In the membership roll of the worshipful guild of enabling wives, the name of Martha Freud ranks with the greatest: Mrs Noah, Mrs Darwin, Mrs Marx, Mrs Joyce, Mrs Nabokov, Mrs Clinton, and their honorary fellows, Mr Woolf and Mr Cookson. Wives, of either sex, are what keep the universe orderly and quiet enough for the great to think their thoughts, complete their travels, write their books and change the world. Martha Freud was a paragon among wives. There is nothing more liberating from domestic drudgery and the guilt that comes of avoiding it than having a cleaning lady who loves cleaning, a child-carer who's content with child-care, a homebody who wants nothing more than to be at home. And Martha Freud was all those things. Quite why she was those things is something that her husband might have been the very person to investigate, but Freud was nobody's fool and knew when to leave well alone in the murkier regions of his personal life - especially that dark continent in his mind concerning women. Freud mentioned in passing in a letter to his friend Wilhelm Fleiss (to whom he wrote that no woman had ever replaced the male comrade in his life), that at the age of 34, after the birth of her sixth child in eight years, Martha was suffering from writer's block. Impossible to imagine why. But like other mysteries about Martha's life, this new biography does not (or perhaps cannot because some of the source material remains unavailable) elaborate on what she might have been trying to write. A shopping list, I expect. Unless it was that book about interesting new ways she had thought of for interpreting her dreams, which she worked on in those odd moments when the children weren't down with chickenpox or needing their stockings mended.
LRB 23 March 2006 | PDF Download