Collected Papers on Analytical Psychology/Chapter 4
A CONTRIBUTION TO THE PSYCHOLOGY OF RUMOUR
About a year ago the school authorities in N. asked me to give a professional opinion as to the mental condition of Marie X., a thirteen year old schoolgirl. Marie had been expelled from school because she had been instrumental in originating an ugly rumour, spreading gossip about her class-teacher. The punishment hit the child, and especially her parents, very hard, so that the school authorities were inclined to readmit her if protected by a medical opinion. The facts were as follows:—
The teacher had heard indirectly that the girls were attributing some equivocal sexual story to him. On investigation it was found that Marie X. had one day related a dream to three girl-friends which ran somewhat as follows:—
“The class was going to the swimming baths. I had to go to the boys’ because there was no more room. Then we swam a long way out in the lake (asked who did so: ‘Lina P., the teacher, and myself’). A steamer came along. The teacher asked us if we wished to get into it. We came to K. A wedding was just going on there (asked whose: ‘a friend of the teacher’s’). We were also to take part in it. Then we went for a journey (who? ‘I, Lina P., and the teacher’). It was like a honeymoon journey. We came to Andermatt, and there was no more room in the hotel, so we were obliged to pass the night in a barn. The woman got a child there, and the teacher became the godfather.”
When I examined the child she told this dream. The teacher had likewise related the dream in writing. In this earlier version the obvious blanks after the word “steamer” in the above text were filled up as follows: “We got up. Soon we felt cold. An old man gave us a blouse which the teacher put on.” On the other hand, there was an omission of the passage about finding no room in the hotel, and being obliged to pass the night in the barn.
The child told the dream immediately, not only to her three friends but also to her mother. The mother repeated it to me with only trifling differences from the two versions given above. The teacher, in his further investigations, carried out with deepest misgivings, failed, like myself, to get indications of any more dangerous material. There is therefore a strong probability that the original recital could not have run very differently. (The passage about the cold and the blouse seems to be an early interpolation, for it is an attempt to supply a logical relationship. Coming out of the water one is wet, has on only a bathing dress, and is therefore unable to take part in a wedding before putting on some clothes.) At first, of course, the teacher would not allow that the whole affair had arisen only out of a dream. He rather suspected it to be an invention. He was, however, obliged to admit that the innocent telling of the dream was apparently a fact, and that it was unnatural to regard the child as capable of such guile as to indicate some sexual equivocation in this disguised form. For a time he wavered between the view that it was a question of cunning invention, and the view that it was really a question of a dream, innocent in itself, which had been understood by the other children in a sexual way. When his first indignation wore off he concluded that Marie X.’s guilt could not be so great, and that her phantasies and those of her companions had contributed to the rumour. He then did something really valuable. He placed Marie’s companions under supervision, and made them all write out what they had heard of the dream.
Before turning our attention to this, let us cast a glance at the dream analytically. In the first place, we must accept the facts and agree with the teacher that we have to do with a dream and not with an invention; for the latter the ambiguity is too great. Conscious invention tries to create unbroken transitions; the dream takes no account of this, but sets to work regardless of gaps, which, as we have seen, here give occasion for interpolations during the conscious revision. The gaps are very significant. In the swimming bath there is no picture of undressing, being unclothed, nor any detailed description of their being together in the water. The omission of being dressed on the ship is compensated for by the abovementioned interpolation, but only for the teacher, thus indicating that his nakedness was in most urgent need of cover. The detailed description of the wedding is wanting, and the transition from the steamer to the wedding is abrupt. The reason for stopping overnight in the barn at Andermatt is not to be found at first. The parallel to this is, however, the want of room in the swimming-bath, which made it necessary to go into the men’s department; in the hotel the want of room again emphasises the separation of the sexes. The picture of the barn is most insufficiently filled out. The birth suddenly follows and quite without sequence. The teacher as godfather is extremely equivocal. Marie’s rôle in the whole story is throughout of secondary importance, indeed she is only a spectator.
