Marie Bonaparte belonged to royalty and was extremely wealthy, but her curiosity and frustrations led her to be a pioneer in the investigation of female sexuality.
For some she was a pioneer of female sexuality; others just see her as a rich woman, with influential connections.
The truth is that Marie Bonaparte (1882-1962), great-niece of Napoleon 1, Emperor of France, and in-law of the current Prince Philip of Edinburgh, did not go unnoticed in the history of the 20th century.
It was one princess interested in female orgasm and was passionate psychoanalysis, becoming a student, friend, and even saviour of Sigmund Freud.
But above all, Bonaparte was a “free” woman, say those who studied her life.
Who was this fascinating woman who stood out in the field of science, in the world of royalty, and who was looking for answers for female sexual pleasure?
Marie Bonaparte was born in Paris to a well-known, wealthy family.
She was the daughter of Marie-Felix née Blanc and the French Prince Roland Napoleon Bonaparte, and granddaughter of the entrepreneur and founder of the Casino Monte Carlo, Francois Blanc, with a great fortune.
Marie Bonaparte had a lonely childhood and a rebellious youth.
Her life began marked by tragedy: she almost died at birth and her mother died a month after delivery.
And her childhood was complicated and lonely, without the company of other children, with extreme devotion to her father, who was a geographer and anthropologist, and an intense fear of her paternal grandmother.
Since she was little she showed curious, both for science, as for literature, writing, and also for her own body.
One day, “Mimau”, one of the many women who cared for her, found Marie masturbating.
“It’s a sin! It is a vice! If you do that, you will die! ”He told her, as Marie herself recorded in her diary in 1952.
“Bonaparte claims that she gave up clitoral masturbation around the age of 8 or 9 for fear of ‘Mimau’s’ warning that death was the price of erotic pleasure,” writes Nellie Thomson in her essay “The Theory of Female Sexuality by Marie Bonaparte: fantasy and biology,”
Her role as the princess did not frustrate her to conduct research on female sexuality.
From a young age, she was rebellious to accept the role of female submission.
In her teens, she began studying languages, such as English and German and did quite well on exams. But suddenly her grandmother and father forbade her to appear for the tests.
“She and Roland claimed that the Republican enemies of the Bonaparte could sabotage the exam in an effort to humiliate the family. Marie exclaimed: ‘Damn my name, my rank, my fortune! Damn, especially my gender! Because if I were a child, they wouldn’t stop me from trying! ‘” Thomson recalls from Bonaparte’s diary.
Before turning 20 and in full sexual awakening, Marie Bonaparte had an affair with one of her father’s assistants who was married. It all ended with a scandal, blackmail, and humiliation for Marie.
Before long, her father presented her with her favourite candidate for marriage, Prince George from Greece and Denmark (1869-1957), who was 13 years older than Marie.
They were married on December 12, 1907, in Athens and had two children Pedro and Eugenia. But they did not live happily or eat partridges.
Although their marriage would last 50 years, Marie quickly realized that her husband’s true emotional bond was with her uncle, Valdemar. Marie Bonaparte married Prince George of Greece and Denmark.
Meanwhile, she sought her own lovers and lived tormented by her frigidity. Her studies were what gave him refuge from the difficulties of her life.
Marie Bonaparte’s interest in sexuality and female pleasure arose in this age of intellectual appetite.
In 1924 she published the work “Notes on the anatomical causes of frigidity in women” under the pseudonym too. AND. Marjani.
“She was frustrated by the fact that never had an orgasm during sexual intercourse “, that is, by penetration, explains Kim Wallen, professor of behavioural neuroendocrinology at Emory University, Georgia (USA).
“He did not accept that orgasm in women can occur directly by stimulating the clitoris”, adds the specialist to BBC Mundo.
For Marie, a woman could not have an orgasm while being penetrated was an anatomy problem.
And so she developed the following theory: a shorter distance between a woman’s clitoris and her vagina increases her likelihood of experiencing an orgasm during penetrative sex.
To test her presumption, she went on to collect measurements from more than 240 women in the 1920s in Paris.
