first novel to be based on psychoanalytical sessions. Allatini’s book predates this, but the Freudian therapist provides only one section of a very various book. But are there any other earlier fictional descriptions of analytical treatment?



  1. Bill
    Posted June 14, 2015 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

    How about Dr Anderson in “The Return of the Soldier”? Although the “treatment” is somewhat miraculous and simplistic, he seems to be presented as a psychoanalyst of a sort, who talks to people about dreams.

    • Posted June 15, 2015 at 6:31 am | Permalink

      You’re right. Dr Anderson’s diagnosis of Chris sounds definitely Freudian: “His unconscious self is refusing to let him resume his relations with his normal life, and so we get this loss of memory.”
      Allatini, though, actually shows us the therapist at work, and from the point of view of the patient.

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