Jacqueline Rose

Jacqueline Rose’s On Violence and On Violence against Women is due next year.

To Die One’s Own Death

Jacqueline Rose, 19 November 2020

What is left of the inner life when the world turns more cruel, or appears to turn more cruel, than ever before? When it reels from inflicted blows – pandemic, war, starvation, climate devastation or all these together – what happens to the fabric of the mind? Is its only option defensive – to batten down the hatches, to haul up the drawbridge, or simply to survive? And does that leave room to grieve, not just for those who have been lost, but for the broken pieces and muddled fragments that make us who we are? Barely six months after the outbreak of the First World War, on Christmas Day 1914, Freud wrote to Ernest Jones to lament that the psychoanalytic movement ‘is now perishing in the strife of nations’ (the two men were on opposite sides in the war). ‘I do not delude myself,’ he wrote. ‘The springtime of our science has abruptly broken off . . . all we can do is to keep the fire flickering in a few hearths, until a more favourable wind makes it possible to light it again to full blaze.’ At a time of pandemic like the one we are living in today, is there room for anything like the complex reckoning with life and with death that is the unique domain of psychoanalysis?

Pointing the Finger: ‘The Plague’

Jacqueline Rose, 7 May 2020

Ever since​ the arrival of Covid-19 – in Western Europe, roughly at the end of January – sales of Albert Camus’s The Plague, first published in 1947, have increased exponentially, an upsurge strangely in line with the graphs that daily chart the toll of the sick and the dead. By the end of March, monthly sales of the UK Penguin Classics edition had grown from the low...

There is a risk in recounting these stories. To describe what is being done to these women may seem to reinforce their status as victims, embedding them further in an unjust world with no – or only a forced, one-way – exit. Yet not to do so is to be complicit with the women’s invisibility, to cultivate the ‘cultural production of ignorance’ which helps keep national identity in place. Strange undercurrents of fascination pulse through the worst stories of our time. Think of the images of the little girl wailing at the US border; or of three-year-old Alan Kurdi cradled in the arms of the stricken man who in September 2015 discovered his body washed up on a Turkish beach. Or the image of Oscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his daughter, not yet two years old, drowned as they tried to cross into the US. The Guardian headlined one of its reports about Alan Kurdi: ‘Shocking images of drowned Syrian boy show tragic plight of refugees.’ ‘Tragic’ and ‘plight’ should give us pause: they make the agony timeless, turn the drowned child into an object of raw pity, obfuscate the human agency, historical choices and wilful political decisions that lead to such outcomes.

Where is trauma meant to lodge itself when the mind, like the body, in shreds or shot to pieces, is no longer anything that might remotely be called home? The very persistence of horror in South Africa tells us that thinking about trauma in relation to language, circling endlessly around the question of whether or not it can be spoken, which has tended to dominate academic discourse, is not enough.

I am a knife: A Woman’s Agency

Jacqueline Rose, 22 February 2018

Reading the stories of sexual harassment both here and in the US, I have started to feel that all the attention has served not only to bolster the urgent call for a better world but, oddly and at the same time, as a diversionary tactic to help us avoid having to think about sex. Or, to put it another way, if harassment and sexual violence are, as a certain version of radical feminism would have it, the whole story of human sexuality, then we may as well lock the door on who we are and throw away the key. How can we acknowledge the viciousness of sexual harassment while leaving open the question of what sexuality at its wildest – most harmful and most exhilarating, sometimes both together – might be?

From the Inside out: Eimear McBride

Jacqueline Rose, 22 September 2016

The Lesser Bohemians, McBride’s second novel, sets itself a challenge: how on earth does anyone ever manage to talk to somebody else? How close in language can, or should, you try to get? The issues of sexual, and of linguistic, proximity turn out to be one and the same thing. McBride has said that in writing and rewriting the novel, she was most worried about the representation of sex: ‘Actually,’ she then qualifies, ‘it was really about trying to maintain the connection between the inner life and the physical life.’ What makes this novel so powerful is the way she jams the bodies into the speech.

