Angering and Agitating

Christopher Turner

  • Freud’s Wizard: The Enigma of Ernest Jones by Brenda Maddox
    Murray, 354 pp, £25.00, September 2006, ISBN 0 7195 6792 0

The Welsh psychoanalyst Ernest Jones, known for his three-volume hagiography of Freud, was also the author of a book on figure skating. The New York Psychoanalytic Institute owns a dusty copy, which is illustrated with drawings of the elegant squiggles skaters were supposed to leave on the ice: ‘Only in a certain type of dream,’ Jones wrote, offering a clue to his other area of expertise, ‘do we ever else attain a higher degree of the same ravishing experience of exultantly skiing the earth.’ It’s a useful book; the sinuous diagrams make ice-skating seem easy, and there are tips on what Jones called ‘the art of falling’. One should practise, he said, in the privacy of one’s bedroom, ‘with an ample supply of cushions and eiderdowns’. ‘To learn to slither,’ he advised, ‘is really the art of falling on the ice.’ Brenda Maddox suggests that these words ‘might have served Jones as his life’s motto’: his career was full of spectacular flops from which he rose unscathed.

Though Maddox is too generous to interpret her motto in this way, Jones was also it seems a slippery character, ‘much hated’ by his colleagues, ‘spiteful, jealous and querulous … a fiery little man, with a staccato, military manner’, according to the historian of psychoanalysis Paul Roazen. He spent his life championing Freud, but even Freud described him as ‘a disagreeable person, who wants to display himself in ruling, angering and agitating’, and referred to him once as ‘the liar from Wales’. Still, it’s possible that it was precisely these traits that made Jones indispensable to him. Whereas Freud hated confrontations (so much so that once during an argument with Jung he peed in his trousers), Jones needed little encouragement to jump into the fray. Freud also described him as ‘zealous and energetic, combative and devoted to the cause’.

Jones was the first to publish a book on psychoanalysis in English (Papers on PsychoAnalysis, 1912) and claimed to be the first to practise psychoanalysis in Britain (an honour Freud, much to Jones’s chagrin, later conferred on Jones’s friend and rival David Eder). He was Freud’s chief administrator and enforcer – he served as president of the International Psychoanalytic Association from 1920 to 1924 and again from 1932 to 1949 – and his most enthusiastic missionary. He did more than anyone to disseminate the tenets of psychoanalysis around the globe; founded the American and British Psychoanalytic Societies; and launched the International Journal of Psycho-Analysis. After Freud’s death in 1939, he effectively took charge of the psychoanalytic movement. Jones saw himself in the same relationship to Freud as Thomas Huxley had been to Darwin; both he and Huxley, Jones wrote, were ‘bonny fighters’. Huxley described himself as ‘Darwin’s bulldog’ and Maddox’s title refers to Jones as ‘Freud’s wizard’, but he was more commonly known as ‘Freud’s rottweiler’.

Jones’s previous biographer, Vincent Brome, spent an afternoon with Jones in his Jacobean farmhouse in Sussex arguing over the merits of Brome’s earlier subject, the sexologist Havelock Ellis. Brome admitted that many of his interviewees disliked Jones and that he himself had quite ambivalent feelings. Jones died in 1958 and Maddox, who never met him (or many of those who did), offers an engaging and much more sympathetic portrait. Unlike Brome, she had at her disposal the full archive of Jones’s letters, which passed to the Institute of Psychoanalysis in London two years after Brome’s book, Freud’s Alter Ego, appeared in 1982.

She reports that she was won over by the character she encountered in Jones’s voluminous and unsorted correspondence. The psychoanalyst Joan Riviere, one of Jones’s former patients, to whom he lent his country home during treatment, accused him of teasing her in the full knowledge that he was ‘irresistible to women’. Maddox writes: ‘Jones, all five foot four of him, had a flair for rapid captivation of the opposite sex. With his sharp intelligence, penetrating gaze and knowing smile, he had the look of a man – and a doctor at that – who understands what a woman wants.’ ‘I must confess,’ she says a little later, that ‘as his biographer, I have found him irresistible.’

The story of Jones’s life was, as his son put it, ‘essentially that of psychoanalysis’ and Maddox writes about him against that broader background. She doesn’t over-psychoanalyse him – she doesn’t, for example, connect his essay on the anal character with the piles that plagued him the year it was published – and having written biographies of Yeats, D.H. Lawrence, Rosalind Franklin, Nora Joyce and Margaret Thatcher, she knows how to give a logic to a life. Like many of Freud’s first disciples, Jones, she suggests, was drawn to psychoanalysis because it offered him the chance to correct, as he put it in a letter to his mentor, ‘various wrong tendencies in myself’.

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[*] Edited by Alan Dundes, translated by Johanna Micaela Jacobsen and Alan Dundes (Wisconsin, 144 pp., $26.95, June 2005, 0 299 21100 2).