from page 219-220
This novel dares to combine the texture of insight that fiction brings with the solidity of research that imposes a hierarchy of factual priority. It is psychoanalytical in its approach, suggesting its own sessions of analysis (a surprise or insight at the end of each visit with the narrator), while leading the narrator’s psychological journey to its concluding revelations. It is an ambitious agenda.
Webster tells the story of Kate, an American doctoral student researching the crucial victories and conflicts of the Freudian movement at the turn of the century in Vienna and later in England and the United States. Kate has at first the stimuli of her curious professionalism; soon, she will discover that the journey is even more significant on a personal level. It is her grandfather who is one of the chief actors in this Freudian circle she in investigating, and the one actor forgotten in most accounts of its history. Impelled to understand why he has been booted out of the winners’ circle -- he is mentioned only briefly and condescendingly in the textbooks and biographies flowing out endlessly about the Freudian remaking of the psychological world -- Webster’s heroine travels across the country and the ocean to visit sites and survivors of the movement. Her deepest unearthing turns ironically to the grounds of a nearby neighbor to her Columbia University oversight institution -- Helene Deutsch, who lives on the Upper West Side. (Webster is clever in using well-known historical figures and giving them life as fictional characters.) Deutsch will become a friend with a relevant secret that will inform the young woman’s life and dissertation. Other historical figures abound in the book -- Webster knows her subject matter well and draws on that knowledge to give ballast to her fiction. Perversely, the ballast slows the moving journey, and at times the novel turns into a document more incontrovertible in its fact and less persuasive in its fiction. Still, the novel has appeal, particularly in the portrait of Lou-Andreas Salome -- that fabled muse of Nietzsche and Rilke, and if Webster’s thesis-novel is to be believed, of both Kate’s grandfather and Freud as well.
To the Freudian circle Webster adds another one -- the difficulties of romance in her young heroine’s life. Kate’s partner accepts her moods and leave-takings from him, but at times he also expressed an exasperation with the game his lover is playing. The game -- I mean this in the profound sense of entering and then ending a world not with a curtain call but an illumination of self -- is a heady and layered one. At times this game -- the sense of playing out the characters Webster has brought into being -- loads the novel into contrivance, and onto a regularity of discovery in the manner of sessional analysis. Webster’s readers may turn out to be of two kinds -- those who can’t wait for the sessions to continue, and those who feel the format is predictable. In either case Webster provides intellectual provocation and an appealing mystery.
Causes Brenda Webster Supports
Doctors Without Borders
The Nature Conservancy
Women Support Women