Today, trans people – men, women, neither, both – are taking the public stage more than ever before. In the words of a Time magazine cover story in June last year, trans is ‘America’s next civil rights frontier’. Perhaps, even though it doesn’t always look this way on the ground, trans activists will also – just – be in a position to advance what so often seems impossible: a political movement that tells it how it uniquely is, without separating one struggle for equality and human dignity from all the rest.

Bantu in the Bathroom

Jacqueline Rose, 19 November 2015

On 3 March 2014, the first day in the trial of Oscar Pistorius for the killing of Reeva Steenkamp, Judge Thokozile Matilda Masipa made her way across courtroom GD at North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria slowly and haltingly. She suffers from severe arthritis and for the duration of the trial she sat on an orthopaedic chair, much smaller than the vast leather seats of the two assessors on either side. Judge Masipa’s entry couldn’t have been more different from that of the defendant she was there to judge. According to one observer, Pistorius ‘strode’ up to the dock.

Corkscrew in the Neck: Bad Summer Reading

Jacqueline Rose, 10 September 2015

There seems​ to be something about having the word ‘girl’ in the title of a book that guarantees huge sales. First, Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn, which I – like many readers, I assume – couldn’t put down, but which on reflection I found deeply repellent (more than one or two critics have concurred). Apparently the film is even worse, as in, even more misogynist,...

At the Donmar

Jacqueline Rose, 4 December 2014

In the latest Coors Light Ice Bar cinema advertisement, Jean-Claude Van Damme slices through enormous ice blocks with his bare hands and shatters them with a single thrust of his legs. Perhaps it was because I saw the ad within 24 hours of Phyllida Lloyd’s extraordinary all-female production of Shakespeare’s Henry IV, which ends its sell-out London run on 29 November, that the...


Jacqueline Rose, 19 June 2014

Matilda the Musical, adapted from Roald Dahl, opens with what might be described as the paradox of maternal recognition. A troupe of hideously grimacing children sing ‘My Mummy says I’m a miracle’ in such a way as to suggest that they are monsters while Matilda, who really is miraculous in that she has magic powers, fails to be recognised by her parents. Her mother, unaware that she was pregnant until very near the point of delivery, neither wanted a baby nor knew what to do with one; her father was expecting a boy (he persists in calling Matilda ‘boy’ till almost the end of the play).

Short Cuts: My Evening with Farage

Jacqueline Rose, 24 October 2013

I dreamed I was at an event to remember Frank Kermode and then found myself in the dark basement of a London restaurant, or rather a deep cellar adjoining a basement in which some kind of political party seemed to be taking place. Although it was hard to see and even harder to hear, the figure of Nigel Farage could be glimpsed standing in a corner at the far side of the gathering. For some...

She was luminous – on that much everyone seems to agree. Hers is not the flawless matt beauty of Dietrich or Garbo. She is, as one might say, more curvy – I am of course referring to her face, on which, unlike Dietrich, Garbo or indeed Elizabeth Taylor (whom she saw as a rival), there isn’t a single straight line. There is no flattening wash over this face. Even Laurence Olivier, who mostly couldn’t stand her, had to concede that every time she appears in The Prince and the Showgirl, she lights up the scene (the cinematographer Jack Cardiff said that she glowed).

On the occasion of the publication of a reader of her work by Duke University Press and of this essay, Paul Myerscough interviewed Jacqueline Rose in front of an audience at the London Review Bookshop. An audio recording of the interview can be found here.

We live in revolutionary times. I cannot imagine now what it would have been like to be thinking about Rosa Luxemburg if the revolutions...

Memories of Frank Kermode

Stefan Collini, Karl Miller, Adam Phillips, Jacqueline Rose, James Wood, Michael Wood and Wynne Godley, 23 September 2010

Stefan Collini writes: ‘Yes, I’d like that very much. That really would be something to look forward to.’ Frank was already weakened and wasted by throat cancer, but my suggestion that we go to watch some cricket at Fenner’s did seem genuinely to appeal to him. There wasn’t much to look forward to by this point. On the appointed day the weather was kind, and...

