Book Review: The Story of Sidonie C in BACP Private Practice, September 2020

Private Practice is the quarterly journal of BACP Private Practice division, for counsellors and psychotherapists working independently. It is published by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy ( BACP)

REVIEW BY: Catherine Jackson, freelance editor and writer, specialising in counselling and mental health

BACP Private Practice, September 2020 p.37

Sidonie C’ was the subject of Freud’s only recorded ‘Case of Homosexuality in a Woman’, published in 1920. She was, in fact, Margarethe Csonka, the indulged daughter of a Viennese industrialist, whose life spanned almost the whole of the 20th century, from 1900 to 1999. Her biographers decided to respect her confidentiality nonetheless, and gave her the name ‘Sidonie’, or Sidi.

The book is drawn from interviews with Sidi in the latter years of her life when she had returned to Vienna, having fled the Nazi Anschluss during the Second World War. Her family was Jewish, although she was raised a Catholic. She left Vienna a year or so into the war, aided by various Jewish refugee organisations. She lived first with two of her brothers in Cuba and then, post war, in America.

Aged 18, Sidi became infatuated with a married woman who openly had affairs with both women and men. Such was her passion that, on being rejected by the woman, Sidi tried to take her own life. In despair, her parents sent her to see Freud. Freud was not opposed to homosexuality, or optimistic about the success of psychoanalysis in converting a person to heterosexuality: ‘In general,’ he wrote, ‘to undertake to convert a fully developed homosexual into a heterosexual does not offer much more prospect of success than the reverse, except that for good practical reasons the latter is never attempted’. Humans, he argued, are essentially bisexual; often, they will simply choose what is available.

Sidi’s exposure to Freud’s observations continued for about four months. In that time, she managed, guilelessly at times and at other times with deliberate intent, to bamboozle him and make a nonsense of his pronouncements. She chatted to him chirpily about the acceptable face of her busy social life, complained about her indulged brothers, her mother’s harsh treatment of her and her father’s angry attempts to make her obey him, and concocted a few dreams for him, as he seemed to want her to have some. She found him, frankly, creepy. His conclusion was, predictably, a simple inversion of his interpretation of male homosexuality: Sidonie was in love with her father, jealous of her mother and, at the same time, desperate for her love and approval. Thus, she sought it in another, older woman.

However, this potentially fascinating tale occupies only a few pages of the book. The rest tells the no less fascinating tale of the entirety of Sidi’s eventful life against the backdrop of 20th century Europe’s turbulent history. There isn’t much of direct professional interest to counsellors and psychotherapists, other than its cautionary tale of how one of the founding figures of their profession got it so wrong, blinded (or blocked?) as he was by his own theories to the reality of the young woman lying on his couch.