The main sources of this are:
· scenes in which Bertha, in a regressed state, experiences episodes of what Freud was later to call 'polymorphous perversity';
· the way in which Bertha's illness waxes and wanes for no obvious reason;
· the ending, for which I had envisaged an alternative scenario to the rumour spread about later by Freud, to the effect that after Breuer terminated her treatment, Bertha experienced a hysterical childbirth.
One of the reasons for my surprise at readers' incomprehension was that my MA tutor had sometimes commented on my tendency to overstatement, leaving little for the reader to infer, and a lack of subtext. Had I now overcompensated, producing a narrative that was too opaque?
Another comment was that it was difficult to categorise. 'I don't know what kind of person I would recommend it to,' one of my readers said. 'It's difficult to say what genre it is.'
An article in the current issue of Mslexia discusses a genre I'd never heard of - lit lite. It goes on to define this as 'a broad genre of entertaining well-written novels with mind-broadening content, likely to appeal to book groups'. It gives as examples The Love Song by Andrea Levy and The Help by Kathryn Stockett, both of them with narratives revelatory of the time and place in which they're set. This could be an answer to my reader's question about genre. A.k.a. Anna O provides insight into the social and cultural climate of late 19th century Vienna and the early days of psychoanalytic thought.
It could also be classified as a novel of ideas. I've just come across a definition of this genre by David Barash who writes that a novel of ideas 'must broach one or more intellectual questions or debates that persist beyond the confines of the novel itself'. In the case of Bertha Pappenheim, the questions I focus on are:
· Hysteria: its nature (or even existence), and misdiagnosis in the case of neurological disorders ill-understood
· Transference: the phenomenology of the patient-therapist relationship
· The published case history of Bertha Pappenheim: its scientific and historical validity.
As such, A.k.a. Anna O should appeal to psychotherapy professionals and people who are familiar with the theories developed together by Breuer and Freud. But I want its interest to persist not only beyond the confines of the novel, but beyond the confines of a narrow niche readership. So now I have to go back to the drawing board and try to make it more comprehensible to the general reader.
It did occur to me that the confused reactions were somehow apt. After all, this was how both Breuer and Bertha herself must have felt in the face of her symptoms. I know, of course, that I can't expect readers to be satisfied with this. As Tom Clancy has pointed out: 'The difference between fiction and reality is that fiction has to make sense.'