For Tony Judt

What is a collective passion? And is it something we should want, or get excited about? Today the political climate across the Western world is marked, we are told, by a curious and disabling atrophy or disaffection. We do not care enough. The election of Obama would be the exception. His election was of course inspirational, notably in terms of collective life: the mass...

A Piece of White Silk: Honour Killing

Jacqueline Rose, 5 November 2009

Simply by opening the question, widening the gap between potentiality and history, between the inner message of a faith and a religion in the vice of political power, or more simply between a text and its interpretation, you make it impossible to lay the worst – and honour killing has a fair claim to be described as the worst – at Islam’s door. Such forms of questioning, at which of course feminism excels, have always been the strongest riposte to the brute conviction of any power or law.

The Iron Rule: Bernhard Schlink’s Guilt

Jacqueline Rose, 31 July 2008

Towards the end of Bernhard Schlink’s best-known novel, The Reader, the narrator is pondering his future after taking his state exam in law. He has just seen his former lover, Hanna Schmitz, convicted of war crimes: she had been a concentration camp guard, something he hadn’t known when she seduced him as a 15-year-old boy. None of the roles he saw played out in court appeals to him: ‘Prosecution seemed to me as grotesque a simplification as defence, and judging was the most grotesque oversimplification of all.’ He has lost his belief in post-Enlightenment law as enacting a gradual but steady progress towards ‘greater beauty and truth, rationality and humanity, despite terrible setbacks and retreats’. Now the law seems to him more like Odysseus’ journey – a process that endlessly circles back to its original starting point only to set off again. In this reading, the Odyssey is a story of motion, at once successful and futile, driven and without aim: ‘What else is the history of law?’

Whether or not it will actually happen, it seems clear that America is planning its next global intervention on behalf of the new century to be in Iran. As with Iraq, the ostensible motive or pretext will be disarmament. Despite the catastrophe of the Iraqi adventure, the United States government has not wavered in its belief that the question of which countries, or rather which rulers, have...

Entryism: ‘Specimen Days’

Jacqueline Rose, 22 September 2005

At the centre of Michael Cunningham’s new novel, in the second of its three tales, Cat, a black woman police investigator in New York, has the job of receiving and recording the calls of people threatening to blow themselves and others to pieces. Only because these deranged stories have become too familiar does she miss the one who really means it, a young boy, who, without forewarning or apparent motive, goes up to a stranger in Central Park, embraces him and explodes. He is part of a cell, or ‘family’, of drifting boys taken up by an old woman who goes by the name of Walt Whitman – whose poetry they all cite and whose vision they share. ‘Nobody really dies. We go into the grass. We go into the trees.’ ‘Of your real body and any man’s or woman’s real body,’ Whitman wrote in ‘Starting from Paumanok’, ‘Item for item it will elude the hands of the corpse-cleaners, and/pass to fitting spheres.’ No doubt with his mind partly on 9/11, but with striking resonance for London this July, Cunningham brings suicide bombing, via Whitman, who haunts all three stories, into the visionary heart of America.

Deadly Embrace: suicide bombers

Jacqueline Rose, 4 November 2004

“On the one hand, suicide bombers are beyond understanding. On the other, the mind of Islam can be uncovered in its most intimate detail. Reuter opens his book by asking: what motivates a suicide bomber? Or rather: what ‘kind of people’ are they? He knows there is no answer. Suicide bombers are not a species. He also knows that the question is loaded. If suicide attacks are political, they call for a political response. If they stem from ‘perversity’, then the perpetrators can be treated as a ‘criminal sect’, to be isolated, arrested, suppressed. Behind the argument that suicide bombers should not, or cannot, be understood lies a subtext of dehumanisation.”

Ever since the fall of Baghdad, when looters went rampaging through the city, a centuries-old assumption about ‘the people’ has lurked, barely spoken, beneath the ghastly aftermath of the war. It is that the people, meaning ‘people en masse’, are incapable of restraining themselves. In the case of Iraq, two further assumptions are in play. First, people freed from the...

