freud martha

Sigmund Freud and Martha Bernays exchanged over 1,500 love letters from 1882 to 1886 during their long engagement, with its bliss, longing, restrictions and misunderstandings. They wrote very often to each other, sometimes twice a day. The couple was separated while Freud completed his medical studies, as Martha Bernays had to move with her Jewish orthodox family to Hamburg.

The letters were kept secret until last year due to Freud family reticence. Not even Freud biographers, except Ernest Jones, had access to these letters.In April 2011, the first book of a planned five-edition of the complete correspondence between the couple was published by Fischer Verlag in Germany. They reveal a young, passionate and impatient neurologist frustrated to be locked in his laboratory in Vienna, far from his beloved fiancee. Freud would give up a career as a neurophysiologist because of that.

This week the former director of Freud’s Museum, Michael Molnar, gave and interesting talk, “Paper with Sacred Signs: Love Letters of Sigmund Freud”, about the correspondence, as part of the exhibition “Love, lust and longing” at the museum. For Molnar, the letters reveal the other side of the couple: some of Freud letters were accessible to the public, but not Martha’s answers to them. Martha, a beautiful, and clever girl, had a couple of other admirers. Her letters to Freud were warm and affectionate, but also ironic. Freud was jealous about her friendships, and insecure with the distance, as most of the relationship happened in the paper.

Molnar showed an except of a letter of Martha in response to a photography sent in her birthday in 1884 (curiously, somebody pointed at the audience that Martha and Jung shared the same birthday):


“Dearest, you don’t always look so displeased, do you? You can still laugh too?”.

In another interesting letter, Freud write to her: “you must love me as irrationally as other people love”.

Michael Molnar translated some of the letters into English, which can be seen at the exhibition (which was now extended to the public for more a fortnight, until 22th March). The second volume of the letters were out in 2013 in Germany. The rights to publish them are available so far Spanish in Portuguese (still in translation) but not yet in English.

An interesting detail: after their marriage, Freud forbade Martha’s religious practices. One of the most valuable pieces of Freud collection showed in the exhibition is a Hanukkah candle, but it is not known if Martha ever used it. After Freud’s death, she resumed her faith.

2 thoughts on “

  1. Fascinating. Will you be doing the Portugese translation?

    Congratulations by the way to the new English Dr Virna – well done for being so persevering and patient. We will drink a congratulatory toast on Friday night Love James

    Sent from my iPad



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