Brenda Webster's new novel, "Vienna Triangle," offers a fascinating glimpse into the origins of the psychoanalytic movement. She explores some of the most brilliant members of Sigmund Freud's inner circle of disciples, especially Viktor Tausk, whose tragic and unexpected suicide in 1918 continues to generate controversy among Freud's defenders and critics. Webster, who has published several acclaimed literary studies, novels and memoirs, including "The Last Good Freudian" (2000), combines her impressive knowledge of Freudian theory with a novelist's intuitive understanding of character and point of view.
The novel's sympathetic heroine, Kate, is a 28-year old woman who is pursuing a graduate degree in psychology at Columbia and writing her dissertation on the early female psychoanalysts. As the story opens in the turbulent late 1960s, she meets an elderly Polish woman, Helene Rosenbach, who turns out to be Helene Deutsch, one of the most influential of the early Freudian psychoanalysts, famous (or infamous) for her theory of "penis envy" and women's innate masochism. While conducting her research, Kate makes an astonishing personal discovery, which she shares with Deutsch: Kate's mysterious grandfather, about whom her mother never talks, turns out to be Tausk. Part of the novel's achievement is that Kate's research into the early history of psychoanalysis parallels her deepening understanding of her own origins.
No less than Kate, Webster has done her homework in researching historical psychoanalysts. We learn a great deal about the unstable Tausk, who had a deeply ambivalent relationship with Freud, as well as Freud himself, who despite his "heroic" self-analysis, comes across as a man who often borrowed others' ideas without acknowledgment, and who tolerated no dissent from his followers. We also learn about Lou Andreas-Salomé, who was infatuated not only with Freud but also with Nietzsche and Rilke.
Causes Brenda Webster Supports
Doctors Without Borders
The Nature Conservancy
Women Support Women