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  • The Sigmund Freud/Minna Bernays Romance:Fact or Fiction?
  • Zvi Lothane

Historical evidence is based on ascertained facts, while inferences drawn from facts are opinions, or interpretative fictions; the latter either fit the facts or do not. In the current trial of Sigmund Freud and his sister-in-law Minna Bernays in the court of public opinion and the press, the fact is that on August 13, 1898 the couple were registered in Freud's hand to spend the night in a double room in a Swiss hotel. Some have reached a verdict beyond reasonable doubt: they had sex that night. But there were no witnesses, and the two cannot take the stand. There was no smoking gun. It is this juror's opinion that even highly probable does not mean proven.

Since Franz Maciejewski insinuates that "encounters of an intimate nature" (499) may have taken place between Freud and Minna, questions surface immediately. Was their first joint trip a planned escapade? Was it a one-night-stand? Did they have clandestine sex in Vienna at Berggasse 19 before or after? On the many other trips they took together in Austria and elsewhere? Was Freud's wife Martha blind? Did she know and forgive? What if registering as "Dr. Freud and wife" was merely an expedient stratagem, for given the Swiss cohabitation laws of that time, would an innkeeper have rented a double room to Dr. Freud and Frl. Bernays? On a related matter: the door of Minna's bedroom did not open into a hallway but opened directly into her sister's and brother-in-law's bedroom (Davies [End Page 129] and Fichtner 2006, 24). Can we draw the inference that Freud led a secret ménage à trois? Or is this further evidence, as averred by Maciejewski, for "Freud's concealment, deception, and secrecy with respect to the state of his married life" (501)? I doubt it, and I must enter a strong protest: ethically speaking, we are entitled to investigate Freud's sex life and find out what we can, but he does not owe it to us to reveal anything, nor is there proof that he deliberately deceived anybody.

I also question Maciejewski's citing as evidence Sándor Ferenczi's 1912 fantasy of a liaison between Freud and Minna Bernays, while omitting its historical context. At the time, during his romance with the married Gisella Pálos, eight years his senior and later the woman he married, Ferenczi confessed to Freud he had also fallen passionately in love with her daughter Elma, while she was in analysis with him, despite Freud's advice to the contrary. (Elma also happened to be Ferenczi's sister-in-law.) So we have Ferenczi's cute pun, embedded in his "defiant apology" to Freud: "(father, after all, did something similar with mother). . . . = You once took a trip to Italy with your sister-in-law (voyage de-lit-à-lit) [from bed to bed, homophonic with 'de l'Italie'], (naturally only an infantile thought!)" (Brabant, Falzeder, Giampieri-Deutsch 1993, 453). Thus, Ferenczi had not "accurately divined" (Maciejewski 2006, 501) anything, by means either natural or supernatural; he merely indulged in a tit-for-tat oedipal fantasy. Besides, Italy is no proof of Switzerland. Maciejewski puts his own spin on this fantasy, as he also does after quoting a letter from Freud to Fliess about the two trips he planned with Minna and Martha: "Here Freud intimates to Fliess," claims Maciejewski, "even a little coquettishly, that he sees himself as having two wives" (499). But this is sheer innuendo since in the letter in question Freud says nothing about two wives!

Now to the evidence taken from Jung's interview with John Billinsky in 1957, when Jung was eighty-two years old. As shown by his correspondence with Freud, Jung distorted one aspect of their conflict when he is quoted as having said:

It was my knowledge of Freud's triangle that became a very important factor in my break with Freud. And then I could not accept Freud's placing authority above the truth. [End Page 130] This, too, led to further problems in our relationship. In retrospect it looks like...


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