All this has the appearance of a genuine dream, and those of my readers who have a wide experience of the dreams of girls of this age, will assuredly confirm this view. Hence the meaning of the dream is so simple that we may quietly leave its interpretation to her school companions, whose declarations are as follows:
Witness I.—“M. dreamed that she and Lina P. had gone swimming with our teacher. After they had swum out in the lake pretty far, M. said she could not swim any further as her foot hurt her so much. The teacher said she might sit on my back. M. got up and they swam out. After a time a steamer came along and they got up on it. Our teacher seems to have had a rope by which he tied M. and L. together and dragged them out into the lake. They travelled thus as far as Z., where they stepped out. But now they had no clothes on. The teacher bought a jacket, whilst M. and L. got a long, thick veil, and all three walked up the street along the lake. This was when the wedding was going on. Presently they met the party. The bride had on a blue silk dress but no veil. She asked M. and L. if they would be kind enough to give her their veil. M. and L. gave it, and in return they were allowed to go to the wedding. They went into the Sun Inn. Afterwards they went a honeymoon journey to Andermatt; I do not know now whether they went to the Inn at A. or at Z. There they got coffee, potatoes, honey, and butter.
I must not say any more, only the teacher finally was made godfather.
Remarks.—The round-about story concerning the want of room in the swimming-bath is absent; Marie goes direct with her teacher to the bath. Their persons are more closely bound together in the water by means of the rope fastening the teacher and the two girls together. The ambiguity of the “getting up” in the first story has other consequences here, for the part about the steamer in the first story now occurs in two places; in the first the teacher takes Marie on his back. The delightful little slip “she could sit on my back” (instead of his), shows the real part taken by the narrator herself in this scene. This makes it clear why the dream brings the steamer somewhat abruptly into action, in order to give an innocent, harmless turn to the equivocal “getting up,” instead of another which is common, for instance, in music-hall songs. The passage about the want of clothing, the uncertainty of which has been already noticed, arouses the special interest of the narrator. The teacher buys a jacket, the girls get a long veil (such as one only wears in case of death or at weddings). That the latter is meant is shown by the remark that the bride had none (it is the bride who wears the veil). The narrator, a girl friend of Marie, here helps the dreamer to dream further: the possession of the veil designates the bride or the brides, Marie and Lina. Whatever is shocking or immoral in this situation is relieved by the girls giving up the veil; it then takes an innocent turn. The narrator follows the same mechanism in the cloaking of the equivocal scene at Andermatt; there is nothing but nice food, coffee, potatoes, honey, butter; a turning back to the infantile life according to the well-known method. The conclusion is apparently very abrupt: the teacher becomes a godfather.
Witness II.—M. dreamt she had gone bathing with L. P. and the teacher. Far out in the lake M. said to the teacher that her leg was hurting her very much. Then the teacher said she could get up on him. I don’t know now whether the last sentence was really so told, but I think so. As there was just then a ship on the lake the teacher said she should swim as far as the ship and then get in. I don’t remember exactly how it went on. Then the teacher or M., I don’t really remember which, said they would get out at Z. and run home. Then the teacher called out to two gentlemen who had just been bathing there, that they might carry the children to land. Then L. P. sat up on one man, and M. on the other fat man, and the teacher held on to the fat man’s leg and swam after them. Arrived on land they ran home. On the way the teacher met his friend who had a wedding. M. said: “It was then the fashion to go on foot, not in a carriage.” Then the bride said she must now go along also. Then the teacher said it would be nice if the two girls gave the bride their black veils, which they had got on the way. I can’t now remember how. The children gave it her, and the bride said they were really dear generous children. Then they went on further and put up at the Sun Hotel. There they got something to eat, I don’t know exactly what. Then they went to a barn and danced. All the men had taken off their coats except the teacher. Then the bride said he ought to take off his coat also. Then the teacher hesitated but finally did so. Then the teacher was . . . Then the teacher said he was cold. I must not tell any more; it is improper. That’s all I heard of the dream. Remarks.—The narrator pays special attention to the getting up, but is uncertain whether in the original it referred to getting up on the teacher or the steamer. This uncertainty is, however, amply compensated for by the elaborate invention of the two strangers who take the girls upon their backs. The getting up is too valuable a thought for the narrator to surrender, but she is troubled by the idea of the teacher seeing the object. The want of clothing likewise arouses much interest. The bride’s veil has, it is true, become the black veil of mourning (naturally in order to conceal anything indelicate). There is not only no innocent twisting, but it is conspicuously virtuous (“dear, generous children”); the amoral wish has become changed into virtue which receives special emphasis, arousing suspicion as does every accentuated virtue.
