Karen Mack and Jennifer Kaufman’s third novel, Freud’s Mistress, is a fictional account of Freud and his family. It is a re-creation of a very possible love affair between Sigmund Freud and his sister-in-law, Minna Bernays. Beyond the affair, the authors have also intertwined facts about Freud’s life and theories.
Minna and her sister, Martha, Freud’s wife, were descendants of Rabbi Isaac Ben Jacob Bernays, who believed that Jews should be open to and learn from the sciences. How ironic that they both had intimate relationships with Sigmund Freud, whom the authors describe as “culturally and emotionally Jewish, but thought religion ridiculous. Even though the sisters were raised as Orthodox Jews, and Freud’s family was Orthodox, he refused to let the family celebrate Shabbat. He spoke a million languages, but Hebrew was not one of them.”
Freud’s Jewishness was an enigma with regard to his relationships, personality, and theories. Despite his secular celebration of Christmas and Easter, he never denied his Jewishness during his rise to fame; in fact, the authors point out that he wrote articles discussing what made a Jew a Jew. Most of Freud’s clients were upper class Jewish women, whom he cultivated during his lectures to various Jewish groups.
The impact of anti-Semitism on Vienna’s Jews is an important theme in the book, which ends with the family’s escape from the Nazis. There are also descriptive scenes of anti-Semitic acts toward Freud’s children after Karl Lueger, leader of the Austrian Christian Socialist Part, became mayor of Vienna.
The authors point out that Freud, like many Jews at the time, refused to believe that the Austrians would turn on them so viciously. They note, “We tried to point out that he had many opportunities to get out, but it was only after his daughter Anna was arrested by the Gestapo that he decided to leave. He was only able to escape with the help of highly placed friends and officials.”
Ultimately Freud’s Mistress is an insightful story about Minna, an independent Viennese Jewish woman, and an informative look at the difficulties Freud faced due to the uniqueness of his ideas, his personality, and the cultural conditions in the late nineteenth century, including the pervasive anti-Semitic atmosphere.