These questions about analysts’ belief versus skepticism, about restraint versus spontaneity in expressing hypotheses of a patient’s unremembered (and perhaps unrememberable) past go to the heart of much of the controversy around Freud’s so-called seduction theory. The common (mis) understanding of Freud’s presumed repudiation of it is that, having come to the conclusion that his patients had experienced sexual abuse as children and adolescents, he then reversed course over time and reinterpreted their reports of seduction as mere fantasy reflecting oedipal sexual wishes, conceived during acts of masturbation. The “quick and dirty” documentation for this point of view is two quotations, one from the famous letter to Fliess of September 21, 1897-“I no longer believe in my neurotica [theory of the neuroses]”—and then another, much longer quotation from 1933:

Almost all my women patients told me that they had been seduced by their father. I was driven to recognize in the end that these reports were untrue and so came to understand that hysterical symptoms are derived from phantasies and not from real occurrences. It was only later that I was able to recognize in this phantasy of being seduced by the father the expression of the typical Oedipus complex in women. (p. 120)

The evidence for Freud’s disbelief and disconfirmation of his patients’ experience seems confirmed. But is it really? Do these two quotations, taken out of context, really tell the whole story of Freud’s 40-year journey through the wilderness of unconscious memory and fantasy?