This narrator exuberantly fills in the blanks in the scene of the barn: the men take off their coats; the teacher also, and is therefore . . . i.e. naked and hence cold. Whereupon it becomes too improper.
The narrator has correctly recognised the parallels which were suspected in the criticisms of the original dream; she has filled in the scene about the undressing which belongs to the bathing, for it must finally come out that the girls are together with the naked teacher.
Witness III.—M. told me she had dreamt: Once I went to the baths but there was no room for me. The teacher took me into his dressing-room. I undressed and went bathing. I swam until I reached the bank. Then I met the teacher. He said would I not like to swim across the lake with him. I went, and L. P. also. We swam out and were soon in the middle of the lake. I did not want to swim any further. Now I can’t remember it exactly. Soon a ship came up, and we got up on the ship. The teacher said, “I am cold,” and a sailor gave us an old shirt. The three of us each tore a piece of the shirt away. I fastened it round the neck. Then we left the ship and swam away towards K.
L. P. and I did not want to go further, and two fat men took us upon their backs. In K. we got a veil which we put on. In K. we went into the street. The teacher met his friend who invited us to the wedding. We went to the Sun and played games. We also danced the polonaise; now I don’t remember exactly. Then we went for a honeymoon journey to Andermatt. The teacher had no money with him, and stole some chestnuts in Andermatt. The teacher said, “I am so glad that I can travel with my two pupils.” Then there is something improper which I will not write. The dream is now finished.
Remarks.—The undressing together now takes place in the narrow space of the dressing-room at the baths. The want of dress on the ship gives occasion to a further variant. (The old shirt torn in three.) In consequence of great uncertainty the getting up on the teacher is not mentioned. Instead, the two girls get up on two fat men. As “fat” becomes so prominent it should be noted that the teacher is more than a little plump. The setting is thoroughly typical; each one has a teacher. The duplication or multiplication of the persons is an expression of their significance, i.e. of the stored-up libido. (Compare the duplication of the attribute in dementia praecox in my “Psychology of Dementia Praecox.”) In cults and mythologies the significance of this duplication is very striking. (Cp. the Trinity and the two mystical formulas of confession: “Isis una quæ es omnia. Hermes omnia solus et ter unus.”) Proverbially we say he eats, drinks, or sleeps “for two.” The multiplication of the personality expresses also an analogy or comparison—my friend has the same “ætiological value” (Freud) as myself. In dementia praecox, or schizophrenia, to use Bleuler’s wider and better term, the multiplication of the personality is mainly the expression of the stored-up libido, for it is invariably the person to whom the patient has transference who is subjected to this multiplication. (“There are two professors N.” “Oh, you are also Dr. J.; this morning another came to see me who called himself Dr. J.”) It seems that, corresponding to the general tendency in schizophrenia, this splitting is an analytic degradation whose motive is to prevent the arousing of too violent impressions. A final significance of the multiplication of personality which, however, does not come exactly under this concept is the raising of some attribute of the person to a living figure. A simple instance is Dionysos and his companion Phales, wherein Phales is the equivalent of Phallos, the personification of the penis of Dionysos. The so-called attendants of Dionysos (Satyri, Sileni, Maenades, Mimallones, etc.) consist of the personification of the attributes of Dionysos.
