Sigmund Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams (Die Traumdeutung in German) was first published on November 4, 1899, although the year 1900 is printed on the title page.
Despite it eventually becoming regarded as Freud’s seminal work it was anything but an instant success. Its original print run was only 600 copies and it took eight years for those to be sold.
It was mostly ignored by the medical community and when it was recognized it was derided. Freud earned the equivalent of about $200 on the deal.
As Freud’s theories became more commonly accepted the book was reprinted and went through seven editions in Freud’s lifetime, with added illustrations and expanded text. It was translated into English in 1913.
Because of the book’s length (well over 600 pages) and complexity Freud wrote a shorter version, published in 1911 as On Dreams.
The Interpretation of Dreams grew out of Freud’s own self-analysis and the dreams related to him by his neurotic and “hysterical” patients. He concluded that, at bottom, all dreams are wish-fulfillment fantasies that need to be decoded.
He made a distinction between a dream’s “manifest content,” what actually occurs in the dream — or its plotline — and its “latent content,” or the hidden messages and meanings masked by symbols.
The Interpretation of Dreams introduced most of the theories that later made Freud famous — the unconscious, the Oedipus Complex, childhood sexuality, displacement, etc.
Freud’s theories have mostly been abandoned today and his scientific methods have been criticized. Still, his worldview, ignored in 1899 and debunked today, lives on in everyday language and popular culture.