Guises of Desire – Hilda Reilly Talks About Her Novel – And A Giveaway

ANNOUNCEMENT:  The GUISES OF DESIRE giveaway has been won by Edith.  Congratulations Edith.  Anyone who wanted to read the book and didn’t win, please remember that it’s readily available to buy at the buy links posted below.  Thanks for entering the draw.

I’m very happy to welcome Hilda Reilly to MBB today.  Hilda has created a work of historical fiction, beautifully written and exhaustively researched, about Bertha Pappenheim, who may be called ‘the founding patient of psychoanalysis’.  To write this book, Hilda has literally gone back in time and  recreated the world of 19th century Vienna, the world of a young Jewish woman from a well to do family, whose case became the subject of research which gave rise to theories about psychanalysis which have persisted practically up to the present day.  The unfortunate woman was diagnosed as suffering from ‘hysteria’, a disease which doesn’t even exist.  She seems to have been suffering from a combination of addiction to sleep medication (which she used when nursing her father, a tuberculosis patient,  through the night) and a possible neurological complaint. Unfortunately, little or nothing was known of such conditions at the time.  Hilda has come to tell us about how she came to write the book and has also provided some interesting web links which can help readers to learn more about Bertha and her world.  Instead of using my usual questions and answers format, I’m just going to sit back and let Hilda tell us all about it.


Like many writers, I’ve done a number of different jobs and lived all over the world – well, France, Zanzibar, Malaysia, Vietnam, Sudan, Palestine and England, in addition to my home country, Scotland. This peripatetic life probably came about because I was brought up to be a wife and mother (we’re talking about the 1950s and 60s) rather than a career woman, so when neither marriage nor motherhood materialized I sought adventure elsewhere.
Two of my books are travel books, one about Sudan (Seeking Sanctuary: Journeys to Sudan) and the other about Palestine (Prickly Pears of Palestine), written while I was living in those countries.  But today I’d like to talk more about my latest book, Guises of Desire, which is a biographical novel based on the life of Bertha Pappenheim (also known as Anna O) whose case is the first one described in Studies in Hysteria, published by Sigmund Freud and Josef Breuer in 1895

I first got the idea for writing it when I was doing a Masters in Consciousness and Transpersonal Psychology and I became interested in things like hysteria and hypnosis. It seemed to me that, like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Gulf War Syndrome today, there was probably a lot more to hysteria than met the eye of those 19th century doctors who used it as a kind of catch-all term for conditions which they couldn’t get to the bottom of.  Then when I started to research the case of Bertha Pappenheim I got the impression that her symptoms clearly indicated several possible neurological disorders, although those would not necessarily have been recognized by doctors at the time. As I discovered more of Bertha Pappenheim’s history – her upbringing in an Orthodox Jewish family in late 19th century Vienna, her illness and treatment, and finally her outstandingly successful career as a Jewish feminist, writer, and pioneering social worker in Germany – I felt her story would make a fascinating novel. I also thought it would be a fascinating subject to research, as indeed it has been.  

In the past I’ve tended to read non-fiction books such as biography, travel, personal experiences and so on, so when I decided to write a novel I thought it would be a good idea to do a Masters in Creative Writing to help me learn more about the nuts and bolts of fiction writing. I was lucky enough to be accepted for the MA at Lancaster University in the UK. Their course really suited me because its structure allows the student to work exclusively on their own project for the entirety of the course. So as regards my writing routine it wasn’t difficult to discipline myself as I had regular dates by which I had to submit work to my tutor or for workshop critiques with other students.

I’m planning on writing further novels based on cases from the early history of psychoanalysis. I’m just surprised that this kind of thing hasn’t been done before, apart from the odd film or play, as there’s such a rich mine of stories to be explored there. I also feel that it’s important to try to investigate these stories from the perspective of the patient as their case histories, as published by Freud, inevitably have a bias which is both male and medical. I’m still at the initial research stage for this and haven’t started writing yet – but watch this space!

Thank you Hilda for sharing with us.  As a reader I can say that I enjoyed GUISES OF DESIRE tremendously.  It is a wonderful read and even though the subject matter may sound a little grim, I can assure you that the book is what I would consider a fascinating and worthwhile read.

Readers, Hilda has very kindly agreed to give away a Kindle copy of GUISES OF DESIRE to one lucky commenter, so please leave a comment before you leave to be included in the draw.


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GUISES OF DESIRE  Resource Links


Vienna 1880. A wealthy young Jewish woman, Bertha Pappenheim, falls ill, manifesting a series of bizarre symptoms. Diagnosis hysteria. Her doctor, Josef Breuer, treats her with hypnosis and a new form of therapy called the ‘talking cure’. 

