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sigmund freud biography
sigmund Freud life

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Sigmund Freud: Life


Sigmund Freud was born on May 6 1856, in the small town of Freiberg, Moravia, which is now in Czechoslovakia. He was the eldest of eight children born to Jacob and Amalie Freud.

Can you find a picture of the house where Freud was born?

When Freud was about three years old his father, who was a wool merchant, lost much of his business. The family were now poor and had to leave Freiberg, where Freud was happy, and go to live in Vienna, the capital city of Austria.

How do you think Freud felt when he had to leave Freiberg?

It was in Vienna that Freud came across anti-semitism for the first time. Jewish people had been persecuted in Europe for hundreds of years and they would often be called names or attacked on the street. Freud's father told him of a time when a man knocked his hat into the road and told him to get off the pavement. "What did you do?" asked Freud. "I walked into the road and picked up my hat" replied his father

How do you think that incident made the young Freud feel?
How would his attitude have changed when he was older?

Freud was intelligent and hard-working at school, and always liked to express his opinions even when he disagreed with his teachers or other pupils. When he was older Freud said that he didn't think he was particularly clever, even though he often came top of the class - the most important thing was working hard and wanting to find out about things.

Why do you think Freud worked so hard at school? (a) Because he was interested (b) To please his teachers (c) To show off

When he left school he was not sure what he wanted to do. At first he thought he would become a lawyer. Then he decided to study medicine and become a doctor, so he enrolled in the medical school of the University of Vienna. While he was at university he fell in love with Martha Bernays, who was one of his sisters' friends, and he asked her to marry him. They were engaged for four years before they could finally marry.

Why were Freud and Martha engaged for so long?

Freud decided to specialize in neurology, the study and treatment of the brain and the nervous system. In 1885, just before he got married, he obtained a grant to go to Paris to see the famous neurologist Jean Martin Charcot. Freud returned from Paris determined to study and treat mental disorders. He called his new ideas 'psychoanalysis'

Can you find a picture of Charcot in the museum? What is Charcot doing in the picture?

At first it was not easy to make a name for himself. When he gave a lecture to doctors in Vienna they laughed at him, and nobody bought his books. So he was still poor, but now with a growing family to support. He called it his period of 'splendid isolation'. His only real friend, Wilhelm Fliess, lived far away in Berlin.

How many children did Freud have? Why did Freud feel so isolated when he had such a large family?

During all his time in Vienna Freud lived in small apartments with his family. Like many other people of the time the Freud family had to suffer many hardships. Firstly during the First World War, and then in the economic depression when Austrian money became almost worthless. Often Freud had to analyse people in his overcoat because they could not afford to heat the consulting room. After the War there was a great epidemic of flu. Freud's daughter Sophie died in 1920, and three years later his grandson Heinerle died too.

Find a picture of Sophie and Heinerle in the museum. How do you think Freud felt when they died?

In the year of little Heinerle's death Freud suffered another blow. He was told he had cancer of the jaw and that he too had only a short time to live. The cancer was brought on by his smoking, and even though he knew he should stop he always started up again. He said he was addicted to smoking like he was addicted to collecting his thousands of antiquities.

What evidence can you find in the museum that Freud smoked? Why do you think he smoked so much?
Why do you think he collected so many antiquities?

But meanwhile a more evil threat was on the horizon. The anti-semitism, which civilized countries thought they had put behind them, was coming back in Germany. Hitler came to power in 1933, and in the same year they burnt Freud's books in the street, along with many other books written by Jewish writers. Freud made a joke at the time which is somewhere in the museum.

What do you think Freud said when he learnt that the Nazis were burning his books?

In 1938 the Nazis gained control of Austria, and the Jews were persecuted once more. Freud's friends persuaded him to leave Vienna and come to England. Freud arrived in England on 6th June 1938, and he moved into the house in Maresfield Gardens a few months later. Many people came to see him, and he wrote to his brother that for the first time, and late in life, he knew what it was like to be famous. He died on the 23rd September 1939.

What evidence can you find that Freud was famous when he was in England? Do you think Freud liked being famous?

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