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Clásicos Destacados:                                      

Ferenczi’s Forgotten Messenger: the Life And Work of Izette De Forest(1).


B. William Brennan


From Stratford, Connecticut to Budapest, Hungary, from the lavish Tiffany mansion on Madison Avenue to a rustic farmhouse in New Hampshire -the untold story of Ferenczi’s analysand Izette de Forest captures the pioneering spirit of one of America’s earliest female lay analysts. While Ferenczi’s influence in the United States is often attributed to Clara Thompson, de Forest was one of the first Americans to bring Ferenczi’s ideas to this country. In this paper, the author provides a biographical sketch of de Forest and traces her involvement as one of the first American women to be trained by the Budapest school during the period of Ferenczi’s active technique. The author argues that although Clara Thompson is often seen as Ferenczi’s major protégée in North America, Izette de Forest is his forgotten messenger.


“You will pardon some obscurities, for there are more secrets in my trade than in most men’s, and yet not voluntarily kept, but inseparable from its very nature. I would gladly tell all that I know about it, and never paint ‘No admittance’ on my gate.”
—Henry David Thoreau, Walden



“...the story of a life in all its particularity, it’s the only thing that really is particular and personal. It’s the expression and, at the same time, the fabric of the particular.”

—Roberto Bolaño, “Dentist”


FINDING IZETTE: THE BACKSTORYTo every story there is a back-story. I am not sure if we “find” things, people, places, or if they find us. I would like to thank Judith Vida, Wanda Needleman, Paula Shatsky, and Ernst Falzeder for their support and feedback on this article, and Henry Taves, Victor de Forest, and Jane Nussbaum for their generosity of spirit.


Recently I had been reading Forrest Gander’s As a Friend (2008), where the character Les describes the seemingly “random inconsequential incidents” that take us places:

that instant when reaching for a book, another book near it caught your attention ...the Friday night you took a right on the way home when you might have gone straight—those forgotten, stupid, inconsequential moments form beds of substrate underlying all the logic on the surface. (103)

Permit me to begin with the seemingly random, inconsequential incident.

It was the beginning of June 2007. I was perusing the titles on my bookshelf and reached for my copy of The Leaven of Love (1954), by Izette de Forest. I remember it was around 4:15 in the afternoon. I couldn’t remember where and when I had bought the book, but it was part of my collection on the work of Sándor Ferenczi. It’s a small book. The thick rough- cut pages are unlike those of most books today. The cover is celery green and red with a swanky fifties font. On the back cover there is a picture of de Forest seated on an Adirondack- style chair at what I assume is Sky Farm in New Hampshire. The picture contrasts with one of Ferenczi adjacent. Ferenczi’s picture is very solemn and cerebral, whereas the one of Izette is breezy and vital. (I would later discover that Ferenczi felt a similar way about this portrait. On the copy he gave to Izette he wrote that it was not the expression on his face when he thought of his friends Izette and Alfred.)

I found myself wondering how someone who had trained with Ferenczi in Budapest had ended up living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Marlboro, New Hampshire. I was surprised that I hadn’t heard more about her. I had been living in New England for seven years and knew of de Forest’s contemporary Clara Thompson, who was born and raised in Providence, and also trained in Budapest. I was intrigued by the mystery: who was this woman and what was her story? And the little book she wrote—it may not have been a watershed in psychoanalysis, but a book dedicated to Ferenczi in the 1950s was no small achievement. I still do not fully know why I was drawn to that book, on that afternoon. All I can say is that I have an affinity for the mostly marginal, the frequently forgotten, and the fabric of the particular.

My curiosity ignited, I embarked on an adventure, wanting to find out more about Mrs. de Forest. With the uncanny speed that often unfolds in the first ten minutes of a television detective show, in the next few days I had spoken with two of her grandsons. The exhilaration of having tracked down her surviving relatives was doubled when one grandson told me he had begun to archive some correspondence and invited me to take a look. Luck? Synchronicity? Whatever you call it, I had my “lead.”

So early one Saturday morning, which was soon to turn into many Saturday mornings, with my Grande Starbucks Americano and my iPod playing Michel Bublé’s Feeling Good (the live version), a suitable soundtrack for this adventure, I drove two and one half hours to a New Hampshire village that looked as though it could have been lifted from the cover of Yankee magazine or a Hollywood set. To call the village quaint or picturesque would be a cliché, it felt unreal. If time was not standing still, it was at the very least loitering and lingering. Izette’s grandson showed me the cache of correspondence that he had begun to archive. Before me were bundles of letters— events recorded, emotions penned, moments and memories captured and neatly wrapped in string and ribbon. Many were still unopened since they had been parceled up many years ago. Often at the top corner of a bundle would be a brief comment summarizing the contents. At the corner of a letter dated Thursday, December 3, 1925, is inscribed, “Our letters are certainly the history of an analysis.”(2) Within these letters were the story of one woman’s journey to Budapest, her analysis with Ferenczi, and her subsequent life’s work, included in this treasure trove were letters from Sándor Ferenczi, his wife Gizella, Anna Freud, Dorothy Burlingham, Clara Thompson and Erich Fromm. It was my Tutankhamun.

Heretofore, Izette de Forest’s place in the history of psychoanalysis has gone largely unnoticed. Despite the resurgence of interest in Ferenczi over the past two decades, she has continued to occupy a marginal position. Attention has been paid to Clara Thompson (Shapiro 1993), Elizabeth Severn (Fortune 1993; 1994; 1996; Smith 1998; 1999), John Rickman (King 2003), and Michael Balint (Dupont 1993; Mészáros 2002), but the pivotal role played by de Forest in the dissemination of Ferenczi’s ideas has been overlooked. Scouring bibliographies in books and articles on Ferenczi, one is more likely to notice her absence than presence.(3) A pattern of disappearing persons seems to perpetuate itself in Ferenczi’s legacy. Not only were Ferenczi and his ideas subject to repression after his death, but this process continues among his successors, though it may be viewed as the fragmentation and dissociation that occur as a result of trauma, which must then be slowly undone through a reliving such as the one we are collectively undertaking by gluing back together the lacerated soul bequeathed by Ferenczi to psychoanalysis.

