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Young Dr. Freud
Theories Analysis Perspectives
Family: Wife
Martha Bernays
Martha Bernays
(Freud Museum London)
 
In 1877, Sigmund Freud was an ambitious 21 year-old who planned to devote his life to science. When Freud was 26, his commitment to laboratory science came to an end. He had met the love of his life.

Twenty-one-year old Martha Bernays was peeling an apple when Freud first saw her. Soon, he was sending her roses everyday and calling her "Princess." Within two months, they were engaged. Their letters to each other expressed their new-found feelings:

FREUD: "My precious, most beloved girl, I knew it was only after you had gone that I would realize the full extent of my happiness… I still cannot grasp it, and if that… sweet little picture were not lying in front of me, I would think it was all a beguiling dream."

MARTHA: "Sigi, My Sigi. Today for the first time I call you by your name… My darling, I am happy, yes happy as I have never been in my long life."

But Freud was too poor to make Martha his wife. A penniless student still living at home, he could hardly support a wife and a family.

FREUD: "My sweet girl, It only pains me to think I should be so powerless to prove my love for you… In front of me in my apparatus sizzle the gas bubbles which I have to filter. The whole thing spells resignation, waiting."

Freud sacrificed his scientific ambitions for the woman he loved: he decided to become a doctor.
With no real prospect of ever earning a livelihood from his scientific work, desperate to marry Martha, Freud made a painful decision. Just six months after he met her, Freud sacrificed his scientific ambitions for the woman he loved: he decided to become a doctor.

BERGMANN: Brucke takes him aside and says to him, look here, young man, you can't make a living this way. If Brucke had been able to pay his wages, you and I would have never heard of him.

Freud would spend three lonely years at Vienna General Hospital, trying his hand at surgery, internal medicine, and psychiatry, not knowing which might become his specialty. He rarely saw Martha. She had moved with her family to Hamburg in northern Germany, far from Vienna. Restless, he read Cervantes, Goethe, and Shakespeare late into the night and, every day, wrote long, romantic letters.

FREUD: "My beloved Marty, these difficult times will not discourage me… I know how sweet you are, how you can turn a house into a paradise."

Martha was his first love and Freud was overwhelmed with passion for her. She replied with equal passion:

MARTHA: "My beloved sweet Sigi, why can't we be together? I could not sleep half the night… your dear and noble image was before me and my longing for you was so intense… I want to be the way you want me to be. Just love me a little, a little passionately. You kiss so wonderfully. Cover me with love…"

Wedding picture of Freud and Martha
Wedding picture of Freud and Martha
(Vienna State History Museum)
 
On September 14, 1886, after four years of waiting, thirty-year old Sigmund Freud married the only woman he would ever love. He settled comfortably into married life.

FREUD: "I'm finding it all most strange… my utter effrontery in getting married and setting myself up as a man who can do anything he likes; but the Bodensee is frozen over, and my happy heart is leaping gaily across it."

Martha quickly became the kind of wife Freud had hoped for, busy with home and family.
Martha quickly became the kind of wife Freud had hoped for, busy with home and family. For the next nine years, she would be almost constantly pregnant, giving birth to six children. She raised their children and managed their household while Freud attended to his medical practice and researched his theories.

Domestic duties had replaced the passion Freud and Martha had expressed for each other. Settled comfortably in the routines of daily life, he was consumed by his work, but the ardor had disappeared from his marriage.

BERGMANN: We have wonderful courting letters before marriage. After marriage we only get laundry letters. It's all practical. We don't have a single love letter after marriage.




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