Object of the Month: February

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

The lavishly decorated edition of Charles Dickens’ novel David Copperfield (1850 edition) was a gift from Sigmund to Martha and the result of the “philopena” custom. While Martha was visiting Freud’s mother and sisters in 1882, she and Sigmund had found an almond with a double kernel – a “philopena” – in the garden. In this game, a couple making such a discovery together is obliged to send each other a little “philopena greeting” as soon as possible – and if possible to be the first to do so – or, as in this case, to give the other person a small gift. Martha’s philopena tribute to Sigmund was a home-baked cake, while Sigmund sent her this beautifully illustrated book in English, much to Martha’s delight: “[…] Now you have beaten me to it after all, and with such a rich, splendid and yet clever gift. You have put me to shame, surprised and delighted me tremendously. […]”. (Letter of 11 June 1882, Martha to Sigmund)

Subsequent letters exchanged by the lovers feature frequent mentions of Martha’s reading and Charles Dickens. Shortly after receiving the gift, for example, Martha writes, “[…] I will see the sea and read David Copperfield this summer.” (Letter of 14 June 1882, Martha to Sigmund), and Sigmund encourages his fiancée to read in English: “[…] Perhaps you cannot read enough English and you will ask me to read an English book with you. […]” (30 June 1882, Sigmund to Martha). Such a meeting apparently did take place, with Martha recalling in 1884: “[…] I have fond quiet memories of how we two read it together last winter, how at first you always imitated me with a very squeaky voice, not at all like how I speak, and then so kindly explained everything to me, insisting that I translate everything properly word by word. […]” (Letter 4 February 1884, Martha to Sigmund). Indeed, the correspondence between Martha and Sigmund contains a lively exchange on literature, that played an important role in their leisure activities. A keen reader of Dickens, Freud often recommended books to his fiancée that he had just read, and both shared their thoughts about the plots and characters of the works they were reading. Along with Cervantes and other great writers, Charles Dickens’s works were among their preferred reading, with frequent references to “Copperfield”: “[…] Today I began reading “Memoir of Charles Dickens”, that is very interesting; he seems to have really woven part of his own youth into ‘Copperfield’. [...]” (Letter 9/1/1884, Martha to Sigmund)

The book itself contains the owner’s name in ink “Martha B.” along with the year 1882, with a ballpoint dedication by Martha from a later date: “My dear Tony, I am sending you this book, that was the first gift I received from my fiancé, London, 1 Sept. 1947.” Through W. Ernest Freud, the book returned to Vienna and has since been part of the collection of the Sigmund Freud Private Foundation.

Quotations from letters from: G. Fichtner et al. (ed.), Die Brautbriefe vol. 1–3, Frankfurt: S. Fischer 2011˗2015.
 
 
Photos (c) Sigmund Freud Foundation

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Currently closed.

Open every day (Monday – Sunday)
10.00 a.m. – 6.00 p.m.

Arrival

Address:

Berggasse 19
1090 Vienna
Austria

Subway:

U2 Schottentor, U4 Roßauer Lände

Tram:

D Schlickgasse, 37, 38, 40, 41, 42 Schwarzspanierstraße

Bus:

40 A Berggasse