Failed State: David Grossman

Jacqueline Rose, 18 March 2004

In David Grossman’s 1998 novel, Be My Knife, an antiquarian book-dealer starts a passionate correspondence with a woman whom he has barely caught sight of across a room. The unlikely circumstances of their relationship, its unusual fusion of intimacy and distance, allow them to say, or rather write, things which neither of them has ever admitted before. Lost to each other and...

‘This is not a biography’: Sylvia Plath

Jacqueline Rose, 22 August 2002

Biography loves Sylvia Plath. When I ask students what they know of Plath, they almost invariably reply that she killed herself and was married to Ted Hughes. Occasionally they run these two snippets together as if the second were, in some mysterious and not wholly formulated way, related to the first; as if together they add up to something that leaves nothing more to be said. I watch this story shut down around her, clamping her writing into its hollow wooden frame. Death and marriage may have fed and fuelled her writing, but – posthumously at least – they cramp her style.

Go girl: the intimate geography of women

Jacqueline Rose, 30 September 1999

The language of survival has always been fundamental to feminism. Germaine Greer seems to be convinced that the species is heading for extinction. (Some time ago, in an article in the Observer, she envisaged a time ‘when, far in the future, the human race has exterminated itself.’) For a time, Adrienne Rich believed that what was destroying itself was patriarchy: ‘The creative energy of patriarchy is fast running out,’ she wrote in 1971, ‘what remains is its self-generating energy for destruction’ (‘When We Dead Awaken’). Women’s task in advancing its end was simple, brutal and clear: ‘As women, we have our work cut out for us.’‘

The Cult of Celebrity

Jacqueline Rose, 20 August 1998

A passion for celebrity is not something one is meant to talk about. There are worlds, or rather circles, where, if you do, it is assumed that what you are really claiming for yourself is a type of intellectual slumming. If, for example, you admit to or even boast of reading Hello! magazine, an addiction to which I happily confess, reading Hello! could not possibly be what you are really boasting about. ‘Is it true that you read Hello!?’ I am sometimes asked in disbelief – an appropriate enough wording, ‘is it true?’, since celebrity depends for its existence on hearsay, innuendo and gossip (although what is distinctive about Hello! is that it doesn’t, or not quite). Admitting to a passion for celebrity, it seems, is like flaunting a shameful secret. So there might be an intimate, even passionate, connection between the cult of celebrity and shame.

Smashing the Teapots

Jacqueline Rose, 23 January 1997

One of the strangest things Virginia Woolf ever did was to travel with Leonard to Germany for part of their annual holiday in April 1935. The vigour of German anti-semitism was by this point clear and Hitler’s power and at least some of his worst intentions towards Britain were recorded by Woolf in her diaries (‘There is some reason I suppose to expect that Oxford Street will be flooded with poison gas one of these days’). But it wasn’t uncharacteristic of her to make light of danger. Although in many ways her life seems closeted, guarding its safety till the last, Virginia Woolf took risks with herself. Five years later, caught in an air-raid with Ben Nicolson, who sagely threw himself to the ground, she stood still and lifted her arms to the sky. More sinisterly, caught in the middle of a flag-waving crowd of Nazi supporters shouting ‘Heil Hitler’ in the course of the trip to Germany, she had raised her arm in salute.

Undone, Defiled, Defaced

Jacqueline Rose, 19 October 1995

One of the problems for right-wing promoters of ideal family life is that there is no way of predicting its outcome. It is as if those who confidently assert that absent fathers spell delinquency for the children, inadequate mothers addiction, divorce an incapacity to hold onto relationships or to love in a sustained way, never stop to ask why it is that the most stable and long-lasting of family unions can produce offspring who run wild, turn to drugs, contract out of loving, who seem, often perversely and inexplicably, to be committed to the most extreme forms of gratifying and/or punishing themselves. The union of Frances Polidori and Gabriele Rossetti, parents to Maria, William, Gabriel and Christina Rossetti, was by all accounts harmonious, affectionate, enduring. Eccentric, not without drama (he was a poet and revolutionary in exile from Italy), it nonetheless offered in terms of devotion, engagement and cultural stimulation a model that might still pass today as a middle-class ideal of what the family should give a child. And yet of the four children, only William was able to enter, let alone sustain, an attachment even vaguely resembling that of his parents. Maria became a nun, Gabriel the painter and poet descended, after the suicide of his wife, into drugs and breakdown, Christina the poetess lived as an ascetic, her religious devotion powerless to assuage the self-loathing which seems to have dominated so much of her adult life. (According to more than one account, she died raving at her own perdition.) ‘Why, one wonders,’ as Jan Marsh puts it, ‘did the four siblings have such difficulties when their parents’ marriage was so happy?’ And on the diametrically opposed nature of Maria and Christina’s religious experience (respectively utmost contentment and utmost pain): ‘Why two sisters, growing up in the same environment, should respond so differently to the same religious influences is a question not easily answered.’ This is a biography which often has recourse to such questions, and it is at its best, as in these examples, when it is least certain about the answer.

