This edition of On Dreams by Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) was translated into English by James Strachey and published in 1952 by the Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis. On Dreams, first published in 1901, is an abridged version The Interpretation of Dreams (1899), in which Freud first introduced his theory of the unconscious in terms of dream interpretation. Freud interprets dreams as wish-fulfilment – products of the unconscious that serve to process events or feelings, past or recent, that are repressed and unresolved.

Freud’s development of psychoanalysis has had a profound influence on western thought and culture. The Interpretation of Dreams is regarded as one of his most significant works.

English translations of Freud

Although A A Brill first translated The Interpretation of Dreams into English in 1913, James and Alix (née Sargant-Florence) Strachey were Freud’s first authorised English translators. Freud approached them about the work in the early 1920s, when the couple were working with and being analysed by him in Vienna. The Stracheys translated 26 of Freud’s essays, published from 1927 until 1950.

After the Second World War, James began work as editor on the Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud in 24 volumes (1953–74). With their commitment and diligence, the Stracheys played a crucial role disseminating Freud’s work in England and in the English language.

Freud, the Hogarth Press and Virginia Woolf

In 1924 James Strachey approached Leonard Woolf with the idea that the Hogarth Press, the publishing house run by Leonard and Virginia Woolf, should become the official English publishers of the International Psychoanalytical Library. In spite of the risks involved – including a large financial outlay – Leonard agreed to the work. Leonard’s introduction to Freud had come in 1914, when he reviewed a translation of Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901) for the New Weekly.

Although Virginia Woolf and Freud shared a deep interest in the workings of the human mind, Woolf claimed that she did not read the psychoanalyst’s work seriously until late 1939. Woolf and Freud met for the first time on 28 January 1939, after Freud moved to London with his family following the Nazi annexation of Austria. Letters and other writings prior to 1939 reveal that Woolf had expressed disdain for psychoanalysis and Freud’s theories, though she perhaps did not understand them in great depth. In the last years of her life, however, Woolf found a great affinity with the work.