While the identities and lives of many of Freud's female patients have been revealed over time, the subject of his only essay on female homosexuality, “The Psychogenesis of a Case of Homosexuality in a Woman,” remained unidentified for 80 years. The Story of Sidonie C. is the biography of that patient. PW spoke with Jill Hannum, one of the translators of the book, about how the title “provides an opportunity to rethink Sigmund Freud’s much analyzed essay from a newly informed perspective.”
Can you explain who Sidonie Csillag was?
Margarethe Csonka Trautenegg, pseudonym Sidonie Csillag, was born in 1900 to a Jewish family and was immediately baptized Catholic. Her teenage infatuation with a local courtesan scandalized her haute-bourgeois Viennese family, and they sent her to Freud to
“cure” her “inversion.” She resisted him at every opportunity, and her forbidden feelings for women lasted through two world wars, a disastrous marriage, a flight from the Nazis to Cuba and then to the United States, a soul-crushing postwar return to Vienna, and subsequent sojourns around the globe before her death in Vienna in 1999.
As one of the translators, can you explain how this book came to be?
In 1992, coauthor Diana Voigt introduced Ines Rieder to Margarethe, a friend of Diana’s grandmother. Ines conducted and recorded in-depth interviews with Margarethe over several years and did extensive historical background research on her family, friends, and multiple social environments. In 2014 and 2015, Ines and I produced a first draft of the English translation, which I continued to refine after her untimely death in late 2015. Notes and interview tapes are archived at the Freud Museum in Vienna.
Why do you think
this book is particularly relevant now? Vienna’s queer subculture between the world wars, the role of psychoanalysis in exerting strong social pressure to conform, the Nazis’ Jewish laws that forced a baffled woman into exile, and the soul-scouring effects of a post- war world are all experiences that were uniquely Margarethe’s, but the fundamentals of prejudice, repression, and war are universal. Biography can illuminate history, and this biography is a very good read about a complex and quite daring aesthete who broke as many rules as she followed.