Sigmund Freud's family
A profile on some of the descendants of the psychologist
He wanted to lead the human race through a jungle whose exploration he pioneered: a tangled place of compulsions, obsessions, neuroses, and phobias, all ruled by three gods he named id, ego, and superego. Sigmund Freud’s revolutionary attempts to map this jungle, called the psyche, earned him the title of the Father of Psychoanalysis. But Freud was also a more conventional sort of father. He begat six children, who in turn had sons and daughters who had more children. Today, eight of these Freuds have carved out notable niches of their own — some in ways that might make even their most famous ancestor blush. Recently, publishers on both sides of the Atlantic have been touting a first novel called Sexual Intercourse, by Rose Boyt, a great-granddaughter of Freud. Other scions include the writer of a candid confessional and a TV talk-show host who conducted interviews in bed. Here are brief accounts of how these offspring, or contemporary Freudian slips, are faring.
Edward Bernays‘ uncle made a science out of exposing the unconscious motives that can make people look worse than we thought they were. Sigmund’s nephew invented public relations, which is the science of finding images that make people look better than we know they are. Bernays, 98, wrote Crystallizing Public Opinion, a book that helped trigger the image-making avalanche, and he served as PR counsel to everyone from Caruso to Eisenhower. Bernays claims credit for changing American sexual habits: In 1913 he produced a play about venereal disease called Damaged Goods. ”Before that,” he claims, ”[Americans] had never heard the words gonorrhea or syphilis.”
Like her great-uncle, Anne Bernays, 60, leads a book-filled, bourgeois life; unlike him, she’s not interested in the dark underside of propriety. She lives with husband Justin Kaplan (who won a Pulitzer for his Mark Twain biography) in Cambridge, Mass., where she teaches writing, plays Scrabble with other writers, and dabbles in choral music. She strayed but once, setting out to write a book about women and psychoanalysis. ”It was a terrible mismatch,” she says. Instead, she writes fiction. Her most recent novel, Professor Romeo, which may soon be made into a movie, might have intrigued her great-uncle, though. It’s about a professorial libido running amok.
Lucian Freud, 68, is a premier realist, painting portraits that, like his grandfather’s case histories, pay remarkably minute attention to the often unflattering details of humankind. His subjects, who pose nude for as many as 150 sittings, are rewarded with a thorough disclosure of the bumps, pores, and hair that adorn their skin. By contrast, Lucian himself treasures the privacy of his London studio, but he is also known to love gossip, gambling, and old cars. In 1959, on the occasion of his 16th traffic violation, a judge observed that Freud was ”temperamentally unfit to drive a car,” adding that he had ”better see a psychiatrist.”
Sir Clement Freud, 66, seems to have had as good a time in life as an unleashed id cavorting through a colorful dream. A famous cook, he’s known for writing about his many non-culinary adventures, such as enduring a Bavarian survival course. Recently Sigmund’s grandson decided that British Rail’s ”cardboard” cheese-and-pickle sandwiches were traumatic experiences, so he accepted BR’s offer to design two new sandwiches: a poached salmon with Dijon mustard and dill, and a corned beef with mustard butter and tomato chutney. Sir Clement, who served as a Liberal member of Parliament, has been whetting British appetites for years as a television chef. He also has bestial appetites on his mind: He has appeared on the telly hawking dog food.
Sophie Freud, 66, has had an illustrious career as a therapist and professor at Simmons College in Boston. And, though she has never undergone psychoanalysis, she publicly analyzed herself in a 1988 book called My Three Mothers and Other Passions. She is a feminist, and as if in answer to her grandfather, who asked in exasperation ”What do women want?” she has always known what she wants and has obtained it. She divorced her husband after 40 years and moved to Vienna for a time, despite the protests of relatives who have shunned the city since the Nazi horrors. But Sophie Freud has one fantasy that she has so far failed to act out: She wants to dispense psychological advice on the radio or in a column. ”I envy Dr. Ruth!” she confesses.
Rose Boyt, 31, has a first novel, Sexual Intercourse, coming out in America this month. It describes a girl’s despair over her father’s inability to love her; Boyt swears it isn’t based on any complex, Electra or otherwise, about her own father, whom she barely knew until she was 19. The novel, however, seems steeped in Great-Grandfather Freud’s theories. Dreams thicken the plot. The characters have a good neurotic time contemplating their bodily secretions. A mother and son keep up both ends of an Oedipus complex. And a daughter masturbates to images of her bearded father.
Matthew Freud, 26, is not averse to letting an occasional secret into the open. His PR firm once sent out a Christmas card asking, ”Which of our clients did not pay his/her bill this year?” and offered three answers. One of the listed promptly sued — successfully. Matthew, Freud’s great-grandson, clearly aware of the significance of infantile impulses, admitted on the stand that the card, which said it hailed from ”the people who brought you the Beaujolais Nouveau-flavored condom,” was ”a little childish.”
Whereas Sigmund got people to talk about themselves on a couch, his great-granddaughter, Emma Freud, 28, got them talking about themselves in a bed — hers — on TV. On Pillow Talk, which ran for 18 months and led to a dream-come-true radio and TV career as an interviewer, Emma invited former members of Parliament, rock stars, and even madams to put on pajamas and bare their psyches while lying alongside her under the covers. And the remarkable thing, as in the case of Sigmund, is that they did, quite vividly. One heavy-metal pop star started the interview on his side of the bed but by the end had chased Emma to the edge of hers.