In This Article Psychoanalysis

  • Introduction
  • Freud
  • Commentaries on Freud
  • Jung
  • Analytical Psychology
  • Lacan
  • Klein
  • Abraham and Torok
  • Deleuze and Guattari
  • Other Analytic Traditions
  • Wild Psychoanalysis
  • Toward Deconstruction
  • Survey, Interrogation, Speculation
  • Gender
  • Story, Narrative, Character
  • Genre, Mode, School
  • Depression, Mourning, Trauma

British and Irish Literature Psychoanalysis
David Punter
  • LAST MODIFIED: 20 September 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0049


Since the origins of psychoanalysis in the work of Sigmund Freud, its relations to literature and to literary criticism have been complex and challenging. Psychoanalysis is a science of the mind and depends for its very operation on interchanges among people; it is therefore not straightforward to transfer its insights into the study of literary texts. On the other hand, it is true that many of the central tenets of psychoanalysis have, over the years, become matters of general acceptance; thus the very topic of literature and psychoanalysis is a difficult one to define, for whereas in the past there may have been definable schools of psychoanalytic criticism, more recently a whole range of ideas have gradually come into the field of general acceptance. Despite some resistance (and such resistance was identified by Freud as inseparable from the nature of the difficult psychic material that psychoanalysis addresses), it would be difficult to find critical writing, or indeed any kind of intellectual thought in the West, that would totally eschew such formulations as the Oedipus complex, the pleasure principle, or indeed the very notion of some realm of psychic activity most conveniently referred to as the unconscious. This bibliography will attempt to describe and discuss some of the ways in which critics have tried to adapt and import these insights into the study of the literary, but it needs to be said that the embroilment of literature and psychoanalysis was itself an originating moment: many of the writers of the time around the early reception of Freud were deeply influenced by his ideas, and it would be no exaggeration to depict modernism as a “Freudianization” of literature.


Sigmund Freud was the father of psychoanalysis, and indeed many later formulations of psychoanalysis have portrayed themselves as attempts to “return” to Freud. It is important, however, to bear in mind that Freud himself was reluctant to appear as a theorist of the mind; instead, he portrayed himself as a scientific investigator, whose materials were the stories of his patients as they presented themselves to him. By far the best introduction to Freud’s work in general is not his various lectures on psychoanalysis but rather the five great “case histories” (all of which have technical titles, but also “common names”: the cases of the Rat Man, the Wolf Man, Dora, Schreber, and Little Hans; see Freud 1953, Freud 1960, Freud 1959b, Freud 1959a, Freud 1955, and Freud 1961) that are arguably remarkable literary works in their own right, as well as giving insight into how Freud worked, what his principles were, and what the very notion of “psychoanalytical interpretation” means. At the heart of the Freudian reading of the mind there lies the notion of the unconscious. The implication is that when we think, as human beings, that we know what we are doing, that we are aware of our intentions and beliefs, we are in fact in the grip of a necessary delusion: deeper within the psyche there operates a far different process of causation, which results in behaviors that are very different than what we propose, and that can only be revealed in three ways: through our dreams; through our parapraxes, or slips of the tongue; and through the lengthy and demanding process of psychoanalysis itself (Freud 1957).

  • Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams. Vol. 4–5 of The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Edited by James Strachey. London: Hogarth, 1953.

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    This is Freud’s classic text on dreams. It outlines his crucial assertion (which differentiates the psychoanalytic standpoint from earlier processes of dream interpretation, such as in ancient Greece) that dreams are not omens of the future; rather, they are compounds of the “day’s residues” that necessarily evidence the psyche’s concerns, even when those concerns are not obvious or available to the conscious mind. Originally published in 1900.

  • Freud, Sigmund. “The ‘Uncanny.’” In An Infantile Neurosis, and Other Works. Vol. 17 of The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Edited by James Strachey, 217–256. London: Hogarth, 1955.

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    This is the most important of all Freud’s contributions to thinking about the literary. In it, he proposes a definition of the uncanny (in relation to a strange convergence between the terms “homely” and “unhomely”); lists many manifestations of the uncanny in “real life”; and goes on to analyze a specific literary text, E. T. A. Hoffmann’s The Sandman. Originally published in 1919.

  • Freud, Sigmund. “Mourning and Melancholia.” In On the History of Psycho-Analytic Movement, Papers on Metapsychology, and Other Works. Vol. 14 of The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Edited by James Strachey, 239–260. London: Hogarth, 1957.

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    Freud’s remarkable discrimination between different methods of dealing with loss, death, and bereavement, which has continued to govern all clinical and cultural studies of these phenomena and our reactions to them to the present day.

  • Freud, Sigmund. “Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming.” In Jensen’s Gradiva, and Other Works. Vol. 9 of The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Edited by James Strachey, 141–153. London: Hogarth, 1959a.

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    This very short piece is crucial for thinking through the relations between psychoanalysis and literature. The essential term here is “fantasy,” but the question raised is, What is fantasy? Is it a mere unproductive by-product; or, if we work with fantasy, may we thus be enabled to look more closely at the world both within and around us? In any event, is this some part of what creative writers do? Originally published in 1908.

  • Freud, Sigmund. “Delusions and Dreams in Jensen’s Gradiva.” In Jensen’s Gradiva, and Other Works. Vol. 9 of The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Edited by James Strachey, 3–95. London: Hogarth, 1959b.

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    This is a more clearly literarily related text, which makes for interesting reading, partly in terms of Freud’s reticence in relation to the literary—he frequently paid homage to the great writers of the past as knowing more about the structure of the mind than even the most patient of psychologists—and partly for its determined unraveling of literary clues. Originally published in 1907.

  • Freud, Sigmund. Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious. Vol. 8 of The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Edited by James Strachey. London: Hogarth, 1960.

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    Here Freud performs a type of “literary” analysis, looking at jokes as evidence of underlying psychic—and societal—forces. His exemplary jokes may not, in fact, seem very funny; but the underlying contention that what we say may betray another discourse that is always buried has proved very fruitful for studying what we might call the “unconscious” of a literary text. Originally published in 1905.

  • Freud, Sigmund. “Civilization and its Discontents.” In The Future of an Illusion, Civilization and its Discontents, and Other Works. Vol. 21 of The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Edited by James Strachey, 59–145. London: Hogarth, 1961.

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    One of the few works where Freud moves into the realm of social and political criticism; and also one where he provocatively assigns the role of art to the realm of “substitutive” gratifications—in other words, as a perennial substitute for other, more dangerous and destructive desires that cannot themselves be satisfied if the “civilized” world is going to survive. Originally published in 1930.

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