The Soul Keeper is based on the life of Sabina Spielrein (1885–1942), who, Wikipedia informs us, “was a Russian physician and one of the first female psychoanalysts. She was in succession the patient, then student, then colleague of Carl Gustav Jung.” Spielrein is an unrecognized pioneer in the study of human emotions, notably as they pertain to hidden desires and needs.
The Jewish Women’s Archive says:
Sabina Spielrein was born on November 7, 1885 in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. She was the oldest of five children. Her father, Naphtul Arkadjevitch Spielrein, was a merchant, and her mother, Emilia (Eva) Marcovna Lujublinskaja, was a dentist. Spielrein’s maternal grandfather and great-grandfather were both rabbis. Her grandfather educated Spielrein’s mother, who was very intelligent and musical. However, after she became engaged to a Christian, her father arranged the marriage with Spielrein’s father, who was Jewish. It was not a marriage Spielrein’s mother wanted, nor does it appear that she and her husband ever fell in love or enjoyed a satisfying relationship.
The parents, who were extremely strict, forced the children to endure an extremely harsh upbringing: her father tyrannized the household; her mother beat the children severely. Nevertheless, they placed great emphasis on the children’s education, employing a nursemaid, a governess to prepare them for high-school entrance and a music teacher.
Spielrein was a very delicate and sensitive child, subject from infancy to frequent illness. She was also very precocious. While Russian was her first language, by the age of six Spielrein also spoke German and French. Indeed, the entire household communicated in a different language every day of the week, moving between German, French, English and Russian.
At the age of ten, Spielrein began attending a girls’ grammar school in her hometown, completing her studies with distinction in 1904. She lived at home with her parents, three brothers—Jean, Isaak and Emil—and one sister, Emilia. In addition to her coursework, Spielrein studied piano. At the age of twelve, she started studying Latin and voice. She very much enjoyed natural science courses and decided that the direction in which she wanted to move was medicine. When Spielrein was fifteen, her six-year-old sister died of typhoid. This episode had a dramatic effect on Spielrein.The film, an Italian-French-British production starring Emilia Fox as Sabina Spielrein and directed by Roberto Faenza, was released in 2002. Jung’s methods of “treatment” might shock the sensibilities and the held ethics of some today, which is always the case when looking at events from the past. I view it more as a study in history and the trials and tribulations of human relationships; it is my view that some things remain the same, and fall under the realm of universal ideas and emotions: love, sex, pain, play, repression, freedom.
Spielrein’s mental health “affliction” appeared at age seventeen, although she had been beset with problems throughout her young life. She was taken to Heller Sanatorium, Interlaken, in Switzerland for one month, and was admitted to the Burghölzli Treatment and Care Institution (or Psychiatric Clinic) in Zurich on August 17, 1904. Spielrein became the first patient of Carl Jung, ten years her senior, who treated her until her discharge on June 1, 1905.
Speaking of universals, there is another more ominous human trait: death, and in particular murder: Wikipedia notes: “In August 1942, Spielrein and her two daughters, aged 29 and 16, were murdered by a Nazi German SS Death Squad, Einsatzgruppe D, in Zmievskaya Balka near Rostov-on-Don, together with 27,000 mostly Jewish victims.”
For those interested in surnames, as I am, Spielrein translates into English as spiel; “play”; and rein: “clean.”