Bertha Pappenheim has been similarly traduced. It seems now to be an integral part of her history that, shortly after Breuer stopped treating her, he was called back urgently to find her in a state of pseudocyesis (hysterical pregnancy), imagining that she was giving birth to Breuer's child.
Few people would still maintain that Bertha was cured when Breuer's treatment ended in 1882. It is known that shortly after his final visit Bertha was admitted to a clinic in Switzerland where she remained for several months, being treated for morphine addiction and recurrences of earlier symptoms. Further spells of hospitalisation followed. Yet the story of the hysterical pregnancy is still widely subscribed to, particularly by therapy professionals and academics who find in it a rich seam of interpretations to be mined according to their own particular school of thought.
Anna O: Fourteen Contemporary Reinterpretation s provides some interesting examples. There we find:
· James Masterson M.D. wondering if the pseudocyesis signified 'a breakthrough in which the patient was finally able to accept the feminine role involving impregnation and childbirth', or if it represented 'a virgin birth', or the 'condition on which she could separate from Breuer, or 'the enactment of what she most feared - that a man would seduce, impregnate, and abandon her';
· Joseph Martorano, psychopharmacologist, speculating that medication would have lessened the transference and thus probably prevented the pseudocyesis;
· Anne Steinmann, psychoanalyst, claiming that 'with a female analyst it is quite unlikely that Anna O. would experience the hysterical childbirth she did when working with Breuer, as her sexual fantasies would be explored directly';
· Hyman Spotnitz, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, putting forward the theory that the pseudocyesis was a recreation by Bertha of the recent pregnancy of Breuer's wife.
The pseudocyesis first made its appearance in a letter from Freud to Stefan Zweig in 1932. In it, Freud outlined the story as something he had reconstructed on the basis of what he had guessed as a result of something he had remembered Breuer telling him in a different context. So already the links in the chain of reasoning are looking tenuous. Freud went on to say that he had been so convinced of the truth of his conjecture that he had published it somewhere. The 'where' of the publication was never specified, but Freud backed up his claim to its veracity by saying that Breuer's daughter had shown the account to her father shortly before his death and that he had confirmed it. However, there is no record of any such account ever having been published by Freud.
The story finally entered public circulation with the appearance of Ernest Jones' biography of Freud in the 1950s. Since then it has gone from strength to strength in providing grist for the psychoanalytic mill, despite being shot down by medical historians such as Albrecht Hirschmuller and Henri Ellenberger.
Did Freud believe in his own 'reconstruction'? Possibly. Even if he didn't, he may have felt that it embodied a more general truth, the propagation of which justified the lie.
I think that something dramatic may well have happened at the end of Bertha's treatment by Breuer. I'm still trying to work out what this could feasibly have been.