Marie Bonaparte  

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"When one of these great perverts such as Vacher [a French serial killer] or Kürten [a German serial killer] appears on the scene, men who kill simply for pleasure, a wave of excitement sweeps through the masses. Not only by the mere horror, but by a strange interest in the crime, which is our deep-rooted sadism's response to theirs. It is as though, civilized and wretched, with our instincts fettered, we were all, in some way, grateful to these great and disinterested criminals for offering us, from time to time, the spectacle of our most culpable, primitive desires at last enacted." --Marie Bonaparte, [...]

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Princess Marie Bonaparte (2 July 1882 – 21 September 1962) was a French author and lay psychoanalyst, closely linked with Sigmund Freud. Her wealth contributed to the popularity of psychoanalysis, and enabled Freud's escape from Nazi Germany. Her book The Life and Works of E. A. Poe: a Psychoanalytic Interpretation is still being cited today.


Sexual research

female orgasm

Troubled by her difficulty in achieving sexual fulfillment, Marie engaged in research. In 1924 she published her results under the pseudonym A. E. Narjani in "Considérations sur les causes anatomiques de la frigidité chez la femme" and presented her theory of frigidity. Having measured the distance between the clitoris and the vagina in 243 women, she concluded after analysing their sexual history that the distance between these two organs was critical for the ability to reach orgasm ("volupté"); she identified women with a short distance (the "paraclitoridiennes") who reached orgasm easily during intercourse, and women with a distance of more than two and a half centimeters (the "téleclitoridiennes") who had difficulties while the "mesoclitoriennes" were in between. Marie considered herself a "téleclitorienne" and approached Josef von Halban to surgically relocate her clitoris closer to the vagina (Legman says it was actually an extirpation). She published the result of the procedure as the Halban-Narjani operation. When it proved unsuccessful in facilitating the sought-after outcome for Marie, the physician repeated the operation. Between 1927 and 1931, she underwent the operation three times.

Marie Bonaparte described the operation as follows: "une technique opératoire simple: section du ligament suspenseur du clitoris aux plans profonds, et sa fixation en bas avec raccourcissement éventuel des petits lèvres."[1]

The operation and the events leading up to it, were described by Brian Massumi in The Politics of Everyday Fear.

Constantin Brâncuşi sculpture

She supposedly modeled for the Romanian modernist sculptor Constantin Brâncuşi. His sculpture of her, "Princess X" created a scandal in 1919 when he represented her or caricatured her as a large gleaming bronze phallus. This phallus symbolizes the model's obsession with the penis and her lifelong quest to achieve vaginal orgasm. Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, condemned orgasm by clitoral stimulation and praised vaginal orgasm with a penis as the superior and only legitimate type. His condemnation echoed the social mores of his era which condemned masturbation as both morally harmful and as a cause of mental disorders.


In 1925 Marie consulted Freud for treatment of what she described as her frigidity, which was later explained as a failure to have orgasms during missionary position intercourse. It was to Marie Bonaparte that Sigmund Freud remarked, "The great question that has never been answered and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is ‘What does a woman want?’". She later paid Freud's ransom to Nazi Germany, and preserved Freud's letters to Wilhelm Fliess despite Freud's wish that they be destroyed.

Jacques Lacan, in his seminar 1960-61, "L'Angoisse", gave a particular lesson later named in Seuil' s Edition by Jacques-Alain Miller "Woman, more true and more real", in which he paints women as being "deuterophallic". He explains that by this he means the very simple fact that, if women are interested in phallic signifiers, paraphernalia or whatever, it is only as a means to reach men's desire, and in the strict function as this desire touches them.

Despite what she described as sexual dysfunction, she conducted affairs with Freud's disciple Rudolph Loewenstein, and Aristide Briand, the French prime minister.


Marie Bonaparte was a great-grand-niece of Napoleon I of France. She was a daughter of Roland Bonaparte and Marie-Félix Blanc. Her paternal grandfather was Pierre Napoleon Bonaparte, son of Lucien Bonaparte, and nephew of Napoleon. Her maternal grandfather was François Blanc, the principal real-estate developer of Monte Carlo.