What follows is an attempt to situate, recover, and disseminate the story of Izette de Forest, a woman who, although at the margins of mainstream psychoanalysis, is central to understanding Ferenczi’s reception and his legacy. After providing a brief biographical sketch, I will then focus on Izette’s untold story as it is revealed in Ferenczi’s Clinical Diary (Dupont 1985), which in turns brings into sharper focus how the personal shapes the theoretical, and in particular highlights the differences between de Forest’s version of Ferenczi and that of Clara Thompson. As Ernst Falzeder writes:

Perhaps the time has come to investigate, sine ira et studio, the connection between the “private” lives and experiences of the pioneers and the theories springing from them, to investigate the connection between their “experience” and “insights.” To do so, the historian must necessarily be indiscreet: like an analysis itself, it is the secret, the repressed, the warded off, and perhaps precisely the shameful detail that has the greatest explanatory power. (1994, 188)

Although it is customary to refer to people by their surnames, throughout this paper I will move interchangeably between “de Forest” and “Izette”. Not only is the name Izette so unusual that I want to bring it to the foreground, but on the one occasion when Ferenczi mentions her in his correspondence to Freud, in his letter of April 30, 1930, he also refers to her by her first name (Falzeder and Brabant 2000, 391).

Perhaps one reason that Izette de Forest has been a marginal figure is that she was not a part of the established psychoanalytic scene. She did not belong to an institute, although both Ferenczi and Anna Freud had interceded with Brill on her behalf. She was a lay analyst at a time and in a country where such a designation paradoxically signified one’s nonrecognition. Soon after her training, psychoanalysis within the United States was cordoned off as the exclusive purview of psychiatrists, and so it was natural that she would be relegated to the position of an outlier. There remains a dearth of information about many of these early women analysts, and even in comparatively recent research, such as Nellie Thompson’s (1987) survey of 133 women in the early years of the psychoanalytic movement, one finds no mention of de Forest.

Despite these circumstances, which could have easily exiled de Forest to the psychoanalytic hinterland, she was the first to write about Ferenczi’s technique in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis and to contrast it with mainstream Freudian technique. Her article, “The Therapeutic Technique of Sándor Ferenczi” (1942), appeared seven years before the Ferenczi number of the journal with its belated translation of his 1932 paper, “Confusion of Tongues between adults and the Child.” an editorial footnote warned readers that the views expressed by de Forest were not standard Freudian practice. Hers was a seminal article and groundbreaking for its time, and to this day it remains a very lucid description of Ferenczi’s technique. Moreover, de Forest was instrumental in facilitating the translation and publication in 1933–1934 of Ferenczi’s Thalassa: A Theory of Genitality (1924)(4) in The Psychoanalytic Quarterly. Along with Ruth Gates and Caroline Newton, she helped behind the scenes with Ferenczi’s trip to the New School of Social Research in 1926, and she even tried to arrange for him to lecture at Harvard, although this didn’t come to fruition. Despite having been bequeathed no official mantle, she took it upon herself to stake a claim for Ferenczi’s innovations in theory and technique. The Leaven of Love was the first book dedicated to expounding Ferenczi’s ideas. Although other analysands of Ferenczi’s also went on to develop his views, they (and this includes Clara Thompson) did not specifically describe them as belonging to Ferenczi’s legacy. Perhaps de Forest’s lack of institutional affiliation gave her a greater freedom in proclaiming herself to be one of Ferenczi’s disciples.

De Forest also played an important role in helping Erich Fromm undertake his rebuttal of Jones’s character assassination of Ferenczi (Bonomi 1999). Although Fromm (1958) enthusiastically took the lead in mounting this counterattack on behalf of Ferenczi’s reputation, Izette acted as his lieutenant and recruited eyewitness testimony. Another aspect of this situation is that Jones was enraged by Izette’s depiction of the Freud—Ferenczi relationship in The Leaven of Love, which appeared before the third volume of his Freud biography, and Jones’s notorious libel of Ferenczi can in part be seen as a retaliatory response to de Forest(5). Finally, de Forest published numerous articles in pastoral care and counseling journals, and her book was chosen as a book of the month by the Pastoral Psychology Book Club. Both through her writings and by conducting training seminars that influenced a generation of these professionals, de Forest brought Ferenczi’s ideas to the attention of a discipline that had been unfamiliar with his ideas.



Izette Taber, named after her great-great-grandmother Izetta, was born on September 13, 1887, in Admore, Pennsylvania, the daughter of William Brewster Taber and Sarah Hannah Kershaw Taber. She came from good New England stock. On her father’s side of the family, her Taber ancestors were Quakers from Vassalboro, Maine, and her Brewster ancestors were sailing shipmasters from Portsmouth, New Hampshire. On her mother’s side her Kershaw ancestors came from England to America in a sailing ship in 1850. She was the eldest child, with a brother born five years later. The house Izette grew up in faced Montgomery Avenue and backed onto the four-track railway, the sights and sounds of which would mark her childhood memories. Her summers were spent at the Water Witch Club in New Jersey, an ideal spot on the hills across the river from Sandy Hook, where she recalled reading Shelley and Keats. In her autobiographical notes, she focuses on several pivotal events organized around the themes of love lost and found.

At age sixteen, she was engaged to Frank Tolan, whom the family deemed an unsuitable suitor; their solution was to whisk Izette off to Europe, where she soon forgot about Frank. A highlight of this trip, besides studying piano and italian, was that she had her first grown-up fitted suit—brown broadcloth with a train, and a white felt hat with brown chiffon adornments. She was quite a fashionista, buying hats from Agnes and Patou in Paris and sporting a red jacket with monkey fur. She writes: “At Monte Carlo, I tried to enter the casino but was told I was too young. I returned to our rooms and put on my long train brown suit and swept into the Casino without a word. Triumph!” This moment of “Triumph” highlights the character traits of the future psychoanalyst. Izette was undeterred even in the face of fierce opposition, and said of herself that she was mischievous and rebellious by nature.

