Freud’s Mistress

By K. Mack and J. Kaufman


There is absolutely no proof, the authors write in their Note from the Authors, that Sigmund Freud ever had a love affair with Minna Bernays, his wife’s sister. There are only three possible indicators that such a liaison occurred. First, a claim by Sigmund Freud’s foe, the psychoanalyst Carl Jung, who claimed that Minna Bernays told him she had a sexual affair with Freud. Virtually all scholars dismiss Jung’s claim as having been made in spite, in revenge for Freud dismissing him after Freud discovered that Jung had sexual affairs with at least two of the women he was treating.  A second indicator is that while many letters exist that were written by Freud, there are no letters for a certain period and it is “possible” that the letters were discarded to spare Freud’s legacy because they show the sexual liaison. A better proof of the alleged affair, but also inconclusive, is that in 2006, a sociologist found proof that on August 13, 1898, Freud and Bernays traveled to a fashionable resort in Switzerland, where they registered at a hotel as husband and wife.


Minna and her sister Martha were descendants of a prominent rabbi, Isaac Ben Jacob Bernays (1792-1849). Bernays was the teacher of the famous Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch. Bernays was an Orthodox rabbi who believed that Jews should be open to and learn from non-Jewish culture, especially the sciences. He wrote: “Judaism should be explained according to science, which is common to all nations, and that its religious precepts should be observed for the sake of mankind.” Unfortunately, like the biblical Moses whose two sons, according to Jewish tradition, did not follow their father’s teachings, Bernays had a son who converted to Christianity and one who was imprisoned for bankruptcy. A third son followed the ways of his father. The bankrupt son was the father of Minna and Martha. Minna and Martha’s mother continued to be Orthodox but the two daughters abandoned Orthodoxy. Freud who was Jewish was an atheist and encouraged his wife to follow his views. However, despite his atheism – these allegations of adultery aside – all indications are that Freud was a very moral man.


Mack and Kaufman’s novel covers the years 1895, the year that Minna came to stay with her sister and Freud, where she remained until her death 42 years later, until 1898, shortly after the alleged hotel stay in Switzerland. They base their novel about the sexual liaison on imaginative information about Bernays and Freud, Freud’s writings, biographies that do not mention the affair, and studies about conditions existing at the time. Their story is interesting. The describe many of Freud’s theories, such as those about sex and the Oedipus Complex, and the difficulties that Freud had because of the uniqueness of his ideas and because of anti-Semitism. They also describe the culture and conditions of the time and about many ideas that the people had in the late nineteenth century.