She was born at Saint-Cloud, a town in Hauts-de-Seine, Île-de-France. Her mother died of an embolism induced by giving birth to Marie.

On 21 November 1907, at Paris, she married the homosexual Prince George of Greece in a civil ceremony, with a subsequent religious ceremony on 12 December 1907, at Athens. She was thereafter officially also known as Princess Marie of Greece and Denmark. They had two children, Peter (1908-1980) and Eugénie (1910-1988).

On 2nd June 1953, Marie and her husband Prince George represented their nephew, King Paul of Greece, at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in London. Bored with the pomp and ceremony, Marie offered to psychoanalyse the gentleman seated next to her who was the future French president François Mitterrand. Mitterrand obliged Marie and the couple barely witnessed any part of the coronation, but found their activities far more interesting than the lengthy and formal ceremony.

She practiced as a psychoanalyst until her death in 1962, providing many services to the cause of psychoanalysis. She founded the French Institute of Psychoanalysis (Société psychanalytique de Paris) in 1926. In addition to her own work and preservation of Freud's legacy, she also offered financial support for Geza Roheim's anthropological explorations.

She died of leukemia in Saint-Tropez, was cremated in Marseilles, and her ashes were interred in Prince George's tomb at Tatoï, near Athens.


Her story of her relationship with Sigmund Freud and how she helped his family escape into exile was made into a television film, released in 2004. Princesse Marie YouTube was directed by Benoît Jacquot and starred Catherine Deneuve as Marie Bonaparte, and Heinz Bennent as Sigmund Freud.


Selected works

Full bibliography

Livres de Marie Bonaparte

  • Guerres militaires et guerres sociales, Paris, Flammarion, 1920
  • Le printemps sur mon jardin, Paris, Flammarion, 1924
  • Deuil, Nécrophilie et sadisme à propos d'Edgar Poe. Éditions Denoel et Steele, collection Bibliothèque psychanalytique Paris 1932, 19 pp
  • La prophylaxie infantile des névroses. Éditions Denoel et Steele, collection Bibliothèque psychanalytique Paris.
  • Edgar Poe. Étude psychanalytique - avant-propos de S. Freud, Paris, éd. Denoël, 1933 (réédité en 1958 aux P.U.F., trad. allemande en 1934 (Autriche), trad. anglaise en 1949)
  • Introduction à la théorie des instincts. Éditions Denoel et Steele, collection Bibliothèque psychanalytique, Paris 1934, 151 pp
  • Mythes de guerre, Imago Publishing Ltd, 1947 (trad. anglaise, 1947)
  • Essais de psychanalyse, Imago Publishing Ltd, 1950
  • Monologues devant la vie et la mort, Imago Publishing Ltd, 1950
  • Chronos et Éros, Imago Publishing Ltd, 1950
  • Les glanes des jours - recueil de maximes dédié à Gustave Le Bon, Paris, P.U.F., 1950
  • De la sexualité de la femme
  • Mémoires
  • Derrière les vitres closes - Souvenirs d'enfance, 1952

Traduction de textes de Freud par Marie Bonaparte

  • Un souvenir d'enfance de Léonard de Vinci, P., Gallimard, 1927
  • Délire et rêves dans la Gradiva de Jensen, P., Gallimard, 1931
  • Le mot d'esprit et ses rapports avec l'inconscient - avec M. Nathan, P., Gallimard, 1930
  • Ma vie et la psychanalyse, P., Gallimard, 1930
  • L'avenir d'une illusion, P., Denoël & Steele, 1932
  • Essais de psychanalyse appliquée - avec Mme E. Marty, P., Gallimard, 1933
  • Cinq psychanalyses - avec R. Loewenstein, P., Denoël & Steele, 1935
  • Métapsychologie, avec Anne Berman, P., Gallimard, 1940

See also

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