- Evidence for a Sexual Relationship between Sigmund Freud and Minna Bernays?
On December 24, 2006, the New York Times published an article by Ralph Blumenthal concerning a paper by Franz Maciejewski, who had found an entry in the log book of the Hotel Schweizerhaus in Maloja, Switzerland, showing that Freud and his sister-in-law Minna Bernays were registered as "Dr. Sigm. [End Page 125] Freud und Frau" in room No. 11 on Saturday, August 13, 1898. Other newspapers and magazines, American, German, French, reprinted this item as proof of what had been a gossip story for decades: starting with a transference fantasy of Sándor Ferenczi in a 1912 letter to Freud (Brabant, Falzeder, and Giampieri-Deutsch 1993, 453), followed by an interview given by the aged C. G. Jung and purporting to report a confession made to him by Minna herself (Billinsky 1969), and finally elaborated in papers by Peter Swales (1982; 1998; 2003), beginning more than twenty years ago. In its Winter 2006 issue, American Imago published an English translation of Maciejewski's paper.
Since I am the editor of the correspondence between Freud and Minna Bernays (Hirschmüller 2005), I examined this new document in the light of the assessment I had offered in my introduction to that volume. The letters do show a relationship of mental and personal intimacy, as between siblings, but they do not in any way hint at a love affair, nor do any of the other available historical sources. Now, a historian sometimes has to draw his conclusions from sources even if there are gaps or contradictions in them. Whether or not one should trust Jung's testimony is debatable.1 Still, before drawing far-reaching conclusions, historians should try to establish the facts as far as possible.
At the very least, it seems premature to take sharing a room as proof of a sexual relationship, as Maciejewski does. What was the situation Freud and Minna found in Maloja? Was there an option to book separate rooms? Did they share rooms and register as man and wife in the other hotels they stayed in during their journey?
Maciejewski was unable to answer such questions when asked, nor does he appear to have raised them himself. So I tried to find out more by myself. In the correspondence, Freud and Minna sometimes speak of having rented two rooms,2 but, of course, those passages are no solid proof of how they signed in or in which rooms or beds they in fact slept. Unfortunately, the other hotels either no longer exist or their old log books have disappeared. The document from Maloja seems to be a singular hit.
The owner of the Schweizerhaus, Jürg Wintsch, kindly told me the following: The house was quite filled with guests. The [End Page 126] Fremdenbuch (log book) shows only arrivals, not departures. So it is impossible to reconstruct which other rooms would have been available on what day. There are no plans, no photographs of the rooms, and no brochures showing prices of those years, whereas Maciejewski speaks of "what is to this day a standard double room" (501). It is quite clear that two separate rooms—if available—would have been more expensive than one. Whether they shared one bed or not, and what may or may not have happened in that bed, remains a matter of speculation. However, it is a matter of fact that they did not stay for "three nights" (501), as Maciejewski says, nor even for "three days." The Fremdenbuch shows the next guests entering room No. 11 on August 15. In fact, Freud and Minna arrived in the late afternoon of Saturday and left on Monday morning, by no means an "unusually long" (Maciejewski 2006, 501) stay. They just spent an additional Sunday in wonderfully scenic Maloja before returning home. With the suggestion of a couple lingering three days in a love nest, we see a new legend in statu nascendi.
But what about Freud and Minna Bernays signing in as man and wife, if they were not a couple in love? I would like to turn the question around. Once they decided to share...