According to the work published under the name Narjani, “the data was not collected in a systematic way, but by chance, when a woman went to see the doctor. This sample was divided into three groups according to its distance between the meatus and the clitoris, although it is not described how this division was made ”, details Wallen, who together with Dr. Elisabeth Lloyd, studied Bonaparte’s work.
“Bonaparte had an interesting hypothesis. She pioneered this theory that women are made differently, and that is why they will also respond in different ways during intercourse ”, Lloyd assures BBC Mundo.
But her “theory put all the weight on the anatomy of women, it did not say anything about psychological maturity, if she was a full, neurotic, frigid woman, all these bad terms that were used for women at that time,” says the specialist.
Marie Bonaparte became a disciple of Sigmund Freud. Marie Bonaparte believed that if women had an operation to bring that separation closer in your genital area they may have an orgasm during penetrative sex.
But she couldn’t have been more wrong.
“The surgery was a disaster. Some women lost all sensation. Marie Bonaparte firmly believed in her findings and she underwent surgery to no avail, ”Wallen describes.
And she did not do it once, but three times.
“When you cut a lot of nerves around the clitoris, you are not going to have more (sensory) response, you are going to have less because you are cutting very important nerves,” explains Lloyd, who is a professor of History and Philosophy of Science in the Department of Biology from Indiana University.
“She believed that surgery was the only way for women to have an orgasm during intercourse,” she adds.
The relationship with Freud
Marie Bonaparte did not give up and continued to search for answers to her sexual frustrations and difficulties in her life.
In 1925, she travelled to Vienna to take a consultation with a psychoanalyst whose name was just beginning to ring in the medical circle of Paris: Sigmund Freud.
“She found in Freud what she desperately needed, a new ‘father’ to love and serve,” Thompson describes in his essay.
Marie Bonaparte was a patient, student, and friend of Sigmund Freud.
Marie Bonaparte became his patient and soon his friend. She began to have an interest in psychoanalysis and also became a pupil of Freud.
“She was one of the first women in France to study psychoanalysis, especially with Freud,” Rémy Amouroux, professor of Psychology at the University of Lausanne, in Switzerland, tells BBC Mundo.
“Freud enjoyed her company because she was not a dangerous woman nor was she an academic. When they met, she was almost 70 years old. AND she was an interesting, intelligent and rich woman, and she argued with him “adds Amouroux.
Marie Bonaparte became a relevant figure in psychoanalysis in Paris and had several patients despite her formal activities as a princess.
Over the years she also became the freud’s saviour from the hands and weapons of the Nazis, helping him escape thanks to her political and financial efforts, helping him and his family from Vienna to end their days in London.
Marie Bonaparte helped Freud and his family escape the Nazis.
“At 82 I left my home in Vienna as a result of the German invasion and came to England, where I hope to end my life in freedom,” Freud told the BBC in a 1938 interview.
A free woman
Professional maturity eventually led Marie Bonaparte to contradict her study of female sexuality.
“Marie Bonaparte completely rejected her original ideas. She published a book in 1950, “Female Sexuality”, where she retracted everything about the study. There she says that anatomy has nothing to do with it and that everything is psychological. At that time, she was already doing psychoanalysis for almost 25 years ”, details Wallen.
Despite her change of mind, the professor believes that Bonaparte was a revolutionary woman. “I think her original study was remarkable”, highlights.
For Professor Lloyd, Marie Bonaparte was a “fascinating figure.”
“She is one of my heroines”, but she is still “a tragic character”, she describes.
“She was way ahead of her time in terms of theory and understanding” of female sexuality, “but she was unhappy with her own body,” she says.
Bonaparte was a princess and extremely wealthy, but she was also a pioneer and a free woman.
Professor Amouroux, who dedicated himself to classifying Marie Bonaparte’s archive in Paris for several years, thinks that she was “an amazing woman” who was connected to all literary, political, royal circles and knew all the famous people. of the world in the first part of the 20th century.
“She was also an interesting figure to question feminism. The way of seeing sexuality was very patriarchal because I was convinced that there was only one way to experience orgasm, “she says.
“But at the same time She was very free, she defied Freud and she was a complex woman”, Concludes.