Freud’s Mistress

Written by Jennifer Kaufman Karen Mack
Review by Nanette Donohue

Minna Bernays has always played second fiddle to her older sister, Martha. While Minna has bounced from house to house as a servant, Martha enjoys a comfortable life as the wife to Dr. Sigmund Freud, a rising star in the new science of psychiatry, and the mother of their six children. After being dismissed from yet another position for being too empathetic, Minna arrives at her sister’s house, ostensibly to help take care of the children. She soon finds herself drawn into Freud’s circle, first as a sounding board for some of his more radical ideas, then as his lover. Minna’s guilt over the illicit affair threatens to destroy her, but she can’t seem to leave Freud — until he leaves her.

Freud’s Mistress is a fascinating exploration of the bonds of sisterhood, the destructiveness of obsessive love, and the toll that they take on one woman. The authors capture the atmosphere of fin-de-siècle Vienna — a world ripe with the possibility of change. Though there is no direct proof of an affair between Minna Bernays and Sigmund Freud, Mack and Kaufman do a fine job with the few known facts of the relationship between the two. Highly emotional yet not overwrought, Freud’s Mistress will appeal to readers who enjoy pop-historical novels about the women in the lives of prominent men, à la Loving Frank or The Paris Wife.