Freud's Mistress (Mack, Kaufman)

Freud's Mistress 
Karen Mack and Jennifer Kaufman, 2013
Amy Einhorn Books
510 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780399163074

His theories would change the world—and tear hers apart... A page-turning novel inspired by the true-life love affair between Sigmund Freud and his sister-in-law.

It is fin-de-siecle Vienna and Minna Bernays, an overeducated lady’s companion with a sharp, wry wit, is abruptly fired, yet again, from her position. She finds herself out on the street and out of options. In 1895, the city may be aswirl with avant-garde artists and revolutionary ideas, yet a woman’s only hope for security is still marriage. But Minna is unwilling to settle. Out of desperation, she turns to her sister, Martha, for help.
Martha has her own problems—six young children and an absent, disinterested husband who happens to be Sigmund Freud. At this time, Freud is a struggling professor, all but shunned by his peers and under attack for his theories, most of which center around sexual impulses. And while Martha is shocked and repulsed by her husband’s “pornographic” work, Minna is fascinated.
Minna is everything Martha is not—intellectually curious, engaging, and passionate. She and Freud embark on what is at first simply an intellectual courtship, yet something deeper is brewing beneath the surface, something Minna cannot escape.
In this sweeping tale of love, loyalty, and betrayal—between a husband and a wife, between sisters—fact and fiction seamlessly blend together, creating a compelling portrait of an unforgettable woman and her struggle to reconcile her love for her sister with her obsessive desire for her sister’s husband, the mythic father of psychoanalysis. (From the publisher.)

Author Bios
Karen Mack and Jennifer Kaurman reside in Los Angeles. Freud's Mistress is their third novel. Their first, Literacy and Longing in L.A. (2006), was on the Los Angeles Times bestseller list for 15 weeks reaching #1 and won the Best Fiction Award from the Southern California Bookseller’s Association. Their second novel, A Version of the Truth (2007), was also on the L.A. Times bestseller list.

Karen Mack, a former attorney, is a Golden Globe award-winning film and television producer. Karen has produced many film and television productions including the Golden Globe, Christopher, and Emmy Award winning “One Against the Wind”, a Hallmark Hall of Fame Presentation. For the past fourteen years, she has been Executive Producer of “A Home for the Holidays,” an annual CBS Network Special which promotes foster care adoption. “A Home for the Holidays” won the 2008 Television Academy Honors, an award given out by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Karen is a cum laude graduate of UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science and a Juris Doctorate from the UCLA School of Law.

Jennifer Kaufman is a former staff writer for the Los Angeles Times and a two-time winner of the national Penney-Missouri Journalism Award. Jennifer spent three years as Bureau Chief for Fairchild Publications, Woman’s Wear Daily and W magazine in Milan and Rome. Prior to that, she worked for Fairchild Publications in New York covering business, film and features. She was formerly a staff reporter for the Baltimore News American and The Prince George’s County Sentinel in Bethesda, Maryland.
 (Adapted from the publisher and the book's website.)

Book Reviews
A portrait of forbidden desire based on historical speculations, Mack and Kaufman’s thoroughly researched novel explores the difficult moral questions that can arise from adultery.... Minna grapples with the “burden of betrayal” and Sigmund’s cunning rationalizations while trying to answer this novel’s cliched but nonetheless thought-provoking central question: how far are you willing to go to be happy?
Publishers Weekly

Too outspoken to succeed as a lady's companion or to settle for a marriage of convenience, Minna Bernays seeks a temporary solution to her financial difficulties by moving in with her sister Martha [Freud]'s family.... Freud's intellect and charm shine through his self-centeredness. Rumors about Freud and his sister-in-law, who in real life lived with the family for more than 40 years, abound. This novel, inspired by historical events, places the possible affair between Freud and Minna firmly in the intellectual and social milieu of fin de siecle Vienna. —Kathy Piehl, Minnesota State Univ. Lib., Mankato
Library Journal

A fictionalized account of Sigmund Freud's romantic involvement with his sister-in-law...based loosely on unsubstantiated conjecture that Sigmund Freud and his wife's sister, Minna Bernays, had a love affair while living under the same roof.... Does Martha know or care that her husband's engaged in intimate acts with her own sister? Neither spouse appears overly concerned about the activities of the other....but Minna's racked with guilt.... Freud's theories about human sexuality and behavior may be considered pretty wild, but his own sex life comes across as dull.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. Minna Bernays was unmarried, educated and independent-minded. Was she a typical nineteenth-century woman? Were you surprised by the limited options available to women like her? In what ways did she break the mold? What about her might have made her irresistible to Sigmund Freud?

2. As readers, we see Freud through Minna’s eyes. How do her impressions of his character, appearance, and research compare with your knowledge of him as a historical figure?

3. If, as Freud stated, he and Martha were no longer physically intimate, do you feel that Minna betrayed Martha?

4. In many ways this is a story about two sisters. How would you describe the changing dynamic between Minna and Martha over the course of the novel? Where did your sympathies lie? Did their relationship resolve itself in the way you expected?

5. Minna and Martha were raised in an Orthodox Jewish home, but Freud did not allow them to practice traditional Jewish customs in his household. Did his anti-religious views surprise you? Why do you think he held the opinions he had on God, sin, and guilt?

6. Among the most famous quotations attributed to Sigmund Freud is this: “The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is ‘What does a woman want?’” How did his lack of understanding carry over to his treatment of the women closest to him? In what way was this evident in his relationship with Martha? With Minna?

7. How did Minna rationalize returning to her sister’s household after being in Switzerland? Did she make the right choice? If she had not miscarried, what might she have ended up doing?

8. Do you think Martha suspected her husband of adultery? If so, when did she begin to suspect him? Why did she maintain such a nonchalant reaction to his infatuations? How did his betrayals affect her mental health?

9. Minna was described by Freud as his “closest confidante” and has been called his muse. Do you think she influenced the theories he developed in his psychoanalytic work?

10. Throughout the novel, there are instances in which Minna showed signs of jealousy over Freud’s relationship with her sister. Did she have a right to be jealous? Which sister do you feel Freud was truly devoted to?

11. Freud is revealed as a flawed, egotistical man with eccentric tastes and addictive habits, surprisingly lacking in empathy when it came to the women in his life. With this in mind, just what was it about Freud that attracted Mina to him? Why was she so much more interested in him than in other men? In light of what you know about his theories, does his behavior surprise you?

12. At the end of the novel, did you think Martha knew about Minna and Freud?
(Questions from book's website.)

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