Dreaming for Freud

The internal conflicts

On Money

Why do we hesitate to mention matters of money?

I remember saying to my analyst at one point, “When you asked me about my sex life; you should also have asked about my attitude to money,” and he agreed. It was equally important and equally hidden.

I was brought up in a family with the unspoken rule: we did not talk about money. It was a taboo subject, considered crass, vulgar, and more scandalous than speaking of sex, which might be mentioned sotto voce, in certain circumstances.

Perhaps, this was partly because my mother, who came from modest circumstances, had married my father, a wealthy man twenty years her senior, in somewhat dubious circumstances I was to discover. We were always told my father was a widower. His first wife had died, which was true. However, this happened six months after my mother married my father and not before. Indeed, and quite shockingly the three of them had all lived together in the large house and garden where I was born, a situation I described in a book called “Love Child.”

When my own first husband told me he had fallen in love with another woman and was thinking of leaving me, my mother then broke her rule and said, “ Watch out he doesn’t give your money to the girlfriend! ” which was what had happened, obviously, in her own case. My father heaped his young and beautiful wife with jewelry, took her on glamorous trips, and when he died left her his fortune.

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Certainly Freud knew the importance of money. It runs like a livid scar through the five case histories and is particularly prevalent in the Ratman case where rats are often equated with money. There is the particular importance of the father’s legacy; the small sum of money the Ratman is asked to pay back to the officer which causes so much distress; the conflict between the lady he loves and the rich cousin he might marry if he finishes his studies; the strange story of the man who irons his money but masturbates young women with his fingers, transforming his shame at his disreputable behavior with the girls into a fastidiousness with florins . Above all there is the evocative dream of the girl the Ratman sees on the stairs and believes to be Freud’s daughter and that Freud would like him to marry her. He dreams of her with dung rather than eyes which Freud interprets as wishing to marry her not for her beaux yeux but for her money.

It has taken the years and several losses for me to realize that money like everything else is not a magic or a hidden matter. There is no shame in having or not having money. It is simply a fact and needs to be brought into the open. We need to find out exactly what we have, how much we will be paid for our services, how much we should pay others, what lies in store for us in the future. It is no crime to bring the matter up into the light of day.

As the poet asks the old leech gatherer in Wordsworth’s poem, so must we inquire:

"My question eagerly did I renew,

"How is it that you live, and what is it you do?"

He with a smile did then his words repeat;

And said that, gathering Leeches, far and wide

He travelled; stirring thus about his feet

The waters of the Pools where they abide.

"Once I could meet with them on every side;

But they have dwindled long by slow decay;

Yet still I persevere, and find them where I may."

Sheila Kohler teaches at Princeton. She is the author of many books including Dreaming for Freud, Becoming Jane Eyre, and Cracks, which was made into a film with Eva Green.

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