After her year abroad Izette enrolled at Bryn Mawr College, with more interest in cultivating her friendships than in her studies. Izette found love again in the arms of Henry Strong Dennison (Denny), the brother of her good friend Elsa, and they were engaged on August 19, 1908. Denny was the love of her life. Twenty-one days later, just days before her twenty-first birthday, Denny broke off the engagement, and Izette wrote in her diary, “All the light has gone out of the world.”

Izette graduated from Bryn Mawr in 1910. The following year she rented a boat, the Meta K., and sailed from Cape Cod to Nova Scotia. Her passion for sailing was matched by a passion for the boat’s owner, Alfred Victor de Forest, with whom she had been corresponding. On August 22, 1912, Izette Taber married Alfred de Forest in St. Saviour’s Episcopal Church in Bar Harbor, Maine. Alfred came from a very distinguished family. He was the son of Lockwood de Forest II and Meta Kemble du Pont, of Santa Barbara, California. A man of profound intellect, he was afflicted with a physical disability, crippled with a hunched back from childhood polio. After the tempest of Denny, Izette believed Alfred would be a safe port and would never reject or leave her. On August 24, 1912, two days after Izette married Alfred, Denny committed suicide by drinking bichloride of mercury, an event that had profound reverberations on Izette’s psyche. Not only was Izette hurt by Denny’s rejection of her, but his suicide days after her marriage would leave her wondering if the loss of her to another man was too painful for him. In her notes Izette records, “No use writing of this. Except that my fine life stopped then and from then on I have made what I could of life. A great deal has been happy and blessed in my marriage and my children and their children.”

Alfred was a metallurgist who later became a professor at Massachusetts institute of Technology. During her analysis with Ferenczi, Izette wrote to Alfred on November 12, 1925, “I want you to be a Ferenczi in magnetics.” Little did she know at the time that all of Alfred’s experimentation would pay off and that he would make major contributions to his science. In 1929 he founded the company Magnaflux, based on his discovery of a technique for detecting cracks in steel by magnetizing it and showering it with carbon particles, which won him the 1938 reed Award of the institute of Aeronautical Sciences. There is an uncanny parallel here because just as Ferenczi stressed the uncovering of the early infantile trauma, termed by Balint “the basic fault,” so Alfred V. de Forest revolutionized the ability to detect hairline cracks and fractures in metal. Alfred was in analysis with Ferenczi for five months, and subsequently Ferenczi wrote to him on January 25, 1926:

It interested me very much that you continue to find resemblances between the ways in which the elements of the inorganic material are connected and the interreactions of the elements of the psyche. I always regretted not to know more of the life of the materials, [I mean physics and chemistry] and envy you for the opportunity, to work those interesting inquiries.

Alfred and Izette had two children, Taber de Forest, born December 2, 1913, and Judith Brasher de Forest, born October 21, 1915. Alfred was a cousin of Dorothy Tiffany Burlingham, indeed, he was said to have been her favorite cousin and considered by her to have been a genius (Burlingham 1989, 148). He was a relative who could understand and support Dorothy’s pursuit of psychoanalysis in Vienna. This relationship entwined the de Forests not just with the Burlingham household but also with the Freuds, as they summered together in Berchtesgaden in 1929. Judy de Forest spent a year and a half with the Burlinghams in Vienna, where she was in analysis with Anna Freud and attended the Heitzeig school (Heller 1990; 1992). This experience with the Burlingham-Freud household would color Izette’s feelings about Freud. Judy felt scolded by Aunt Dorothy for arriving in Vienna as a precociously grown-up fourteen year old wearing clothes that were too fashion-forward and with pink lip salve Gallet, no longer the natural-looking child of nine whom Dorothy remembered. Judy would have to trade her wool DePinna dress for Austrian garb in order to fit in. Izette later felt similarly scolded by Anna Freud in Judy’s analysis for not letting her negative feelings and criticisms surface, and for encouraging what was judged to be a superficial life. Izette, for her part, blamed Dorothy for not allowing Judy to be herself and for forcing her to adapt to a very strict environment. The following year, when Dorothy sent her son Bob to stay with the de Forests, Izette had the opportunity to turn the tables, and she felt that Bob was much happier and better behaved in the environment she provided. Judy followed in her mother’s footsteps and became a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, graduating from the William Alanson White institute and marrying Ernest Taves, also a White graduate.

 Like many of her generation, Izette was first introduced to the new science of psychoanalysis through Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams, which a friend gave her in 1916. At the time, as she records in an undated autobiographical note, she “thought it nonsense,” and it was not until seven years later, in 1923, when she sought consultation with Frederick Pierce, that she fully embraced psychoanalysis. Izette was a member of the Bridgeport College Glee Club and a director of the Bridgeport Society for mental Hygiene, where Pierce was a frequent speaker and lecturer (Pierce 1922; 1924; 1926). Pierce, like many early American psychologists, practiced a hodgepodge of auto-suggestion, Freudian psychoanalysis, and psychosomatic medicine. As she reported to Alfred in a letter on October 6, 1925, a powerful erotic transference developed, which Pierce could not refrain from consummating, and it was in the wake of this experience that Izette entered treatment with Ferenczi.

Izette first went to Budapest in February 1925 and spent a year in analysis with Ferenczi, leaving in February 1926(6). Elizabeth Severn had already begun her analysis, and the two American women dined together on several occasions at the Ritz. Izette stayed first at the Hotel Hungaria and later lived with the family of Gabriel de Terey, the Director of the Museum of Fine Arts. During her year in Budapest, Alfred joined Izette and was himself in analysis with Ferenczi for five months, some of this occurring in Baden Baden, where Izette became acquainted with Georg Groddeck(7). She continued her treatment with Ferenczi when he came to New York in the fall of 1926 to lecture at the New School for Social Research (Tsuruta 2005) and through the spring of 1927; then, in keeping with the Hungarian tradition, she started control analysis—that is, supervision—with him at this time. During their visit to the States, Ferenczi, along with his wife, spent weekends at the de Forest home, including over Christmas of 1926. Izette also spent the summers of 1929–1931 in Europe meeting with Ferenczi. He presented her with a Certificate in the name of the Training Committee of the Hungarian Psychoanalytic Society, dated Budapest, June 1929, which stated that she had completed a personal analysis of fifteen months and control analysis with three patients.

