Books: Odd Hysteria


by Bruno Bettelheim

Knopf; 284 pages; $22.95

Psychoanalysts tend to believe that nothing happens by accident, so Bruno Bettelheim has a theory about why psychoanalysis, and indeed "all modern methods of treatment for mental disturbances," first emerged in Vienna. The fact that Sigmund Freud lived there is too easy. More fundamental was the half-hidden disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, defeated on the battlefield by Prussia, torn apart by Balkan nationalism and devastated by the bank crash of 1873.

Its reigning Empress Elisabeth was half mad or, as Bettelheim more clinically describes her, "hysterical, narcissistic, and anorexic."...