Jacqueline Rose writes: Neil Foxlee takes issue with my use of Stuart Gilbert’s 1948 translation of Camus’s The Plague, which for half a century was the only version of the novel available in English. Like him, I criticise this version at several points but missed, as he points out, the mistrans­lation of the man in the dock in Tarrou’s monologue as a ‘yellow owl’...


4 May 2016

It is unclear who is being addressed in Beatrix Campbell’s second letter on trans. Rachael Padman, Jay Prosser and myself have all stated that we do not condone no-platforming as general policy. Nor is it clear why she sees this as the most important issue to pursue in her engagement with trans. That trans people might feel defensive about what is said about them surely needs to be understood...
It is true, as Yisrael Medad points out, that Marilyn Monroe’s conversion to Judaism was undertaken with the utmost seriousness and never repudiated, even after her divorce from Arthur Miller (Letters, 24 May). Rabbi Goldburg, writing in Reform Judaism, sees her attachment to Judaism as a rejection of the fundamentalist Protestantism she had experienced as a child, in favour of what she saw as...
Peter Hudis argues that Lenin did not want to destroy Rosa Luxemburg’s text ‘The Russian Revolution’, and that the remark was a joke – not a very funny one – on the part of her former lover Leo Jogiches (Letters, 14 July). Luxemburg’s biographer Elzbieta Ettinger states clearly that, even if it did not originate with Lenin himself, the instruction to destroy the...

Bombers not Martyrs

4 November 2004

Ben Yosef did not kill Arabs when he shot at their bus with the intent to do so. Although the account of what happened is contested, the statement that he did kill people, which I cited in my review, does appear to be incorrect, as Avril Mailer points out. However, other attacks by Etzel or Irgun were more successful. The mythology surrounding Ben Yosef arose from his dedication to his violent cause,...

Failed State?

18 March 2004

Edward Luttwak questions the description of Israel as a ‘failed state’ on the grounds of its GDP per capita and its scientific and cultural accomplishments, and suggests that Israel’s main achievement has been to restore the morale of Jews worldwide ‘by winning its wars and battles against all comers’ (Letters, 15 April). He assumes that anyone challenging this view would...

Boris Johnson’s japes are comparable in neutralising effect to the softening charm of Tony Blair. How can such a matey, blokey person, ‘someone you could have a pint with’, possess darker,...

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‘Profonde Albertine’, the narrator writes close to the end of Proust’s novel. By ‘deep’ – profonde – he means ‘unreachable’. She was mostly...

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Jacqueline Rose has written a timely and courageous book. One immediate sign of this is its dedication to the late Edward Said, and its rewriting of the title of one of his most important books,

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There are good reasons, and a few bad ones, for lifting minor characters out of famous texts and putting them centre-stage. One bad reason might be that refiguring a large reputation quietly...

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Terry Eagleton, 20 June 1996

In the days of F.R. Leavis, English literary criticism was wary of overseas, a place saddled with effete, Latinate languages without pith or vigour. Proust is relegated to a lofty footnote in...

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Slick Chick

Elaine Showalter, 11 July 1991

We all know the story. A brilliant, neurotic young American woman poet, studying on a fellowship at Cambridge, meets and marries the ‘black marauder’ who is the male poet-muse of her...

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