When Izette returned from Budapest in 1926, the Bridgeport Life did a front-page feature on psychoanalysis on July 31. In the article, whose author is identified only as “Jane,” Izette summarizes what she has gained from her experiences with Ferenczi. Even in this initial reflection she emphasizes love, and specifically how the child’s effort to give love is often misunderstood:

If the psychoanalysis can get rid of a person’s sense of guilt it will have accomplished about as much as one could expect. It frees us to love, and people are afraid to love. The difficulty in loving is to really give. As little children most of us made a move to give, and this was cut back time and again because it was not understood as such by the parent. The child’s method of giving might be a manner most distressing to its parent and seem even destructive. The outgiving attempts are inhibited and they are not possible any more until that inhibition is broken down by analysis.

Izette practiced in New York until 1935, residing for a number of years in the Tiffany Mansion at 828 Madison Avenue, and then relocated to Cambridge when Alfred was appointed to the faculty of the Massachusetts institute of Technology. Izette would later split her time between Cambridge and Marlboro, New Hampshire, where the de Forests retreated to Sky Farm, which had a majestic view of Mount Monadnock. Despite belonging to New York’s high society, Izette enjoyed the domesticity of rural life—breeding Shetland ponies and dachshunds, bird watching, growing asparagus, and making maple syrup. Alfred died at age fifty-five, leaving Izette widowed for two decades. Towards the end of her life she sought the companionship of Ralph West, who was the groundskeeper of the farm. She started her second analysis with Erich Fromm in June 1942, shortly before he moved to teach in Bennington, Vermont, and they remained close friends throughout her life. In a letter he told her that she was one of the few analysts to whom he could refer someone with confidence. Among Izette’s patients was Katherine Butler Hathaway, the author of The Little Locksmith (1943). Hathaway’s Journal and Letters (1946) contain letters from de Forest. The writer and poet May Sarton was also a patient, as was Kyra Nijinsky, who was later analyzed by Anna Freud.


The Leaven of Love

Izette’s thinking and writing on psychoanalysis culminated in her book The Leaven of Love, published in 1954. The title is important in understanding her experience of analysis with Ferenczi. In the final chapter, she refers to Ferenczi’s patient “Mrs. F. H.” This was Eleanor M. Burnet, with whom Izette had corresponded and who had published two articles (1952; 1954) about her own experience with Ferenczi in New York City in 1926. Burnet described how the effect of the treatment, which she experienced as a “redemption by love,” stayed with her in her later years, raising an interesting question of what causes therapeutic change and introjections to endure over time.(8)

The Leaven of Love consists of a collection of articles that Izette had written in the late forties and early fifties, with four new chapters added. It includes a biographical sketch of Ferenczi, furnished by his stepdaughter Elma Laurvik, alongside clinical material. The book does not expound a systematic theory but rather articulates Izette’s approach to the analytic process with a particular emphasis on Ferenczi’s ideas. Her basic thesis is that the child adapts defensively to an unfriendly environment and that neurosis is constituted when these same patterns are repeated unconsciously. Psychoanalytic treatment provides the patient the opportunity to regress to the point where development got derailed and to resume the growth and development of his or her potentialities: “The indispensable healing power in the therapeutic gift is love. When this love is offered with openness and honesty, in the service of expert skill, it works as leaven: a leaven which lightens and effectively dissipates the burden of neurotic suffering and brings renewal of integrity and health” (1954, 6).

While the idea that the analyst should “love” the patient may seem self-evident today, in the context of the zeitgeist of abstinence and the attempt to standardize training according to the Berlin model, it was radical indeed. Classical analysis had resulted in a stance that was experienced by many patients as cold and remote. Moreover, the “didactic” analysis of candidates was often overly intellectualized and devoid of any emphasis on emotional experience.

The phrase “leaven of love” refers to a New Testament parable (Matt. 13:33; Luke 13:20-21) concerning faith that tells of a woman who added leaven to three cups of flour. Given de Forest’s contact with the world of pastoral counseling, she doubtless knew the theological implications of the imagery of leaven. In Jewish tradition, leaven signifies corruption, as when the divine doctrine is contaminated by exposure to humankind. For the New Testament writers, however, leaven is a positive fermenting agent. This proves to be a fitting analogy for Ferenczi’s conception of psychoanalysis as de Forest was challenging the view of Freudian purists that analytic technique was in danger of becoming contaminated by being infused with the human element of love.

Apart from the preface, the last chapter, “The Great Commandments,” is the only one to contain any religious language. According to a letter to Helen Tartakoff on June 6, 1956, Izette regarded this chapter as philosophical, not theological or religious. However, some reviewers who focused on the last chapter and the title of the book dismissed her ideas, even comparing her view of a therapeutic cure to religious conversion. It is interesting that the subtitle given to the book in the American edition published by Harpers was A Development of the Psychoanalytic Theory and Technique of Sándor Ferenczi. In Great Britain, however, where it was published by Gollancz, the subtitle on the dust jacket was The Relation of the Psychotherapeutic Endeavour to the Two Great Commandments, as Exemplified in the Theory and Technique of Ferenczi, which emphasized the spiritual themes over the psychoanalytic focus.

Spirituality had come to be increasingly meaningful to Izette over the years. Although raised an Episcopalian, later in life she became a practicing Quaker because she was attracted to the Society of Friends by its emphasis on individual subjectivity and collective social action, and by its nonhierarchical structure.(9) Spirituality was for her a way back to personal integrity. In the study group to which she belonged, she was not so much interested in theology or textual criticism but in the imaginative reconstruction of what the biblical stories and parables meant to the other participants in the group. Her approach was no doubt informed by Ferenczi’s emphasis on fantasy and play.

