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Dina Davis, A Dangerous Daughter, Sydney, Cilento Publishing, 2021.

Anat Tzur Mahalel, Reading Freud’s Patients: memoir, Narrative and the Analysand. Routledge, The History of Psychoanalysis Series, 2020.

‘What would the story of an analysis look like if it were told through the eyes of the analysand?’

This is a question from the blurb of Anat Tzur Mahalel’s study, Reading Freud’s Patients, released in 2020. Mahalel draws from memoirs left by Freud’s patients as she seeks to understand ‘how the patient’s experience differs from the one told by the analyst. There are case studies enough in the psychoanalytic literature as clinicians grapple with phenomena emerging in their consulting rooms. It is The patient’s muteness is Mahalel’s subject. Her questions concern, among other matters, the movement from the position of patient to author. And to what extent the act of writing about the space created between the patient and analyst, in Mahalel’s case, between Freud and his patients, expresses any late understandings and interpretations, and a translation of messages received from him’? ( Mahalel, p.60). She has used six studies:

Fragments of an analysis with Freud, by Joseph Wortis

Diary of my analysis with Sigmund Freud, by Smiley Blanton

My Analysis with Freud, Reminiscences, by Abram Kardiner

An American Psychiatrist in Vienna 1935-1937, and his Sigmund Freud, by John Dorsey

The Wolf Man and Sigmund Freud by Sergei Pankejieff

Tribute to Freud by Hilda Dolittle

‘Nothing written is ever erased’, Freud wrote. Mahalel takes this up, writing in her concluding chapter, ‘Psychic life is constructed of manifold layers that move at different paces and in different directions’. We need not to seek psychic transformation in the outermost, apparent layer of the psyche but to tunnel deep into the innermost layers, where apparently lost traces are revealed. The reminiscences and traces that seem to have been forgotten and therefore lost remain in fact forever present and archived in our psychic apparatus. Nothing significant is lost, only the path leading to it‘. (p. 190).

Mahalel’s reflections on writing, memoir, the mind and the unconscious, helps frame consideration of the Australian writer, Dina Davis’s fiction – memoir, A Dutiful Daughter, published in June 2021. It is based on the author’s life, including during her teenage years her analysis with an Australian born psychoanalyst, Ivy Bennett, who practiced in Perth from 1952 until 1958.

There is also a connection between Davis’s book and this blog.

I had first discovered Ivy Bennett, born in Lake Grace in the Western Australian Wheatbelt, during my early searches of the National Library’ digitised website, TROVE. Several early posts in this blog described how Bennett had made her way through scholarships to a lectureship in psychology at the University of Western Australia during the War years. Awarded a British Council Scholarship in 1945 Bennett sailed for England on 1 January 1946 and was introduced to Anna Freud by a compatriot, Ruth Thomas. Bennett subsequently trained with Anna Freud’s first cohort of students working with children at Anna Freud’s Clinic. These included refugee children rescued from Theresiensdadt. After completing further training to Associate level with the British Psychoanalytical Society in 1951-2, Bennett returned to Australia intending to settle permanently and establish a psychoanalytic practice. However she returned to Britain in 1958 intending to gain her full qualification. She subsequently married and moved to the United States to practice for many years in Kansas.

Dina Davis was an early correspondent, introducing herself and her connection with Bennett. Perhaps this connection stirred her memories and the book is the result. Davis has named her protagonist, Ivy, a tribute to Bennett and the place she has in her memory. Her work with Ivy Bennett ‘saved my life’, Davis has written. Later, long after Bennett had left the country, the memory of her analysis sustained her through another difficult time.

‘Ivy ‘is a teenager, the elder daughter a Jewish couple living in New South Wales in the 1950s. They reached Australia in flight from the Nazis in the war years. The horror of the Nazi death camps has particular meaning for this family, and for Ivy. For to eat is to live. From the the onset of anorexia nervosa when Ivy increasingly comes under the control of ‘The Voice’ that demands she not eat; her family’s rejection of her illness, and devastatingly for Ivy, her exile to stay with Western Australian relatives far from her home in the eastern states, Davis’s writing is spare, tight, and controlled. And when, at last she reaches Dr de Berg ( Dr B), the relief is palpable. Ivy has found someone who has faith in her.

There are the sessions. Dr B explains the structures of the psychoanalytic process, showing Ivy how ‘The Voice’ is manifest of an internal superego. Ivy learns that it is a part of her, and thus able to be managed by her. This, along with the naming of her condition ‘Anorexia Nervosa’, frees her to resume her life as a young adolescent with her future ahead of her.

There is much more to this story of a young girl growing up and learning to know and trust her mind. She has to negotiate peer group pressures, friendships, early love, and all the confusion this entails. Following an incident at a beach where one of her group almost drowned. Ivy’s presence of mind and ability to do what needed to be done, shows Ivy her own strength. As is the writing of this book.

I will leave it to others to review “ A Dangerous Daughter” more fully. As Dina Davis acknowledges, its beginnings lie in the chance encounter with part of her history when she found this blog, and the deeper memories it stirred. And, reflecting on a time long past, she makes the proper claim for her voice and its narration. The result is deeply moving. ‘The subject finds expression within the limitations or prohibitions of the censor, and yet the psyche ‘is inevitably drawn to speak its own voice’, Mahalel writes. ‘The text is the result. The text expresses not the engraving of the outer layer… but the allusiveness of psychic life, of the movement between layers of consciousness, internal entities, and time’ (190).

“ A Dangerous Daughter ‘ is an important contribution to Australian psychoanalytic literature and memoir. Here is the link to purchase the book.