Biographical fiction fans will like 'Freud's Mistress'

Biographical fiction fans will like 'Freud's Mistress'

A few years ago, I read a novel that I really enjoyed titled "Loving Frank" by Nancy Horan. Several book clubs also have picked up this novel about the infamous love affair between architect Frank Lloyd Wright and society maven Mamah Cheney.

With their both being married to other people, their relationship was scandalous and frequent fodder for gossip in the society pages.

The book is an instance of biographical fiction. In such novels, someone — or something — is taken from history, then a story is built around the events taking place during that time. I have found these to be highly compelling because I like learning more about famous people, but I also am intrigued by the fictional embellishments that add interest to the basic story.

The latest book along these lines that I've picked up is "Freud's Mistress" by Karen Mack and Jennifer Kaufman.

When talking about research involving the id, ego, superego or libido, the first person who usually comes to mind is Sigmund Freud.

He was born in 1856 in what was part of the Austrian Empire but is now the Czech Republic and his mother believed he was destined for greatness. He was a good student and eventually attended the University of Vienna.

He stayed on in Vienna with a wife and six children in the same building where he would live, work and conduct research. He would stay there most of his life, leaving only in the 1930s after being threatened by the Nazi regime.

Freud's story is a long and fascinating one. After studying philosophy and medicine, he settled into research involving neurology and hysteria. His studies would lead him to Darwinism, hypnosis and finally to a specialization in psychotherapy with a focus on the "talking cure" and "free association."

The authors take a tiny piece of Freud's documentation, his relationship with his sister-in-law, and use it to create a story of great intellectual respect and forbidden passion.

Freud was married to the lovely and obedient Martha Bernays, who was content to raise her children and serve her husband but wasn't particularly interested in conversing about his theories or work. In fact, she found Freud's suppositions to be somewhat distasteful and removed herself from his career both mentally and physically.

On the other hand, Martha's sister, Minna, was a beautiful and intelligent woman who read voraciously and could easily carry on a conversation with Freud and his contemporaries about world events, literature, medicine or philosophy.

Freud enjoyed debating his theories with her, and they developed a close relationship. It's this sense of kinship that is used as the basis of "Freud's Mistress."

The story is slow and thoughtful. Each character is described in careful yet descriptive prose and the reader is immediately immersed in the happenings of turn-of-the-century Vienna.

There is a good amount of detail on philosophical thought of the time, but it is balanced well with depictions of the surrounding neighborhoods, modes of dress and city shops.

Freud's appreciation of Minna builds with the story until the inevitable intimacy. And then the reader is left with "now what?" Does it end with a night of passion? I won't spoil the rest of the story for you, but is it interesting to see how Freud ruminates on what seems to be an important relationship in his life and uses it to build on his theories on sexuality.

If biographical fiction novels are as intriguing to you as they are for me, you may also enjoy "Claude and Camille" (about Claude Monet) by Stephanie Cowell, "Abundance" (about Marie Antoinette) by Sena Jeter Naslund and "Bucking the Tiger" (about Doc Holliday) by Bruce Olds.

Kelly Strom is the collection manager at the Champaign Public Library. She orders books, magazines, newspapers, audiobooks and CDs.

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