The Leaven of Love was reviewed in the Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association by Helen Tartakoff (1954), who didn’t forewarn her despite their friendship. Izette was upset by it, particularly by Tartakoff’s erroneous statement that Izette esteemed Reich alongside Ferenczi(10). Tartakoff may have been confusing her with Benjamin Wolstein or Trygve Braatøy, whose books she was reviewing in the same piece. But an alignment with Reich was also a way to discredit Izette’s work, since Reich, like Ferenczi, was regarded as a disciple who has gone crazy and forsaken the Freudian fold. Tartakoff lumped Wolstein, Braatøy, and de Forest together as culturalists who had deviated from the classical approach, dismissing them through a contrast with Edward Glover, whose book on technique was held up in the same review as exemplifying orthodoxy.

In a letter to Michael Balint, Harry Guntrip asked about Izette’s book, and whether it represented a development of Ferenczi’s views and how much it was influenced by the later Sullivan and Fromm. Guntrip likewise wrote to Winnicott about the book (Rodman 2003, 268). Balint’s response on November 12, 1954 was quite dismissive: “You are quite right about The Leaven of Love. This is not Ferenczi, but influenced to a great extent by his ideas. It represents Mrs de Forest who is a kind and nice creature and a devoted admirer of Ferenczi.”(11) It is unclear why Balint felt that the book did not portray Ferenczi accurately. Guntrip (1958, 402) would nonetheless go on to extol de Forest’s book as one of the best accounts of psychoanalytic love. There is more research to be done on how Ferenczi’s pupils transmitted his ideas, and how the differences among them created alternative versions of Ferenczi.


Ferenczi’s Clinical Diary

In her letter to Helen Tartakoff about the review she had written, Izette said that Ferenczi had assured her that “there is nothing that cannot be talked about with one’s patients.” In her book, Izette stressed how imperative it is for the analyst to be aware of his Achilles’ heel because the patient at some point is bound to test the analyst to see if he will repeat the original trauma. For de Forest, the emotional reliving of the original trauma in the transference was inescapable. No less indispensable is the analyst’s acknowledgment of how he may have contributed to this crisis and his ability to respond in a way different from previous iterations of the trauma. Ferenczi himself drew attention to this “crunch” in treatment when he confessed that the analyst could not avoid “murdering” the patient (Rudnytsky 2002, 127).

Although Izette was no longer in analysis with Ferenczi when he wrote the ClinicaI Diary, there is a reference that raises questions about her analysis with him, as well as about what transpired between them after the analysis and during his supervision of her in subsequent years. The reference in the Diary also serves as a clue to understanding Ferenczi’s work with another important patient.

On the may 17, 1932, Ferenczi describes his patient “Ett.”, who “returned home at her own wish, relatively recovered, after about a year and a half of analysis” (Dupont 1988, 108). Izette’s analysis in Budapest lasted a year, but on the certificate Ferenczi gave her he noted the analysis extended for fifteen months, probably also counting their time together in New York. Her desire to return home was strong but mutually agreed upon. Ferenczi writes that ett.’s “relationship to her husband [was] unsatisfactory owing to latter’s physical, but not sexual, disability.” This description would fit Alfred, who had polio. Ferenczi then adds that this patient came to me for control analysis in America. It turned out later that she knew all along, as a result on an indiscretion, about my sympathy for another woman patient. Perhaps out of revenge for all this, she arranged things as follows; she became reconciled with her husband after he confessed his infidelity. In addition she fell in love with a married man, who will not divorce his wife. Finally she fell in love with a very attractive girl and from then on divided her libido among all of them. Not until two years later did she reveal her dissatisfaction with me, by developing an intellectual transference for a colleague in America. (108)

This description lines up with many details of Izette’s life. It is also noteworthy that Ferenczi’s pseudonym, “Ett.”, is an abbreviation of her actual name. She saw Ferenczi for supervised control analysis when he was at the New School. She had an affair in 1927 with Reuel Benson, a pediatrician at Metropolitan Memorial Hospital. Izette had a strong intellectual transference to Sandor Rado, who was in New York at the time and with whom she had taken seminars; from her correspondence with Ferenczi and Clara Thompson, it is clear that she idealized Rado as a teacher.

The “very attractive girl” Izette fell in love with was Alice Lowell. On February 3, 1930, Izette gave Alice a thin gold Cartier band inscribed with their initials as a symbol of their relationship. Two weeks later, encouraged by Izette, Alice set sail for Budapest, where she was in analysis with Ferenczi until march 12, 1933. Alice came from one of the branches of the “Boston Brahmin” Lowell family. Izette’s relationship with Alice meant that she was intimately involved with someone who was with Ferenczi in the remaining years of his life. From a second reference in the Diary where Ferenczi discusses homosexual relationships in women, it would appear that Alice is patient B.(12) Moreover, the entry on may 10, 1932 describes how Ferenczi had made a “psychoanalytic confession” (Dupont 1988, 103) of his never-before-expressed dislike of their homosexual relationship that confirmed what B. had intuited. A letter from Ferenczi to Izette on march 1, 1932 coincides with the themes of the diary entry. He writes that Rado is undoubtedly the best teacher of psychoanalysis and alludes to how Izette may be holding back in her correspondence to Alice in order to protect Ferenczi:

You surely know that I get notice also of your communication to Alice, too. Please don’t go in your loyalty to me too far; you must know that you are not obliged in any respect and have full freedom of action and of speech. It is not you but I who has to carry the possible consequences of my own mistakes, or of actions which you regard as such.

From Ferenczi’s diary entry and this letter, it is unclear what exactly Izette had learned about Ferenczi. It seems that she found out about his “sympathy” for another woman patient through an indiscretion, and that Ferenczi himself regarded this sentiment as one of his “mistakes.”(13) The dating of the incident is also obscure, but it represents an iteration of the transferential dynamics enacted between Izette and Ferenczi after her analysis and training period. What is important is how Ferenczi handled the situation, taking responsibility for it and freeing her from the need to take care of him.

