cover image The Secret Mind of Bertha Pappenheim: The Woman Who Invented Freud’s Talking Cure

The Secret Mind of Bertha Pappenheim: The Woman Who Invented Freud’s Talking Cure

Gabriel Brownstein. PublicAffairs, $32 (336p) ISBN 978-1-5417-7464-3

Brownstein (The Open Heart Club), an English professor at St. John’s University, takes a fresh and fascinating look at the life of Freud’s “Anna O” and the illness that ailed her. In 1880s Vienna, Bertha Pappenheim (1859–1936) was stricken by a mysterious collection of symptoms (roving paralysis, aphasia, headaches, etc.) broadly defined as “hysteria.” She sought treatment from Freud’s mentor Josef Breuer, and together patient and doctor fashioned a curative method in which Pappenheim recounted “repressed memories,” which seemed to alleviate some of her symptoms. Cited by Freud in his and Breuer’s 1895 treatise Studies on Hysteria, the “Anna O” case serves in many ways as “the founding myth... of the theory and practice of psychoanalysis,” Brownstein writes. Yet the claim that Pappenheim was “cured” is false, according to the author, who notes that Freud and Breuer corresponded in the following years about her continued mental suffering and suggests she later eschewed psychoanalysis. Brownstein theorizes that Pappenheim’s symptoms may have stemmed from functional neurologic disorder, and includes case histories of present-day sufferers to contextualize the condition. Infused with emotion from Brownstein’s own personal losses (he wrote the book while grieving the deaths of his wife and father, the latter of whom had begun the research into Pappenheim), the result is a riveting look at the boundaries between neurology and psychology and the gender dynamics of medicine. This captivates. Agent: David McCormick, McCormick Literary. (Apr.)