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’.

It is not known which tendencies he had in mind, but he came to be publicly suspected of some early on. In 1906, soon after he arrived in Harley Street, he was arrested for exposing himself to two girls, the younger of whom was 12 – he was 27 – while conducting medical tests at a school for ‘mentally defective children’ in South London. A tablecloth was taken away as evidence because, as a local paper reported, it had ‘certain marks upon it which were regarded of great importance’. When the mother of one of his victims accused him of ‘shameful, disgraceful and disgusting’ behaviour, he protested his innocence: ‘My good woman, if I did that, I would deserve to be horsewhipped and put in an asylum.’ He spent a night in jail, with a morning coat by way of pyjamas and a copy of Thus Spake Zarathustra as a pillow. Someone shouted that they’d like to slit his throat. It was, Jones would say later, ‘the most disagreeable experience of my life’.

In the trial that followed, ladies were asked to withdraw from the court so that the suspicious marks on the green baize tablecloth could be examined. The police surgeon testified that ‘the stains were of such a character that they shouldn’t have been there.’ Jones hired one of England’s leading criminal lawyers, paid for by a whip-round among his medical friends. Decades before Zippergate and DNA testing, it was his word against that of two ‘mentally defective’ children: he knew the charges would never stick, and his defence was that the girls had made them up. According to one newspaper, Jones sat in the dock ‘dapper and alert-looking … He frequently laughed and seemed quite unembarrassed’ (a colleague later praised his ‘cheeky courage’). The case, Maddox writes, was ‘literally laughed out of court’.

Brome accepted Jones’s explanation that the school officials had panicked and prematurely turned the matter over to the police. Since then, in a 2002 essay in Studies in Gender and Sexuality, Philip Kuhn has unearthed information which casts doubt on Jones’s innocence. Though charges were only pressed on behalf of two girls, four children he’d examined made complaints about him in a single day. ‘The evidence,’ Maddox concludes, ‘looks damning.’ The incident tests her love of her subject: ‘Could he have been so demoralised as to lose self-restraint and invite the schoolgirls to touch his swollen genitals?’ The received view is that he was innocent, but although Maddox disagrees she is mysteriously willing to give him the benefit of the doubt: ‘On the other hand, if Jones had simply been asking pupils about their knowledge of the body or of reproduction, the question, in puritanical Edwardian England, would have been shocking in itself.’ Perhaps, but it wouldn’t have led to charges of exposure. Psychoanalysis itself may or may not have been on trial: one would do better to ask whether Jones was not so much the victim of a misunderstood science as hiding behind it.

The scandal, as Maddox shows, was the making of Jones. It pushed him to the margin of the medical profession, into what most doctors considered the avant-garde, unwholesome ranks of Freud’s experimental practice. Perhaps, as Maddox proposes, he felt vindicated when he read Freud, who had abandoned his seduction theory in 1897 and now argued that most accusations of childhood sexual abuse were fantasies. Because few people believed in psychoanalysis, it could be conducted only in situations which left the analyst open to accusations of impropriety – that is, in secret. Two years after his trial, Jones took on a bet with his superior at the West End Hospital for Diseases of the Nervous System, Harry Campbell, who doubted that he could find a sexual trauma lurking behind a ten-year-old girl’s seemingly paralysed arm. He won the bet – the girl’s arm had become paralysed after she’d used it to spurn a boy’s sexual advances – but he was sacked after the girl’s father complained that Jones had taken his daughter into an empty operating room to ask her lewd questions. It was against hospital regulations – as Jones well knew – for a male doctor to see a female patient without a chaperone.

A month after his dismissal, Jones was introduced to Freud at the first International Congress of Psychoanalysis in Salzburg. In his posthumously published memoir, Free Associations, Jones wrote that he found the 51-year-old Freud’s whispering voice ‘unmusical and rather rough’ but was mesmerised by his eyes, which ‘constantly twinkled with perception and often with humour’. Freud, who didn’t like the idea of psychoanalysis being considered an exclusively Jewish science, and was keen to cultivate any support he could find outside his Viennese group, immediately saw Jones’s usefulness as someone who could push open the door of the English-speaking world. He was to become, as Maddox puts it, ‘Jung’s understudy as Freud’s Gentile’.

At first, however, Freud was suspicious of Jones, seeing him as a potential Cassius who would scheme against his Caesar. He also confessed to a feeling of ‘racial strangeness’: Jones ‘is a Celt’, Freud wrote to Jung, ‘and consequently not quite accessible to us, the Teuton and the Mediterranean man’. In Free Associations Jones admitted that he had not been ‘highly impressed with the assembly’ that gathered around Freud when he visited him in Vienna after the congress. Jung had described them to him as ‘a degenerate and bohemian crowd’, a comment Jones thought vaguely anti-semitic, but Jones himself was free with his insults, dismissing Isidor Sadger as ‘morose, pathetic, very like a specially uncouth bear’ and Alfred Adler as ‘sulky, pathetically eager for recognition’. There was so much prejudice against psychoanalysis at that time, Jones wrote, that it was hard for Freud to ‘secure a pupil with a reputation to lose’. Jones was as good an instance of that as any. Soon after meeting Freud, unemployed, he moved to Canada accompanied by his wealthy Dutch mistress, Loe Kann, an emaciated morphine addict. Once there, he would become the chief propagandist of psychoanalysis in North America.