An examination of what transpired in the analysis sheds further light on the situation. During that time Izette was furious with her husband. They were having difficulty being sexually intimate, after the birth of their two children, and she felt little desire for Alfred. Izette encouraged Alfred to write to her about his sexual fantasies about other women, which in turn made her jealous and full of rage—and also served to push Alfred toward these women. Later in the analysis she reconstructed how she grew up knowing about her father’s infidelities and how these became linked to her masturbatory fantasies. She also uncovered that at an earlier age she had had a nurse who would masturbate her. Upon her mother’s discovery of this, the nurse was dismissed, and Izette felt intense shame. She realized that when she experienced rejection and abandonment by men she would turn to women for solace. Her “seduction” by the nurse followed the birth of Izette’s brother and her father’s shifting of his attention to the younger male sibling. In her analysis these dynamics were intellectually uncovered and reconstructed, but from Ferenczi’s entry on may 17, 1932 in the Clinical Diary it would appear the trauma was reenacted between them after her year in Budapest. Perhaps her prior experience with Frederick Pierce, who had acted out by crossing sexual boundaries, inhibited Izette from giving full expression to her desire in the transference relationship with Ferenczi. Izette’s early childhood trauma and the division of libidinal energies also converged with Ferenczi’s childhood trauma stemming from a similar experience with a nursemaid and his own divided libidinal attachments to Freud, Elma, and Gizella. Not only had Ferenczi treated Izette’s husband but now he was also embroiled in the triangle again by treating Alice, who perhaps represented an aspect of Izette’s traumatized self.

Alice had initially intended to become a psychoanalyst, and she not only completed an analysis in Budapest but also embarked on her analytic studies there. Upon returning to the United States she attended psychoanalytic meetings with Izette, and was in a study group with Clara Thompson and Esther and William Menaker. In one of her early unpublished papers on Ferenczi, “Evaluation of Ferenczi’s relaxation Therapy,” Clara Thompson thanked Alice along with Izette for her help and feedback.(14) In order to enter the field of psychoanalysis Alice went to medical school, where her interests changed and she pursued internal medicine, eventually becoming the medical Director and Chief of medicine at the New England Hospital in Boston.

Alice Lowell was born on April 16, 1906, and was thus almost twenty years younger than Izette. Before going to Budapest Alice had dated Lincoln Kirstein, who was her brother’s roommate at Harvard, although all her subsequent relationships were with women. She performed with Winthrop Ames’ Gilbert and Sullivan Productions in New York City. As a physician, she published several papers about the effects of asthmatic attacks on the circulatory system; in the Clinical Diary, patient B. is described as often waking up with trouble breathing. Alice was known as a woman of great style and commanding presence. On the portrait Ferenczi gave Alice he wrote, “To an exceptionally excellent pupil, Alice Lowell (Concord, Mass). From her teacher and friend. Budapest, 12.III.1933.” Ferenczi cared deeply about Alice, and in a letter to Izette, dated May 17, 1933, he enquired about Alice, whose father had died, and about how this bereavement would affect Alice’s future plans as well as the plan for Izette’s daughter Judy to come to Ferenczi for analysis. He also told Izette, “My state of health is better, but not quite good.” He died five days later.


Izette and Clara Thompson, Comrades, Competitors, Colleagues, Conspirators.

 Thompson is often seen as the main conduit by which Ferenczi’s ideas passed into psychoanalysis in North America, a closer examination reveals important differences between Thompson and de Forest. Both women were in intellectual dialogue with Ferenczi, and the perspectives of both were colored by their experiences of analysis. Izette first met Clara in San Moritz in the summer of 1929. They were close in age, Izette being six years older. Although Clara was a medical doctor with all the right credentials, Izette was of a higher social class and had more worldly experience and connections. After Clara’s death, Izette recalled their first meeting: “She was enjoying life with great gaiety, having rescued herself with Ferenczi’s help from a life of dried up intellectual and puritanical spinsterhood” (1959, 2).

Izette initiated a correspondence with Clara in April 1932, when she wanted to refer her sister-in-law to Clara. Clara’s letters reveal how Ferenczi’s technique and thinking were evolving in the year before he died. in a letter dated October 7, 1932, Clara writes:

I’ve had one tragedy this year. My psychotic patient is having another psychosis. I wish I knew why. Following Ferenczi’s method I have tried to find a fault in me and doubtless it is, but Ferenczi thinks now that perhaps psychotics need more security than any human being can give them. I know that my being in analysis may have been very hard for her but she was like a baby in reacting to the deep undercurrents in me and I know that she became ill in a very difficult time in my analysis. That is the nearest I can come to my fault.(15)

Earlier that year, Clara had expected that her analysis would be terminated and that she would return to New York as early as September, although she ended up staying in Budapest until Ferenczi died in May 1933. From the beginning of Izette’s relationship with Clara, there was an exchange of ideas that proved fertile for them both. Izette shared with Clara a case of a “dutiful child,” a topic on which Clara had written (Thompson 1931). As comrades, Clara, Izette, and Alice could face the New York psychoanalytic scene together, and undoubtedly there was something inspiring about the three of them, all Ferenczi’s disciples, finding themselves in the same American city. In a letter on February 26, 1933, Clara affirmed that “for the first time I really feel equal to New York and all its antagonisms, and having you and Alice there will certainly make it very pleasant we’ll roll up our sleeves to go to it.”

