In case anyone forgets that gods often have feet of clay, Bruno Bettelheim serves as a potent reminder. The famed psychoanalyst's reputation has suffered severe blows since his death last year. The first was dealt by some former patients at Chicago's Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School for emotionally disturbed children, who accused Bettelheim of public humiliation and physical abuse. The second blow was delivered last week by Alan Dundes, an anthropologist at the University of California, Berkeley.
Dundes accuses Bettelheim of plagiarism. He claims that in Bettelheim's 1976 book "The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales," Bettelheim borrowed extensively from an earlier work by Stanford psychiatrist Julius E. Heuscher without proper attribution. In an article in the Journal of American Folklore, Dundes calls the offense "not just a matter of occasional borrowings of random passages, but a wholesale borrowing of key ideas." Ironically, Heuscher refuses to characterize the similarities as anything worse than "poor technique and not very courteous." Heuscher says he doesn't think the "plagiarized" ideas were all that unusual, anyway. He speculates that Bettelheim's memory of books he read might have been so good that he didn't realize he was borrowing. Says Heuscher, "Some ideas become so true to you that they become your own."