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  • Freud, His Wife, and His "Wife"
  • Franz Maciejewski
    Translated by Jeremy Gaines, Peter J., and Julia Swales

Whoever undertakes to concern himself with the life of the founder of psychoanalysis is veritably bound to concede that Sigmund Freud, that great solver of riddles, has, in Peter Gay's words (1990), "left behind some intriguing private mysteries" of his own that are difficult of decipherment. "Probably the most titillating" of all these enigmas, Gay continues, concerns "the provocative Minna question" (164–65): did Freud have a love affair with his wife's younger sister, Minna Bernays, or not?

Ernest Jones, in his biography authorized by Freud's widow and children, felt compelled to acknowledge the rumors about his hero's extramarital life that had long been in circulation, but he energetically repudiated them: "His wife was assuredly the only woman in Freud's love life. . . . Freud no doubt appreciated [Minna's] conversation, but to say that she in any way replaced her sister in his affections is sheer nonsense" (1955, 386–87).

In an interview conducted in 1957 that was then published in 1969, however, Carl Gustav Jung—who during the years of his association with Freud had gotten to know him far more intimately than Jones ever did—called Jones's idealized version of Freud's marriage into question. According to Jung's account, during his first visit to Vienna in 1907, Minna Bernays had taken him into her confidence and confessed that "Freud was in love with her and that their relationship was indeed very intimate" (Billinsky 1969, 42).

There is not, and there never has been, any legitimate reason to question the veracity of Jung's testimony. The notion that he simply dreamed up the whole business in order to slander his former mentor is as good as absurd. Nevertheless, two leading members of the "Freud establishment," Kurt R. Eissler (1982; 1993, 107–84; 2001, 21) and Peter Gay (1988, 752–53; 1989; 1990, 164, 179), have set an example for many others in [End Page 497] systematically seeking to undermine Jung's credibility. Despite the poverty of their argumentation, the Freudian apologists have been joined in this effort by such revisionists as Louis Breger (2000, 397), though a cogent defense of the basic trustworthiness of Jung's narratives of his relationship with Freud has recently been mounted by Peter Rudnytsky (2006, 134–37).

In the early 1980s, Peter Swales, the enfant terrible of Freud studies, raised the stakes considerably. Through a close analysis of certain key texts that is as astute as it tends to be persuasive, he (1982) endeavored to show how, in 1900, Minna Bernays was impregnated by Freud, and then underwent an abortion in Meran. Reacting to such an exposé, so redolent of a journalistic scoop (see Blumenthal 1981), it has been all too easy for upholders of Freudian orthodoxy to dismiss Swales's work as mere "Freud-bashing" (Grubrich-Simitis 1997, 1). But in point of fact, in this and in subsequent works, Swales continues, by and large, to utilize subtle chains of inference—without, however, ever being able to bring forward a "smoking gun," that is, conclusive proof of a documentary kind.

It is not so surprising, then, that Albrecht Hirschmüller (2005), for example, in introducing his recent edition of the heretofore long-restricted correspondence between Freud and Minna Bernays, should have launched a counter-offensive with the full force of an empirically grounded heavy ordnance:

Anyone who confidently predicted finding proofs or at least indications of an intimate relationship between Sigmund and Minna will be sorely disappointed. Nothing of the sort is here to be found—no concealment and no secrecy but, rather, a great measure of candor as regards their own relationship vis-à-vis all the other family members.

(25)

Freud and Minna's First Unaccompanied Trip

The cache of letters with which Hirschmüller has furnished us on the very eve of 2006—this year during which the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Freud's birth is being celebrated— [End Page 498] has soon enough forfeited its protective function. Just nine months after the publication of this volume, in August 2006, the mystery surrounding the precise nature...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1085-7931
Print ISSN
0065-860X
Pages
pp. 497-506
Launched on MUSE
2007-01-25
Open Access
No
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