The correspondence between Izette and Clara also bespeaks a closeness that seems to go beyond their simply being acquaintances. For instance, Clara shared her feeling about a patient who had committed suicide and also about how her analysis of Harry Stack Sullivan had come to an abrupt end. From her letter of February 27, 1936, it appears that Thompson’s motivations for writing about her experience with Sullivan may have had to do in no small measure with how Ferenczi’s ideas were received and passed on:

H. S. S. has left me. His final dream was that he and a favorite woman patient (who left him in order to be able to meet him socially) were sitting side by side in a very affectionate manner. He wouldn’t give any of his associations to this—in fact in the past two months he has had many thoughts which he has refused to mention because then I might think the analysis was getting somewhere and he wants me to stop. For the past few weeks he has talked frequently of keeping on a few more weeks to save my self-esteem. He finally stopped because I asked him why be so altruistic. He is murderously angry with me, still a lot of ideas have been passed to him—all of them officially rejected with jeers but who knows what he’s been thinking about them. Anyway as he left he acted very friendly and said he thought we ought to break a bottle of wine over this. I said I thought we’d better let it ride for a while. I wish I knew what has really happened, whether anyone else could have done better with him, whether my achieving my own emancipation from him perhaps led me to be too sadistic in pointing out things, who knows.(16)

Ferenczi seems quite well at present. At least he is better than he was the whole winter before he had an idea of what was the matter with him, and he seems much stronger emotionally also. He no longer seems crushed by Freud’s attitude but neither does he seem disposed to propitiate him. His own ideas about technique seemed to have advanced again recently. I should say the new key note is sincerity of feeling. He has not returned to the cold and remote of the Orthodox technique but neither does he believe any longer that one has to give more than one naturally feels like giving in order to help the patient. I must say it seems to me the most effective of any of his methods.

In another letter, dated October 7, 1932, Clara notes how much she missed the presence of other English speakers with whom she could share ideas: “I think if I had more competition I would feel more stimulated to put my ideas in writing.” It may have been this sibling competitiveness that later spurred Clara, like Izette, to write on Ferenczi. Their relationship could not escape rivalry. Both of Izette’s children were analyzed by Clara. Taber saw Clara for a short time in 1934, and then Judy started seeing Clara in the same year after her plans to go to Budapest for analysis with Ferenczi were interrupted by his untimely death. Judy stayed in treatment with Clara for over a decade.

For two people to have the same analyst fuels sibling rivalry; for them to share two analysts is evidence of a repetition compulsion. This was the situation in which Izette found herself in when she sought her second analysis with Erich Fromm, whom Clara had also seen. Although the influence of Ferenczi on Fromm has been studied by Marco Bacciagaluppi (1993), Bacciagaluppi does not discuss the fact that Fromm’s taking on two of Ferenczi’s analysands as his own patients was likely to have been a major influence on his understanding of Ferenczi’s ideas. In 1957 Clara and Izette would join forces in helping Fromm, who had been living in Mexico, keep his U.S. citizenship by setting up a fellowship for him to teach at the White institute.

When Izette published her article on Ferenczi’s technique in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis, Clara was the only one to respond (1943) to it with her differing perspective. Clara was always more critical of Ferenczi than Izette, and perhaps had identified herself less closely with him, and as the years progressed she distanced herself further and further from her former teacher. When Clara presented a paper on Ferenczi in 1944, Izette was the discussant, and on may 9, she wrote to her daughter, who had been at the presentation, in an attempt to explain her differences with Clara:

I hope you will see why I talked of “Thalassa” and also why I only enlarged on the reliving part of F’s theory. I don’t think Clara really grasps what it meant to him because she didn’t experience it with him, he was more or less lost in his endeavor to re-create a good childhood. One can only get the whole of his theory by seeing what he was doing from 1926–1933. She happened in at the tail end. He didn’t live long enough to synthesize the whole theory into one unit. That remains for us to do.

Although Clara’s response to Izette’s article in the International Journal was supportive of her elucidation of Ferenczi’s technique, she took issue with Izette on several points. The first had to do with whether the analyst’s love for the patient was a curative factor. Thompson wrote: “Ferenczi tended to confuse the idea that the patient must be given all the love he needs with the idea he must be given all the love he demands” (1943, 65). This statement stands in contradiction to the change in Ferenczi’s views towards the end of his life, of which Clara was well aware. She suggested that Izette had overstated the matter: “I have the impression she feels that more definite assertions of liking are necessary than I found to be the case.” Thompson also argues against the “play technique” or dramatic reliving of the past with patients in the transference: “I do not deny that at times this may have a therapeutic effect, but, in general, I believe it not only has no therapeutic value but actually increases the patient’s hazards.”

When Izette’s book was published a decade later, Clara wrote a note of appreciation on April 26, 1954 for having been sent a copy, but took the opportunity to emphasize the differences between them even more starkly:


I’ve just finished reading your book and I found it very stimulating [,] especially the first part with excellent case material. Although you probably know I no longer put as much stress on recovering the early traumatic experience as Ferenczi did [,] I still agree that the powerful emotional experience in the analysis with the “loving” analyst is what produces its cure. I put loving in quotes because I think that both you and I do not spare the stern probing of destructive attitudes which I think Ferenczi tended to overlook, and people do not always think of such approaches as being a part of love, although I am sure they are. I notice you quote from his Wiesbaden paper, is that in the posthumous publications? I have never run across it. I am sure your book will bring hope to a lot of people and I hope it will help analysts to think more about being human beings.

Sue Shapiro (1993) has put forward the thesis that Clara Thompson was only “half a messenger” of Ferenczi’s in that, if (as seems incontestable) she is the patient Dm in the Clinical Diary, who is reported to have been a victim of sexual abuse, then there is no trace of this in her own writings; and it is thus Thompson who moves away from the necessity of reconstructing the original trauma in the treatment process. This letter to de Forest confirms that Thompson had dissociated knowledge of the “Confusion of Tongues” paper, which had been published in the International Journal. Moreover, Thompson’s clinical stance against recovering early traumatic experiences may also have been due to guilt over her own acting out with Ferenczi. In the longer, unpublished version of her paper evaluating Ferenczi’s relaxation technique, Thompson seems wary of possible manipulation of the analyst by the adult patient in a regressed state. She warns against the hidden destructive possibilities of the patient who wants to ruin the analyst.(17)

By contrast, Izette was all too aware of the importance of the living through of the original trauma in the transference; she had reconstructed and recovered her own childhood trauma, even though it may not have been fully brought to life with Ferenczi in treatment. In an undated journal entry probably from the 1950s, Izette alludes to “Clara’s lack of appreciation for Ferenczi.” it is not clear what she meant by this. Perhaps she sensed some reservation in Clara’s attitude. Perhaps she felt that, in their rivalry, her devotion as the dutiful daughter had prevailed.