Some of her symptoms abate. At the same time the treatment arouses in Bertha a turmoil of primal emotions which spiral out of control and ultimately lead to the breakdown of her relationship with her doctor. 

A vividly imagined account of the case of Bertha Pappenheim – the ‘Anna O’ whose treatment formed the basis of Freudian psychoanalysis – Guises of Desire presents the story of a young woman’s struggle to survive a repressive upbringing, neurological disorders, drug addiction and a pathological attachment to the doctor who misdiagnosed her.


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38 Replies to “Guises of Desire – Hilda Reilly Talks About Her Novel – And A Giveaway”

  1. I came over cos I won a book and am totally excited but then got caught up reading about this! How utterly fascinating!! Hysteria is such an incredible phenomenom isn't it?! These poor women!! Bertha Pappenheim sounds utterly amazing too! The fact that she became this incredible writer and pioneer for women's rights after such a condition is even more remarkable! All the best with your book, Hilda! Take care


  2. Hi Hilda, Hi Maria,

    I started reading Guises Of Desire last night and was hooked.

    Congratulations on the release Hilda. It is definitely a different subject and interesting to read.

    Thanks Maria!


  3. This sounds absolutely fascinating, and yes it is amazing that no one has considered this as a theme before now. I studied a little about Freud and was both fascinated and horrified in equal measure at his treatment, and dismissal, of his female patients. Would love to read your novel!


  4. You're right, Edith. For all Freud's talk about the nature of the human psyche, he was surprisingly limited in his understanding of women. One of my reviewers, a psychiatrist, wrote: “As a psychiatrist and admirer of Freud, I have always been struck by the fatuousness of his remark about “not knowing what women want”. But he was of course deeply rooted in his time. The life of Bertha Pappenheim makes clear that what women wanted was equal opportunity with men. They still do.”


  5. Terrible things happened to people (mainly women it seems) whose behaviour couldn't be explained by doctors. I've read of cases where women were locked up as mad when they'd probably had breakdowns or were suffering from post natal depression.


  6. Hi Hilda, I shall have to buy it now. An intriguing blog about a black bit of our past. Past cultures thousands of years ago understood more about mental states than we did 100 to 150 years ago. Much the same applied to physical medicine as well of course.
    Well done.


  7. I agree. The trouble with doctors, certainly at that time, was that they didn't like to admit to ignorance and had to stick a label on patients no matter what. Some of the treatments they devised only made things worse, such as the 'rest cure' imposed by the American doctor Weir Mitchell on women already demented by the frustration of not being able to access a satisfying intellectual or working life.


  8. That's true. I think, though, that Bertha Pappenheim was relatively lucky with her doctor, Josef Breuer, who seems not to have been so rigid in his thinking as Freud. I've looked at a number of Freud's cases and found that his treatment of the patients and the way he diagnosed them falls nothing short of abuse. There's an illuminating series of articles on Psychology Today by Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen about some of Freud's patients. Here is the link to the one about Bertha Pappenheim. From there you can find the others.


  9. Hi Maria and Hilda! Hilda, your book sounds fascinating. What an interesting topic and time period! I love historicals, and reading about your book reminded me a little bit of the movie A Dangerous Method.


  10. Yes, I suppose they have much in common as they both 'narrativise' an intriguing set of dynamics between doctor and patient. I saw A Dangerous Method recently but for me it was spoiled by the over-acting of Keira Knightly. Otherwise, it's a fascinating story.


  11. Thanks for dropping by, Teresa. It's just occurred to me that another source of inspiration for me in writing the novel was the work of Oliver Sacks. He'd have loved to meet Bertha Pappenheim. I wonder what he would have made of her.


  12. Edith, I've just seen that my reply to you went to the wrong person. Here is what I said:
    You're right, Edith. For all Freud's talk about the nature of the human psyche, he was surprisingly limited in his understanding of women. One of my reviewers, a psychiatrist, wrote: “As a psychiatrist and admirer of Freud, I have always been struck by the fatuousness of his remark about “not knowing what women want”. But he was of course deeply rooted in his time. The life of Bertha Pappenheim makes clear that what women wanted was equal opportunity with men. They still do.”


  13. I'm glad you like the cover, Cherie. The nude is a Klimt sketch. I like the overlay of the two images (the other being a real photo of Bertha) because it conveys the idea of both transformation and liberation. If you'd like to find out about my thinking behind the cover you can read about it in my blog post More Title Thoughts on my Bertha Pappenheim website at


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