While she was speculated to have been his mistress, this controversial claim was dismissed by Freudian scholars.
All that changed during the summer of 2006.
A German sociologist discovered proof that Sigmund Freud and Minna Bernays had spent two weeks in August 1898 at a fashionable resort in Switzerland. An old ledger clearly showed that they occupied Room 11 on the third floor.
In Freud’s Mistress, authors Karen Mack and Jennifer Kaufman present a fictionalized account of that affair. Using Freud’s biographies, letters and scholarly texts as source material, the authors succeed in creating a corset-ripper set in Victoria-era Vienna.
Overeducated and often underemployed, Minna is abruptly fired and finds herself practically destitute and out of options. In desperation, she writes her sister Martha and asks for help.
Determined to stay only for a short while, Minna looks forward to the “uncomplicated and intellectual” relationship she had previously enjoyed with her brother-in-law. But she quickly discovers that “the Freud she had known for years had transformed into someone else.”
As their lively late-night chats become more intimate, Minna finds herself torn between an explosive love affair and loyalty to Martha. She also has to deal with Sigmund’s mercurial moods. It was shocking to read just how aloof and dismissive he could be.
More devastating was the effect on Minna: “The distress of his cold shoulder was constant. It took away her appetite and her ability to appreciate anything. Sometimes she would feel it throbbing in her neck and traveling down her arm. Other times, she clenched her teeth so hard she gave herself a migraine. Even reading was no respite. It could be her imagination, but more often than not, she worried that perhaps he was tiring of her.”
Eventually, the sexual side of the relationship wanes, but Minna, Martha and Sigmund continue to share a household until Sigmund’s death in 1939. Unbelievable by modern standards, but an intelligent single woman of that era had very few other options.
An excellent read for anyone who enjoys historical fiction.