June 18, 2017

Sina-cism: Freud, Worcester and ‘The White Hotel’

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Courtesy Worcester Historical Museum/E.B. Luce Collection

The Standish Hotel, at the corner of Jackson and Main streets, holds a significant place in literary history.

While there is much historical information about Freud’s visit, fiction has a role, as author Tim O’Brien puts it, “… for getting at the truth when the truth isn’t sufficient for the truth.”
Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

There’s nothing like encountering a reference to Worcester in a novel or film. There’s that flash of recognition of the places, people and events the author is describing. It can be a way of discovering something new about one’s native place through the eyes of an outsider.

The 2013 crime drama “American Hustle” offered that, with its scenes outside Union Station, inside the Worcester Art Museum and along Millbury Street.

Another work that references Worcester — less well known, perhaps, but of greater importance — is “The White Hotel,” a 1981 novel by D.M. Thomas. It begins with a series of fictitious letters, the first by Hungarian psychoanalyst Sándor Ferenczi, who accompanied Sigmund Freud on his 1909 visit to the United States and attended his colleague’s lectures at Clark University.

The letter is headed “Standish Hotel, Worcester, Massachusetts, U.S.A. 8 September 1909,” and is addressed to Ferenczi’s wife. He tells her how “Brill and Hall are excellent fellows, and everyone at Clark University has overwhelmed us with kindness and compliments. Freud astonished even me with his masterly skill, by delivering five lectures without any notes …”

For insight into Freud’s 1909 visit, this is a promising start.


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