Monday, February 4, 2013

Freud's Sister

This weekend, I finished a novel that I had purchased in Fairhaven.   Whenever Monsieur and I are returning from the States, we make this our last stop, usually for a light supper.  Monsieur often emerges empty-handed but I usually stock up.  I don't go to chain bookstores but, while on a driving trip, I have to stop at every independent that I encounter.  I even have a bookmark collection.  Do you think that one day, this will be like a matchbook collection?



The novel is Freud's Sister , written by Goce Smilevski and translated from Macedonian by Christina E. Kramer. The historical novel won the European Union Prize for Fiction. I must admit that I knew very little about Freud's family life when I started to read. The narrator is Adolphina, Freud's favourite sister.
Adolphina died in a gas chamber as did Freud's other sisters.  For reasons unknown, Freud had refused his sisters' pleas for exit visas to accompany his family to London.

While Sigmund was his mother, Amalie's "golden Siggy", the sickly Adolphina was an unwanted child. Ignored by the other sisters, Adolphina's companion was her brother who shared his studies with her.  We have a glimpse of the intelligent and sensitive girl she was. When events occurred that tore the two apart, Adolphina found a new friend, Rainer, who suffered from an inexplicable melancholy.  Throughout her life, Adolphina chose  to spend her time with those who suffered from "hysteria"
and "melancholy".  After the loss of her lover and an abortion, Adolphina  committed  herself to an asylum, The Nest, where she shared a room with Klara Klimt, sister of Gustav.

I ask myself after reading this novel if Sigmund's and Adolphina's preoccupation with melancholy and
hysteria are not the same. "Golden Siggy" received the best education possible for a poor family with seven children. Adolphina, the "runt of the litter, did not even receive what passed for an education
for young ladies of the time. In spite of this deficiency, she observed the madness around her and chose the asylum. Perhaps the insanity in the "madhouse" was preferable to that of turn of the century  
Vienna.
Did you know that "hysteria" was once believed to be a "female upset"?

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