The scene in Andermatt is portrayed with a nice wit, or more properly speaking, dreamt further: “The teacher steals chestnuts,” that is equivalent to saying he does what is prohibited. By chestnuts is meant roasted chestnuts, which on account of the incision are known as a female sexual symbol. Thus the remark of the teacher, that he was especially glad to travel with his pupils, following directly upon the theft of the chestnuts, becomes intelligible. This theft of the chestnuts is certainly a personal interpolation, for it does not occur in any of the other accounts. It shows how intensive was the inner participation of the school companions of Marie X. in the dream; resting upon similar aetiological requirements.
This is the last of the aural witnesses. The story of the veil, the pain in the feet, are items which we may perhaps suspect to have been suggested in the original narrative. Other interpolations are, however, absolutely personal, and are due to independent inner participation in the meaning of the dream.
(I.) The whole school had to go bathing with the teacher. M. X. had no place in the bath in which to undress. Then the teacher said: “You can come into my room and undress with me.” She must have felt very uncomfortable. When both were undressed they went into the lake. The teacher took a long rope and wound it round M. Then they both swam far out. But M. got tired, and then the teacher took her upon his back. Then M. saw Lina P.; she called out to her, Come along with me, and Lina came. Then they all swam out still farther. They met a ship. Then the teacher asked, “May we get in? these girls are tired.” The boat stopped, and they could all get up. I do not know exactly how they came ashore again at K. Then the teacher got an old night-shirt. He put it on. Then he met an old friend who was celebrating his wedding. The teacher, M. and L. were invited. The wedding was celebrated at the Crown in K. They wanted to play the polonaise. The teacher said he would not accompany them. Then the others said he might as well. He did it with M. The teacher said: “I shall not go home again to my wife and children. I love you best, M.” She was greatly pleased. After the wedding there was the honeymoon journey. The teacher, M. and L. had to accompany the others also. The journey was to Milan. Afterwards they went to Andermatt, where they could find no place to sleep. They went to a barn, where they could stop the night all together. I must not say any more because it becomes highly improper.”
Remarks.—The undressing in the swimming-bath is properly detailed. The union in the water receives a further simplification for which the story of the rope led the way; the teacher fastens himself to Marie. Lina P. is not mentioned at all; she only comes later when Marie is already sitting upon the teacher. The dress is here a jacket. The wedding ceremony contains a very direct meaning. “The teacher will not go home any more to wife and child.” Marie is the darling. In the barn they all found a place together, and then it becomes highly improper.
(II.) It was said that she had gone with the school to the swimming-baths to bathe. But as the baths were over-full the teacher had called her to come to him. We swam out to the lake, and L. P. followed us. Then the teacher took a string and bound us to one another. I do not know now exactly how they again got separated. But after a long time they suddenly arrived at Z. There a scene is said to have taken place which I would rather not tell, for if it were true it would be too disgraceful; also now I don’t know exactly how it is said to have been, for I was very tired, only I also heard that M. X. is said to have told how she was always to remain with our teacher, and he again and again caressed her as his favourite pupil. If I knew exactly I would also say the other thing, but my sister only said something about a little child which was born there, and of which the teacher was said to have been the godfather.
Remarks.—Note that in this story the improper scene is inserted in the place of the wedding ceremony, where it is as apposite as at the end, for the attentive reader will certainly have already observed that the improper scene could have taken place in the swimming-bath dressing-room. The procedure has been adopted which is so frequent in dreams as a whole; the final thoughts of a long series of dream images contain exactly what the first image of the series was trying to represent. The censor pushes the complex away as long as possible through ever-renewed disguises, displacements, innocent renderings, etc. It does not take place in the bathing-room, in the water the “getting up” does not occur, on landing it is not on the teacher’s back that the girls are sitting, it is another pair who are married in the barn, another girl has the child, and the teacher is only—godfather. All these images and situations are, however, directed to pick out the complex, the desire for coitus. Nevertheless the action still occurs at the back of all these metamorphoses, and the result is the birth placed at the end of the scene.
