Marie Bonaparte: Princesse and Pioneer of Psychoanalysis

Marie Bonaparte, known as ‘Princess Bonaparte’, was the great-granddaughter of Lucien Bonaparte and granddaughter of Pierre Bonaparte (nephew of Napoléon I). She was born on July 2nd, 1882 in Saint-Cloud. She stated: ‘If anyone writes my life, may it be named by ‘the last Bonaparte’, for that is what I am – my cousins from the imperial branch are only Napoléon’. After her mother’s death, she was raised by nannies and her paternal grandmother, Princess Pierre. Reading and writing become her passions, fleeing from childhood melancholy – she writes in English and German. Her mundane life began in 1905, and in 1906 she met King George I of Greece, and marries the second son George, on September 12th, 1907.They will have two children, and live a strange three-way marriage with her husband’s uncle, whom his children call ‘Papa Two’. This marriage does not prevent Marie Bonaparte from having a very free love life – the statesman Aristide Briand and the analyst Rudolph Lowenstein, were both her lovers. However, she is convinced she suffers from frigidity, and under a pseudonym A.E Narjani, she wrote an article in 1923 entitled: ‘Considerations on the Anatomical Causes of Frigidity in Women’. She is operated several times by Professor Halban (inventor of a surgical, although fanciful method – supposed to cure his patients of their absence of pleasure). Passionate about anatomy, she would have wished to become a doctor, but her lettered father refused her access to studies.

In 1923, she discovers Freud’s work, and manages to be taken into analysis by him, and even becoming an intimate member of his family. In 1926, she was one of the nine founding members of the Paris Psychoanalytical Society – and above all, she translates Freud’s work into French. However, in 1927 her translation of Léonard de Vinci’s Childhood Memories is a source of scandal; so much so, her husband tries to make her split up with Freud – this does not prevent her from translating The Five Psychoanalyses with Loewenstein, and to continue her own work, notably through the study of Edgar Poe’s work. In 1938, and thanks to her diplomatic connections, she helped Freud and his family to leave Nazi Austria. She paid the Nazi’s a colossal ransom, in order for them to leave the country. In May 1939, the Institute of Psychoanalysis is closed, and the French Journal of Psychoanalysis interrupts the publications. She takes to exile, with the Greek Royal Family: Crete, Alexandria, and Cape Town. After the war, nicknamed ‘Freud told me’, she disagrees with the Lacanian turn, taken by part of the psychanalytical circle. As of 1957, she is less committed to the Parisian Psychanalytic Society, but still pursues her publications and engagements, notably against the death penalty in the US. She leaves autographs, several complete collections and rare psychanalysis magazines from Freud to the Psychanalytical Society.


The ‘last of the Bonaparte’s’ died from leukemia on September 21st, 1962 at a clinic in Saint-Tropez and is buried with her husband, near Athens. 

Source: Une Vie, Une Oeuvre by Hélène Frappat France Culture 

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