Freud’s Mistress by Karen Mack & Jennifer Kaufman


This is a fictional account of the affair between Sigmund Freud and his younger sister-in-law, Minna Barnays.

After reading the book, I goggled Sigmund Fraud’s biography. Not that I have not heard of him, but the details were fuzzy.

Like many of the fictional biographies of women related to famous men which I had read recently, this account is fascinating because you wonder if the women were attracted to The Man or to his fame.

In this case, Minna, a thirty-year-old spinster arrived at the Freud household in Vienna because she had no where else to go to after being sacked as a personal companion (this is nineteen century Europe).

Her eider sister Martha, welcomes her with opened arms, happy to have another helper with her six children with Sigmund Freud.

At first, Minna sympathizes with her sister, who is often tired and ignored by her husband. Martha has no interest in his work, except for the fame or financial gain that it might bring. She has no interest in book, antiques or travel. Her life is centred only on running the household and the children. Thus, it’s like a breath of fresh air for Sigmund to have an intelligent and well read female in the household to discuss with him at similar intellectual level.

Minna soon discovers that she is in love with her brother-in-law. Guilty, she leaves the Freud household for Frankfurt, where Sigmund pursues her and brings her to a Switzerland resort for their sexual affair. He persuades her to return to the household, as ‘the prospect of your leaving me is unthinkable.’ Rightly, she is filled with guilt but he is nonchalant about the morality of this arrangement, being a non-believer in God even though they were Jews.

She returns and they continue their trysts at a ‘pension’ nearby his university, which ends when he finds someone more interesting, first, a fellow colleague and then another woman.

As a book is about illicit sexual affair, it’s unfortunate that their first sexual and subsequent sexual encounters are mostly described briefly in two lines, with no build up or sexual tension between them. (I know, I read too many historical romance.) One wonders what she sees in him, other than his intelligence. (Can you be sexually attracted to a man’s intelligence?) In fact, I don’t remember reading about how he looks like in the book and was taken aback by his photos online. The best impression of Sigmund Freud from the book is that he is forever smoking cigar, is insensitive and vain. It’s difficult to see what attracted Minna sexually to him.

It’s a coincidence that in their earlier discussion in the book, they have been discussing Socrates and Plato and their questions on ethics and virtue. I just finished a course on this subject on Coursera (Reasons and Persuasion, Three Dialogues). But I digress.

About vickychong

Just an ordinary woman.
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