(III.) Marie said: the teacher had a wedding with his wife, and they went to the “Crown” and danced with one another. M. said a lot of wild things which I cannot repeat or write about, for it is too embarrassing.
Remarks.—Here everything is too improper to be told. Note that the marriage takes place with the wife.
(IV.) . . . . that the teacher and M. once went bathing, and he asked M. whether she wanted to come along too. She said “yes.” When they had gone out together they met L. P., and the teacher asked whether she wished to come along. And they went out farther. Then I also heard that she said that the teacher said L. P. and she were the favourite pupils. She also told us that the teacher was in his swimming drawers. Then they went to a wedding, and the bride got a little child.
Remarks.—The personal relationship to the teacher is strongly emphasised (the “favourite pupils”), likewise the want of clothing (“swimming drawers”).
(V.) M. and L. P. went bathing with the teacher. When M. and L. P. and the teacher had swum a little way, M. said: “I cannot go any further, teacher, my foot hurts me.” Then the teacher said she should sit on his back, which M. did. Then a small steamer came along, and the teacher got into the ship. The teacher had also two ropes, and he fastened both children to the ship. Then they went together to Z. and got out there. Then the teacher bought himself a dressing jacket and put it on, and the children had put a cloth over themselves. The teacher had a bride, and they were in a barn. Both children were with the teacher and the bride in the barn, and danced. I must not write the other thing, for it is too awful.
Remarks.—Here Marie sits upon the teacher’s back. The teacher fastens the two children by ropes to the ship, from which it can be seen how easily ship is put for teacher. The jacket again emerges as the piece of clothing. It was the teacher’s own wedding, and what is improper comes after the dance.
(VI.) The teacher is said to have gone bathing with the whole school. M. could not find any room, and she cried. The teacher is said to have told M. she could come into his dressing-room.
“I must leave out something here and there,” said my sister, “for it is a long story.” But she told me something more which I must tell in order to speak the truth. When they were in the bath the teacher asked M. if she wished to swim out into the lake with him. To which she replied, “If I go along, you come also.” Then we swam until about halfway. Then M. got tired, and then the teacher pulled her by a cord. At K. they went on land, and from there to Z. (The teacher was all the time dressed as in the bath.) There we met a friend, whose wedding it was. We were invited by this friend. After the ceremony there was a honeymoon journey, and we came to Milan. We had to pass one night in a barn where something occurred which I cannot say. The teacher said we were his favourite pupils, and he also kissed M.
Remarks.—The excuse “I must leave out something here and there” replaces the undressing. The teacher’s want of clothing is emphasised. The journey to Milan is a typical honeymoon. This passage also seems to be an independent fancy, due to some personal participation. Marie clearly figures as the loved one.
(VII.) The whole school and the teacher went bathing. They all went into one room. The teacher also. M. alone had no place, and the teacher said to her, “I have still room,” she went. Then the teacher said, “Lie on my back, I will swim out into the lake with you.” I must not write any more, for it is improper; I can hardly say it at all. Beyond the improper part which followed I do not know any more of the dream.
Remarks.—The narrator approaches the basis. Marie is to lie upon the teacher’s back in the bathing compartment. Beyond the improper part she cannot give any more of the dream.
(VIII.) The whole school went bathing. M. had no room and was invited by the teacher into his compartment. The teacher swam out with her and told her that she was his darling or something like that. When they got ashore at Z. a friend was just having a wedding and he invited them both in their swimming costumes. The teacher found an old dressing jacket and put it over the swimming drawers. He (the teacher) also kissed M. and said he would not return home to his wife any more. They were also both invited on the honeymoon journey. On the journey they passed Andermatt, where they could not find any place to sleep, and so had to sleep in the hay. There was a woman; the dreadful part now comes, it is not at all right to make something serious into mockery and laughter. This woman got a small child. I will not say any more now, for it becomes too dreadful.
