Dutiful daughters
Françoise breaks free?
in Psychoanalysis and the family in twentieth-century France
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This chapter examines Dolto’s family and social environment during her youth, looking especially at her family’s cultural and political values and its conception of women’s roles. It ultimately demonstrates that Dolto’s eventual hard-won break with her family’s right-wing ideological background was incomplete and less comprehensive than Dolto later suggested.

The first half of the chapter examines the social and political beliefs of Dolto’s parents and wider milieu. It provides a portrait of upper-class girlhood in the interwar period, showing how – like her contemporaries Simone de Beauvoir and Élisabeth Lacoin (the ‘Zaza’ of Beauvoir’s memoirs) – Dolto struggled to escape the cultural expectations placed on young women from bourgeois families and assert her right to higher education and a medical career.

The second half of the chapter looks at Dolto’s partial break with her family in the mid-1930s, her rejection of an approved marriage suitor, her subsequent turn to psychoanalysis and what this meant in the context of her family. René Laforgue was engaged by her father to psychoanalyse Dolto, but the analysis transformed her in unforeseen ways, reinforcing her separation from her family and leading her to seek to become an analyst herself. The chapter argues that this victory for the young Dolto came at the price of internalising anti-feminist views, as evidenced by her 1938 thesis, and reiterated throughout her career.

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