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Freud's Mistress (Mack, Kaufman) - Discussion Questions

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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