Despite becoming a household name later in his life, Dr. Sigmund Freud was not well-known outside of his native Austria during the first two decades of the Twentieth Century. Along with his relative anonymity, he also had money woes courtesy of the soaring hyperinflation occurring in Austria and Germany following the First World War. Not only was he having trouble supporting himself and his family, but promoting the psychoanalytic movement he founded was increasingly difficult as well. Even his medical practice suffered as many patients found themselves unable to afford years of psychoanalysis.
Efforts to expand psychoanalysis to North America through a 1909 American tour helped raise his profile slightly. Still, Freud had misgivings about American innovators twisting the purity of his theories. He dreaded the idea of psychoanalysis becoming “Americanized”, especially considering how puritanical Americans were about sex. Freud even turned down generous offers for further American lecture tours due to his concerns about the “notoriety” involved. While he managed to publish English-language versions of many of his works, which featuring introductions from prominent psychologists such as G. Stanley Hall), he fought continually with his publicist Edward L. Bernays (who also happened to be his nephew). Although the royalties from the translated books brought in some revenue, it would be many years before he became financially independent.
All of which may have played a role in the peculiar case of Horace Westlake Frink…
One of Sigmund Freud’s first American disciples, Horace Frink was a founding member of the New York Psychoanalytic Society and the author of one of the first American books on psychoanalysis, Morbid Fears and Compulsions. He even traveled to Vienna in 1921 to undergo psychoanalysis from “the master” himself as part of his training as a psychoanalyst. Then again, Frink had problems in his own right since he suffered from episodes of depression and hypomanic behaviour (which would likely get him a diagnosis of bipolar disorder today). Despite these symptoms, Horace Frink seemed well on his way to becoming Freud's chief American disciple when he began psychoanalysis with Freud.
It was during the course of this psychoanalysis that a brewing scandal was uncovered. Though Horace Frink was married with two children of his own, he was also having a sexual affair with one of his former patients, Angelika Bijur. Bijur was a New York heiress who was married to a much older man, Abraham Bijur, and the prospect of breaking up both marriages over this relationship was naturally frightening for both of them. This was especially true for Frick since it would have meant losing contact with his children. Horace Frink and Angelika Bijur both became patients of Freud as a way of avoiding divorce.
Which, as it happened, was precisely what Sigmund Freud advised for them. Completely ignoring Frink's depressive episodes, and the possibility that he was a borderline psychotic, Freud focused on his sexual frustration issues instead. Drawing on Frink's history of serious emotional losses (including losing his mother to tuberculsosis at an early age), Freud concluded that Frink was an unconscious homosexual. This was a pet theme for Freud and he tended to focus on unconscious homosexuality and the Oedipus complex with many of his male patients. Not only did he recommend that Frink divorce his wife, but he also told Bijur to divorce her husband as well. He even went so far as to tell her that Frink would likely develop homosexual problems is she didn’t do as he advised. The fact that Angelika Bijur was also independently wealthy (she had paid for her own therapy as well as Frink's) may have influenced Freud as well.
Ironically, the problem, and the potential media disaster, of Freud’s role in the breakup of two marriages neatly solved itself. Frink’s wife died of pneumonia in 1923 (whether or not the trauma of her divorce from Frink contributed to her death is open to question). As for Abraham Bijur, who was furious at Freud for interfering in his marriage, he died of cancer in May, 1922. The timing of Bijur’s death was extremely fortunate as far as Freud was concerned. Not only did it make the divorce from Angelika unnecessary, but it also ended Bijur’s planned media campaign against Freud. Before his death, Bijur had written a letter denouncing Freud which he intended to run as an advertisement in several New York newspapers. Though the letter was never published courtesy of Bijur’s death, Bijur’s denunciation of Freud and his anguished question of whether he was a “savant or charlatan” would likely have destroyed Freud's reputation in the United States if he had lived just a little longer.
As for Horace Frink, his mental condition continued to grow worse, likely aided by guilt over his first wife’s death. Despite his marriage to Angelika on December 27, 1922, Frink's mental state deteriorated and ultimately led to his being institutionalized. He and Anjelika were divorced in 1925. Throughout the entire fiasco involving the breakup of their marriages and the disastrous marriage that followed, Sigmund Freud continued pressuring both of them for money to support the psychoanalytic movement. In one letter he wrote to Frink in 1921, he suggested that his patient’s failure to acknowledge his own homosexuality was linked to his need to contribute to Freud’s psychoanalytic fund. When Angelika later told him that her marriage to Frink was falling apart, Freud sent a telegram which said, “Extremely sorry. The point where you failed was money.” Anjelika abandoned the psychoanalytic movement and felt personally betrayed by Freud.
With further therapy under his old mentor Adolf Meyer, Frink managed to recover to the point of regaining custody of his children and becoming a stable father to them for years. Despite hopes for a professional comeback, Frink was expelled from the American Psychoanalytic Society, largely because Freud had lost confidence in his ability to continue as a psychoanalyst. As a result, Frink and his children were forced to rely on the money they had inherited from his first wife and the divorce settlement he had received from Anjelika. While he later remarried, Frink eventually suffered a relapse along with serious heart disease. He experienced a final psychotic break and died of heart disease at the age of fifty-three.
Though Horace Frink had become disillusioned about psychoanalysis, he continued to hold Freud in high regard. When asked about him shortly before his death, Frink commented that Freud was a great man, "even if he did invent psychoanalysis." As for Sigmund Freud, he apparently viewed Frink's mental breakdown as a justification for his anti-American attitudes. Since Frink had been his choice to lead the psychoanalytic movement in the United States, Frink's mental instability seemed to reflect his mistrust of Americans as a whole. As he would comment in 1924, "My attempt at giving them a chief in the person of Frink which has so sadly miscarried is the last thing I will ever do for them, had I to live the one hundred years you set down for the incorporation of psychoanalysis into Psychiatry." The role he played in destroying Frink's first marriage and his later tragedy seemed conveniently overlooked. As it was, the most embarassing details of the Horace Frink fiasco would not come out for decades after Freud's death.
Did the prospect of gaining a wealthy patron override Freud’s judgment concerning what was best for his patients? Although Abraham Bijur's convenient death saved Freud from public scandal over his role in breaking up two marriages, Sigmund Freud seemed not to have learned any real lesson about the need to separate clinical judgment from his own financial needs. Freud's desperate search for money during the 1920s seemed to have taken him in some strange directions but the bizarre episode with Horace Frink and Anjelika Bijur represents one of the most serious ethical breaches of his professional career. Though Sigmund Freud was still years away from attaining the iconic reputation he would enjoy by the middle of the 20th century, much of that fame depended on keeping his biggest disasters out of the public eye.