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Monday's child is fair in face,
Tuesday's child is full of grace,
Wednesday's child is full of woe,
Thursday's child has far to go,
Friday's child is loving and giving,
Saturday's child works hard for its living,
And a child that's born on the Sabbath day,
Is fair and wise and good and gay.

Children’s Nursery Rhyme

Sigmund Freud had a “Sunday Child” who he lost in 1920 during a new wave of the 1918 pandemic influenza. In his biography, Freud, A Life for Our Time, Peter Gay explains that Sophie Freud Halberstadt died,

“… of influenza complicated by pneumonia. She had been pregnant with her third child. Sophie Halberstadt was as much a victim of the war, which had left millions susceptible to infection, as a soldier killed at the front. 'I do not know,' Freud wrote to Kata Levy late in February, 'whether cheerfulness will ever call on us again…' [T]he Freuds never quite got over this loss… in 1933, when the imagist poet Hilda Doolittle… mentioned the last year of the Great War during an analytic hour with Freud, 'he said he had reason to remember the epidemic, as he lost his favorite daughter. "She is here," he said, and he showed me a tiny locket that he wore, fastened to his watch-chain.'

"[Freud] could not get over the 'unconcealed brutality of our time,' which made it impossible for the Freuds to join their son-in-law and his two small children in Hamburg. There were no trains [perhaps a consequence of the destruction wrought by the war but also due to 'a lockdown' on travel during the pandemic]. 'Sophie,' Freud wrote, 'leaves two sons of six years and of thirteen months, and an inconsolable husband who will now dearly pay for the happiness of these seven years. That happiness was only between the two of them, not external: war, invasion, being wounded, dwindling away of their possessions, but they had remained brave and cheerful.' And 'tomorrow she will be cremated, our poor Sunday child!'"  (pp.391-393).

It was in that same year of 1920 that Freud published the first of three brief but sentinel meta-psychological works, Beyond the Pleasure Principle which established his structural theory and set psychoanalysis on a new course. As has often been pointed out, Beyond the Pleasure Principle begins with Freud’s observation that the posttraumatic nightmares of World War I veterans could not, in any way, be explained as wish fulfillments. Freud therefore needed to amend to his theory of dreams.  This, in turn required a new definition of psychological trauma.  As Gay documents:

"It is tempting to read Freud’s late psychoanalytic system, with its stress on aggression and death, as a response to his grief of these years. At the time, Freud’s first biographer, Fritz Wittels, said as much: ‘In 1920 [with Beyond the Pleasure Principle], Freud astonished us with the discovery that there is in everything living, in addition to the pleasure principle which, since the days of Hellenic culture, has been called Eros, another principle: What lives, wants to die again. Originating in dust, it wants to be dust again. Not only the life-drive is in them, but the death-drive as well. When Freud made this communication to an attentive world, he was under the impress of the death of a blooming daughter whom he lost after he had had to worry about the life of several of his nearest relatives, who had gone to war.' It was a reductionist explanation, but most plausible.

"Freud immediately took exception to it. In fact, he had anticipated Wittels by three years: in the early summer of 1920, he had asked Eitingon and others to testify, if necessary, that they had seen a draft of Beyond the Pleasure Principle before Sophie Halberstadt’s death. Now, in late 1923, reading Wittels’s biography, he admitted that this interpretation was 'very interesting;' had he been making an analytic study of someone else in these circumstances, he would have made such a connection 'between my daughter’s death and the train of thought advocated in my Beyond [the Pleasure Principle]. And yet,' he added, 'it is mistaken. Beyond was written in 1919, when my daughter was still healthy and flourishing.'  To clinch his point, he reiterated that he had circulated the virtually complete manuscript among his friends in Berlin as early as September 1919...  Yet his perceptible anxiety to establish this point beyond cavil suggests that he was not just hoping to assure the universal validity of his new hypotheses… Was it an accident that the term, 'death drive'—Todestrieb—entered his correspondence a week after Sophie Halberstadt’s death?  It stands as a touching reminder of how deeply the loss of his daughter had distressed him" (pp.394-395).

For those interested in further exploring this history and these ideas, I recommend Ester R. Shapiro’s thoughtful paper entitled, Grief in Freud's Life: Reconceptualizing Bereavement in Psychoanalytic Theory (referenced below). Shapiro points out that, despite a definite continuity of ideas between Freud’s Mourning and Melancholia, written in 1917 (the third year of World War I for Austria), and 1920’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle, the earlier work is more intellectual in its approach to death and grief. It is also touching to remember that the infant child standing up in his crib and playing the game of “Fort/Da” [in English, Gone/There] which Freud describes so vividly in Beyond the Pleasure Principle was Sophie’s child and his own grandson. “Gone/There” becomes a key metaphor in psychoanalytic theory for the ability to gain mastery over human loss.

We are probably the first generation in a century who can fully appreciate the world in which Sophie Freud died and her parents mourned. I hope that our readers will find this history of help in humanizing both Freud and his theories and, perhaps, in dealing with their own thoughts, emotions and losses amid a new worldwide pandemic.

In closing, it seems fitting to recall a nursery rhyme invented and sung by school children during the epidemic which took the life of Sophie Freud, her unborn child and, according to the U.S. National Archives, 50 million others around the world (https://www.archives.gov/news/topics/flu-pandemic-1918). It is sung to the tune of Ring Around the Rosie:

I had a little bird,
Its name was Enza.
I opened the window,
And in-flu-Enza.


Gay, P. (1988). Freud: A Life for Our Time. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.: New York.

Shapiro, E. R. (1996). Grief in Freud's life: Reconceptualizing bereavement in psychoanalytic theory. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 13(4):547-566.