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Bonomi, Carlo. 1999. Flight into Sanity: Jones’s Allegation of Ferenczi’s Mental Deterioration Reconsidered. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 80: 507–42.

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——— [= Mrs. F.]. 1954. Ferenczi. Psychiatric Quarterly Supplement, 28:10–14.

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———. 1954. The Leaven of Love: A Development of the Psychoanalytic Theory and Technique of Sándor Ferenczi. New York: Harper Brothers.

———. 1959. Letter. William Alanson White Institute Newsletter, 7(1):2.

Dupont, Judith, ed. 1985. The Clinical Diary of Sándor Ferenczi. Trans. Michael Balint and Nicola Zarday Jackson. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988.

———. 1993. Michael Balint: Analysand, Pupil, Friend, and Successor to Sandor Ferenczi. in Aron and Harris 1993, pp. 145–59.

Falzeder, Ernst. 1994. The Threads of Psychoanalytic Filiations, or Psychoanalysis Taking Effect. in Haynal and Falzeder 1994, pp. 169–98.

Falzeder, Ernst, and Eva Brabant, eds. 2000. The Correspondence of Sigmund Freud and Sándor Ferenczi, Volume 3, 1920–1933. Trans. Peter T. Hoffer. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Ferenczi, Sándor. 1924. Thalassa: A Theory of Genitality. Trans. Henry Alden Bunker, Jr. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 2(1933):361–64; 3(1934):1–39; 200–22.

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———. 1994. A Difficult Ending: Ferenczi, “R.N.,” and the Experiment in Mutual Analysis. in Haynal and Falzeder 1994, pp. 217–24.

———. 1996. Mutual Analysis: A Logical Outcome of Sándor Ferenczi’s Experiments in Psychoanalysis. in Rudnytsky, Bókay, and Giampieri-Deutsch 1996, pp. 170–86.

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1.- American Imago, Vol. 66, No. 4, 427–455. © 2010 by The Johns Hopkins University Press

2.- Unless otherwise noted, all quoted correspondence is from the Taves-de Forest private collection, as are the photographs of Izette de Forest.

3.- For instance, André Haynal states: “it is Clara Thompson ...who can be considered his main direct successor on the North American continent, through her general orientation and, more specifically, through her articles on counter- transference” (2002, 128). He makes no mention of de Forest or her book. By contrast, Stanton (1991), Rachman (1997) and Rudnytsky (2002) all do credit de Forest’s ideas.

4.- As Rudnytsky (2002, 114) notes, the correct translation of the German title is “Attempt at a Theory of Genitality.”

5.- Izette felt she had been discreet and even generous in her depiction of the Freud—Ferenczi relationship, and that she had withheld many of the details of Freud’s rejection of Ferenczi. After Jones published his damning portrait of his former analyst, Izette agreed to let Fromm publish the full account of Freud’s rejection of Ferenczi.

6.- In a forthcoming paper I discuss in greater detail Izette’s experience of her year in Budapest and her experience of analysis with Ferenczi. De Forest’s letters provide a window on how Ferenczi worked in 1925 when he was beginning to transition from his active technique to his experiments with the relaxation method.

7.- In a letter to Freud dated may 31, 1925, Ferenczi mentions having the opportunity to work with a married couple where the wife is very jealous. This may be his first mention of treating the de Forests (Falzeder and Brabant 2000, 217).

8.- For a contemporary discussion of this question, see Lora Heims Tessman’s The Analyst’s Analyst Within (2003), where research is presented to show that the internalized warmth and caring of the “real person” of the analyst is what is mutative and remembered.

9.- For a psychoanalytic study on Quaker beliefs by another of Ferenczi’s analysands, see Rickman (1935).

10.- A letter from Esther Menaker to Izette on June 26, 1961 mentions her memory of how Izette, Clara Thompson, and Alice Lowell had read Reich’s Character Analysis before it had been translated.

11.- This manuscript of this letter is in Balint archive, Geneva, Switzerland, and quoted by courtesy of André Haynal.

12.- In the entry dated June 14, 1932, “Normális feminin homosexualitás,” Ferenczi’s writes in parenthesis, “(B. and Ett., Dm. and women friends)” (Dupont 1988, 125).

13.- This episode predates the incident with Thompson in 1931 that led to Freud’s criticism of Ferenczi’s “kissing technique,” although Ferenczi did indicate to Freud in his letter of December 20, 1927 that “rumors are circulating in American, but also in English analytic circles, according to which I had ‘a very good time with all those ladies’ in America, and am also keeping an American mistress at the moment” (Falzeder and Brabant 2000, 330).

14.- This version is in all likelihood a copy of the presentation Thompson gave on December 26, 1933 to a meeting of the American Psychoanalytic Association (see A. Freud 1934). Pages eight to seventeen of Thompson’s twenty-five page manuscript appear under the title “Ferenczi’s Relaxation Method” in her Collected Papers (Green 1964), but without the acknowledgments of Alice and Izette.

15.- Thompson’s choice of the word “fault” is interesting in the light of the fact that Balint, also an analysand of Ferenczi’s, would later use it to describe infantile trauma, “the basic fault.” Balint liked to play with words, and the ambiguous meaning of “fault” may have influenced his conception, which moves from examining the analyst’s repetition of the original trauma to tracing its roots in the patient’s childhood.

16.- In later years, Thompson (1955) confirmed that there had been a break in her relationship with Sullivan for over a year in 1936, attributing it to her “defection” in agreeing to teach at the New York Psychoanalytic institute, although it may have been that she felt she needed a respite after the analysis before resuming contact with Sullivan.

17.- This manuscript is preserved in the Thompson archive of the William Alanson White institute. As pointed out in note 13 above, the version that appears in Thompson’s Selected Papers (Green 1964) has been considerably edited. Thompson writes in the manuscript: “it is unsafe for the analyst to permit free expression of tenderness until the analysis is far advanced and the patient’s destructive impulses are fairly well understood ...there are certain patients with a compulsive need to get other people in trouble by fair means or foul” (20)




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