The secret love letters of Martha Bernays and Sigmund Freud
The emotionally decorous letters, which were kept secret until last year due to Freud family reticence, reveal a young, impatient doctor frustrated to be chained to his laboratory in Vienna, far from his beloved in Hamburg.
The marriage of Martha Bernays and Sigmund Freud in 1886 united two distinguished German-Jewish families who hardly need more publicity, although clearly the clan had an aptitude for it. Edward Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud, would become known as the “father of public relations,” and Londoner Matthew Freud (a great-grandson of Sigmund) is currently head of Freud Communications, an international public relations firm.
Even without skilled press agents, much public attention was sparked in Germany last year, when two eye-opening books of correspondence appeared involving the Bernays-Freud couple and, even more startlingly, Martha’s uncle Jacob Bernays. In April 2011, the first book of a planned five-volume edition appeared from Fischer Verlag, publishing the complete correspondence between Sigmund and Martha. The first volume comprises letters from when the two first met, in 1882 (Sigmund was 26 and Martha 21), until their marriage, before which they were separated while Freud completed his medical studies.
Never previously published in their entirety due to Freud family reticence, the emotionally decorous letters reveal a young, impatient doctor frustrated to be chained to his laboratory at Vienna General Hospital, far from his beloved, who lived in Hamburg with her family. Intelligent and lively, Martha responded to Sigmund’s devotion with self-aware irony, despite being barely out of her teens: “My darling, yes, I am happy as I have never been before in my long life.” Martha later writes that her fiancé’s “dearly noble image was in front of me and my longing for you was so intense…. You kiss so marvelously. Cover me with love.”