Barry G. Gale brings high-brow rigor to a low-brow subject in Love in Vienna: The Sigmund Freud – Minna Bernays Affair.
As Barry G. Gale admits in a vital passage in Love in Vienna, “Affairs by their very nature are secretive, so it is not always easy to find evidence that they occurred.” He goes on to say that this is “the bane of every private detective hired by some suspicious and distraught spouse.” It is, unfortunately, also the bane of the author, who is unable to commit to the idea that Sigmund Freud had an affair with his wife’s younger sister, Minna Bernays.
Gale relies on an account of the affair given in recently released interviews with Freud’s one-time protégé Carl Jung, and a newly discovered hotel ledger from a holiday that Freud and Bernays took together.
Gale studied for a doctorate in Chicago under the renowned Freudian psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim. Perhaps not surprisingly, his book is academic in tone and construction even if its subject matter is anything but. The author pits Freud and Jung against each other as the principal antagonists, but this is actually the story of a love triangle. All three participants lived in the same house on Berggasse: Freud, his wife, and Bernays. Jung revealed during a series of interviews in the 1950s that Bernays had told him about the affair. While gossip had circulated amongst Freud’s circle of acquaintances at the time, the entire affair was brought to the forefront once again as a result of the interviews with Jung.
Gale closely examines the evidence and arguments in support of the affair, and considers the number of times that Freud and Bernays were alone together. For example, the pair took several vacations together between 1893 and 1913. During one of those vacations, Freud signed a hotel ledger stating his companion at the time was his wife, when in fact it was his sister-in-law.
Lastly, Gale examines the relationships within the Freud household. The analysis of Freud’s separate
and distinct relationships with the two women that ran his household are filled with details of their everyday lives, like the claim that his wife developed obsessive compulsive disorder, and that Minna Bernays answered the house telephone as “Frau Doktor Freud.”
Getting no satisfaction
While the style of writing can sometimes feel like a lecture by a history professor, the arguments and supporting evidence have been well researched. However, what this research reveals is a paucity of evidence, and as a result, the book lacks the connective tissues needed to create a narrative. Gale gives his readers a rare insight into the relationship that Freud appeared to treasure most: his ambiguous relationship with Bernays. Gale provides his readers with a balanced perspective on a controversial issue within scholarship, as some believe that evidence of the affair could be detrimental to Freud’s legacy.
Throughout the work, Gale raises concerns about the voyeurism that is inherent in historical research, and reading private documents that others have left behind. Embedded in these questions, and in the loss of 160 letters exchanged between Bernays and Freud between 1896 and 1913, are questions concerning the privacy of those who are no longer here to clarify events. However, Gale, at the end of it all, cannot conclusively assert that the affair took place – only that it was likely. As a result of this anticlimactic conclusion, the reader is left ultimately unsatisfied.