Jeffrey Masson and Freud's seduction theory: a new fable based on old myths

by  Allen Esterson

Freud's Seduction Theory

See History of the Human Sciences, volume 11, no. 1, February 1998, pp. 1-21.


One of the most enduring myths of psychoanalytic history is that Freud proposed his seduction theory as a result of hearing frequent reports from his female patients that they had been sexually abused in childhood. A second myth is that in the early days of psychoanalysis, Freud's medical colleagues took such exception to his theories of infantile sexuality that they subjected him to professional ostracism. Jeffrey Masson combined these two myths to produce a compelling and influential account of the seduction theory episode. However, an examination of the contemporary documents indicates that Freud's clinical findings reported in the seduction theory papers were spurious, that he was right to abandon the seduction theory, and that Masson's version of events is erroneous. Please note that the Synopsis cannot cover every detail and for the full argument readers should consult the original article in History of the Human Sciences. [VIEW SYNOPSIS]


Jeffrey Masson supports his version of the seduction theory episode recounted in The Assault on Truth with an account of the prehistory of the theory, followed by a discussion of some related historical events which lend credence to his central thesis. These sections of his book are critically reviewed in this detailed addendum. [VIEW ADDENDUM]


red.gif (101 bytes) Norman Rosenblood, Ph. D. - "A lot of time and ink would have been saved if Masson..."
red.gif (101 bytes) Chess Denman - "I think the real charge in relation to Freud is..."
red.gif (101 bytes) Mark Pendergrast - "I read Allen Esterson's material about Masson and Freud's seduction theory..."
red.gif (101 bytes) Eric Gillett, M.D. - "Masson's writings on Freud's seduction theory are important..."
red.gif (101 bytes) Malcolm Macmillan - "One aspect of the discussion on Freud's seduction theory..."
red.gif (101 bytes) Allen Esterson - The myth of fathers as the 'seducers' (real or phantasised) in 1895-7
red.gif (101 bytes) Herb Peyser, M.D. - "It is interesting to note that Jean Schimek..."
red.gif (101 bytes) Allen Esterson - Reply to Herb Peyser
red.gif (101 bytes) Allen Esterson - "There is an erroneous interpretation of a sentence of Freud's in my..."
red.gif (101 bytes) Allen Esterson - "Freud claimed that his clinical experiences in the seduction theory period enabled him to 'stumble'..."
red.gif (101 bytes) Adriaan J. W. Mak - "Thanks for spelling it out clearly. This needed to be done..."
red.gif (101 bytes) Frank R. Kegan - "I would suggest that importance of the debate about Freud's Seduction Theory is not..."
red.gif (101 bytes) Allen Esterson - Rebuttal of Masson's arguments in his 1998 'Postscript' to The Assault on Truth

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About Allen Esterson

Allen Esterson is author of  Seductive Mirage : An Exploration of the Work of Sigmund Freud (Published by Open Court Publishing Company, June 1993). If you would like to order a copy of his book then please click on the logo below.

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Table of Contents

1. Prelude
2. The Infantile Seduction Theory
3. Unconscious Phantasies and the Dora Analysis
4. More Case Histories
5. Grusha
6. Fabrications
7. Miscellaneous Items
8. The Oedipus Theory and Female Sexuality
9. Popular Expositions
10. Dreams
11. Theoretical Revisions
12. Techniques of Persuasion
13. The Basic Concepts of Psychoanalysis
14. Final Estimations
Paperback, 270 pages, Published by Open Court Publishing Company, Publication date: June 1993 
Dimensions (in inches): 8.99 x 6.01 x .79, ISBN: 0812692314.
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Seductive Mirage : An Exploration of the Work of Sigmund Freud

"By concisely surveying the whole Freudian enterprise with a skeptical eye, Esterson dispels any impression that some parts of that enterprise have passed beyond controversy. [The book's] eventual verdict - that every notion and practice peculiar to psychoanalysis is open to fundamental objection - rests on evidence that any reader can check by following up Esterson's cited sources." -- Professor Frederick Crews
Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young - Last updated: 28 May, 2005 02:29 PM

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