Freud’s Mistress is a work of historical fiction by co-authors Karen Mack and Jennifer Kaufman. Its primary setting is Vienna, Austria between the years of 1895 and 1898. The story centers around Minna Bernays and her much speculated upon relationship with her brother-in-law, Sigmund Freud. In 1895 Minna finds herself fired yet again from a position as a ladies companion for a wealthy Viennese household. She’s single, well educated and penniless. Out of options, she turns to her older sister Martha to seek temporary refuge in her household. Martha, who is two years her senior and married to Sigmund Freud, has recently given birth to her sixth child and could use Minna’s help with watching the children.
After Minna moves into the Freud household she is drawn to the enigmatic Sigmund Freud. He is at turns cold and imperious; then inviting and flirtatious. He can share the inner workings of his thought processes with Minna as he never could with Martha. Minna thinks his pioneering work with dreams fascinating. Martha thinks it pornographic. Minna fights her attraction to Sigmund, but eventually succumbs to his entreaties, and they become lovers. A minuet dance of on-again-off-again within their relationship begins. Minna fights against betraying her sister much more than Sigmund does. Eventually the sexual side of their relationship wanes and Sigmund moves on to his next conquest. Minna, Martha and Sigmund continue to share a household until Sigmund’s death in London in 1939.
While this is historical fiction, recent discoveries point to the fact the Minna and Freud were most likely lovers, at least for a short period of time. Freud’s Mistress tells their story with historical accuracy including Austrian period details. The language used is deft and vivid. I didn’t know much about Freud’s personal life before reading this book. Now I feel much better educated about the genesis of his psychiatric theories and how they first shaped his own household and then the wider world. Freud does not come off as a sympathetic figure, but the character developed seemed accurate and believable.
Minna was the most likeable of the characters though admittedly she came with her own set of flaws. The book was intelligently written and held my attention throughout. By the end of the book, I believed the plausibly of the story. I’d recommend this book to anyone wanting to learn more about Europe at the turn of the last century; about Freud’s personal life and how some of his theories came into being; and about one woman’s struggle to find a tenable solution to the time and place into which she was born.
Krista lives just outside the urban sprawl of Portland, Oregon. Lamentably, her work as a technical writer and business analyst often interferes with her reading which is a true passion.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Amy Einhorn Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.