Remarks.—The narrator is thoroughgoing. (He told her simply she was his darling. He kissed her and said he would not go home to his wife.) The vexation about the silly tattling which breaks through at the end suggests some peculiarity in the narrator. From subsequent investigation it was found that this girl was the only one of the witnesses who had been early and intentionally given an explanation about sex by her mother.
So far as the interpretation of the dream is concerned, there is nothing for me to add; the children have taken care of all the essentials, leaving practically nothing over for psychoanalytic interpretation. Rumour has analysed and interpreted the dream. So far as I know rumour has not hitherto been investigated in this new capacity. This case certainly makes it appear worth while to fathom the psychology of rumour. In the presentation of the material I have purposely restricted myself to the psychoanalytic point of view, although I do not deny that my material offers numerous openings for the invaluable researches of the followers of Stern, Claparède, and others.
The material enables us to understand the structure of the rumour, but psychoanalysis cannot rest satisfied with that. The why and wherefore of the whole manifestation demands further knowledge. As we have seen, the teacher, astonished by this rumour, was left puzzled by the problem, wondering as to its cause and effect. How can a dream which is notoriously incorrect and meaningless (for teachers are, as is well known, grounded in psychology) produce such effects, such malicious gossip? Faced by this, the teacher seems to have instinctively hit upon the correct answer. The effect of the dream can only be explained by its being “le vrai mot de la situation,” i.e. that the dream formed the fit expression for something that was already in the air. It was the spark which fell into the powder magazine. The material contains all the proofs essential for this view. I have repeatedly drawn attention to their own unrecognised participation in the dream by Marie’s school-companions, and the special points of interest where any of them have added their own phantasies or dreams. The class consists of girls between twelve and thirteen years of age, who therefore are in the midst of the prodromata of puberty. The dreamer Marie X. is herself physically almost completely developed sexually, and in this respect ahead of her class; she is therefore a leader who has given the watch-word for the Unconscious, and thus brought to expression the sexual complexes of her companions which were lying there ready prepared.
As can be easily understood the occasion was most painful to the teacher. The supposition that therein lay some secret motive of the schoolgirls is justified by the psychoanalytic axiom—judge actions by their results rather than by their conscious motives. Consequently it would be probable that Marie X. had been especially troublesome to her teacher. Marie at first liked this teacher most of all. In the course of the latter half-year her position had, however, changed. She had become dreamy and inattentive, and towards the dusk of evening was afraid to go into the streets for fear of bad men. She talked several times to her companions about sexual things in a somewhat obscene way; her mother asked me anxiously how she should explain the approaching menstruation to her daughter. On account of this alteration in conduct Marie had forfeited the good opinion of her teacher, as was clearly evidenced for the first time by a school report, which she and some of her friends had received a few days before the outbreak of the rumour. The disappointment was so great that the girls had imagined all kinds of fancied acts of revenge against the teacher; for instance, they might push him on to the lines so that the train would run over him, etc. Marie was especially to the fore in these murderous phantasies. On the night of this great outburst of anger, when her former liking for her teacher seemed quite forgotten, that repressed part of herself announced itself in the dream, and fulfilled its desire for sexual union with the teacher—as a compensation for the hate which had filled the day.
On waking, the dream became a subtle instrument of her hatred, because the wish-idea was also that of her school companions, as it always is in rumours of this kind. Revenge certainly had its triumph, but the recoil upon Marie herself was still more severe. Such is the rule when our impulses are given over to the Unconscious. Marie X. was expelled from school, but upon my report she was allowed to return to it.
I am well aware that this little communication is inadequate and unsatisfactory from the point of view of exact science. Had the original story been accurately verified we should have clearly demonstrated what we have now been only able to suggest. This case therefore only posits a question, and it remains for happier observers to collect convincing experiences in this field.