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  • What Happens in Maloja Stays in Maloja:Inference and Evidence in the "Minna Wars"
  • Barry Silverstein

Who knows what goes on behind closed doors? Franz Maciejewski (2006) presented documentary evidence that on their first trip alone together, in August 1898, Sigmund Freud and his wife's sister, Minna Bernays, shared a room in the Hotel Schweizerhaus in Maloja, Switzerland. In addition, examination of the hotel log book for the dates that Freud and Minna stayed together revealed that Freud signed the registry: "Dr. Sigm. Freud u[nd] Frau/Wien" (Dr. Sigm. Freud and wife/Vienna). In view of the longstanding rumors concerning a possible sexual relationship between Freud and Minna Bernays, given impetus by John Billinsky's (1969) claim that Jung told him that, in 1907, Minna had confided to him that "Freud was in love with her and that their relationship was indeed very intimate" (42), and further fueled by the elaborate biographical reconstructions of Peter Swales (1982; 2003), Maciejewski's discovery has been regarded as corroborating the theory that Freud and Minna had a sexual relationship.

But is Freud's entry in the hotel log book the "smoking gun" that it has been alleged to be? Maciejewski argues: "By any reasonable standard of proof, Sigmund Freud and his wife's sister Minna Bernays had a liaison" (2006, 502). Although they accept that the hotel entry demonstrates that Freud misrepresented the nature of his relationship to Minna, Albrecht Hirschmüller (2007) and Zvi Lothane (2007) argue that it does not constitute prima facie evidence that, behind the closed door, they engaged in sexual relations. Perhaps Freud simply wanted to save money by not having to pay for two rooms, and registering Minna as his wife was only intended to make this possible by avoiding any semblance of impropriety that might have arisen from his [End Page 283] awkward circumstances. It was, in this view, about money and appearances, not about sex. Nevertheless, if Freud had sexual feelings for Minna, and if he felt justified in acting on those feelings, whatever the immediate reason for registering her as his wife may have been, the privacy and atmosphere of the shared hotel room could have sparked desire while also providing the opportunity for fulfillment.

Although I do not claim to know what went on between Sigmund and Minna in Maloja, I will focus on a number of considerations concerning their relationship begged by the inferences and evidence presented by Maciejewski, Hirschmüller, and Lothane.

Maciejewski contends that the likelihood of a sexual relationship between Freud and Minna illuminates what Freud had in mind in "his 1915 letter to the American neurologist James J. Putnam, in which he advocates 'a much freer sexual life' while maintaining even so that he himself had made 'very little use of such license'" (2006, 504). But it would have made his argument more powerful had Maciejewski quoted Freud's remarks to Putnam more fully: "I stand for a much freer sexual life. However, I have made little use of such freedom, except in so far as I was convinced of what was permissible for me in this area" (Hale 1971, 189). It is possible that this statement reflects Freud's attitude toward his relationship with Minna. If so, it would suggest that he had convinced himself, or was convinced by Minna, that sex between them was permissible. Because, by 1898, Freud saw that the marriage he had contracted in 1886 failed to provide him with sexual satisfaction, it may not have seemed out of the question for him to regard Minna as a substitute for Martha. Freud's clearly autobiographical reflection in 1908 on the typical decline in sexual enjoyment in marriage may suggest the extent of frustration he felt at the time of his trip with Minna, and that would accordingly have led him to regard an exercise of sexual freedom outside of his marriage as "permissible." As Freud writes, "satisfying sexual intercourse in marriage takes place only for a few years. . . . After these three, four or five years, the marriage becomes a failure in so far as it has promised the satisfaction of sexual needs" (1908, 194).

Because Freud felt that the use of...


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pp. 283-289
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