It wasn’t until 1909, during his first and only trip to America, to deliver the Clarke Lectures, that Freud fully embraced Jones, praising him for having ‘conquered America’, and thereby preparing the way for Freud’s own arrival. When William James and many other leading American intellectuals turned out to hear him speak, Freud felt that psychoanalysis had been given official recognition for the first time. ‘In Europe I felt as though I were despised,’ he was to write, ‘but over there I found myself received by the foremost men as an equal. As I stepped onto the platform at Worcester to deliver my Five Lectures on Psychoanalysis it seemed like the realisation of some incredible day-dream: psychoanalysis was no longer a product of delusion, it had become a valuable part of reality.’ During a walk together in the Massachusetts woods, Jones promised to devote the rest of his life to analysis, and Freud was impressed by his sincerity.

Jones’s old problems soon pursued him across the Atlantic. In 1911 a patient accused him of having slept with her and, brandishing a revolver, threatened to shoot him. She also lodged a complaint with the local Sexual Purity League. Though Jones protested his innocence, three separate incidents of doctor-patient indiscretion were beginning to look like more than carelessness; rumour already had it, Maddox writes, ‘that Jones recommended masturbation or visiting prostitutes, that he showed patients obscene postcards, that he had made two patients pregnant.’ (Two of his patients did get pregnant. According to Brome, Jones was not thought to be the father but to have advocated the free love that was the cause.) Jones used Loe Kann’s considerable riches to pay his accuser off. He hired an armed bodyguard and offered his former patient $500 – almost a year’s salary – in exchange for not pressing charges. Freud referred to analysands falling in love with their doctors as an inevitable ‘peril of the trade’ and was sympathetic to Jones. But when he told Freud about the incident, Jones failed to mention the bribery.

Kann had become desperately unhappy in Canada – drugs, it seems, had killed her libido, ‘forcing’ the sexually frustrated Jones into the arms of her maid – and when they moved back to Europe in 1912, Freud agreed to analyse her. Jones himself, like many of the first generation of analysts, had never been analysed, so he went to Budapest for two months of couch-work with Sándor Ferenczi (this, Jones recorded, was the first ever training analysis). Freud wrote to Jones about Kann’s progress; one of Jones’s rare criticisms of Freud in his biography was that he was less than discreet about his patients, yet he was perhaps too selectively so for Jones’s purposes. One thing Freud didn’t tell him was that Kann had met someone else in Vienna, an American poet called Herbert Jones. She later married him, with Freud as a witness, and finally became Mrs Jones (Ernest Jones would refer to her husband as Jones II). Freud had cured her of her sexual anaesthesia, though not of her addiction to morphine.

Jones set his sights on Freud’s 18-year-old daughter Anna instead. Freud feared that Jones blamed him for the break-up of his relationship with Kann and wrote to Ferenczi that he didn’t want ‘to lose the dear child to an obvious act of revenge’. When Anna Freud visited England, Jones met her off the boat at Southampton wielding a large bunch of flowers. Like all other men, and not for lack of trying, he failed to woo her. Jones subsequently married Morfydd Owen, a hauntingly beautiful musical prodigy from Wales who, to the disapproval of her secular husband, was also a white-robed member of the British Druid Order. She died at the age of 25 during an appendectomy; they’d been married for little more than a year. The surgery was performed at Jones’s father’s house, rather than at Swansea hospital, which was only four miles away; there was no autopsy or inquest, and the death certificate was not issued until two weeks after the event. Owen’s friends were suspicious, and the situation was not helped by his eventual explanation in Free Associations that she had died from chloroform poisoning as a result of low blood sugar levels. ‘I wanted to buy her a box of chocolates, which for some reason she declined,’ Jones wrote. ‘It was poignant to reflect later that it would probably have saved her life.’ It’s an amazing remark: has anyone with appendicitis ever managed to eat chocolates?

Jones’s reappearance on what he called ‘the right side of the Atlantic’, where he soon set up the London Psycho-Analytical Society, was perfectly timed. Freud’s conflict with Jung was coming to a head, and Jones soon replaced him as Freud’s confidant, finally graduating from understudy to key player (if not son-in-law). Freud, Jones wrote, ‘seemed to wish to open his heart to someone not of his milieu’ and on Jones’s trips to Vienna they frequently sat up chatting and smoking in Freud’s apartment until 3 a.m. (Jones was all the more flattered because he knew Freud’s first patient was expected at 8 a.m.). Jones realised that he had little talent for innovation in psychoanalytic theory, which had the advantage of making him immune to the creative schisms that saw Jung, Adler, Wilhelm Stekel and Wilhelm Reich cast out of Freud’s orbit. ‘The originality complex is not strong with me,’ he admitted to Freud. Freud agreed, writing to Ferenczi that Jones ‘has not had any original ideas, and his application of my ideas has stayed on a schoolboy level’. Jones was more interested in power. ‘My ambition is rather to know,’ he confessed to Freud, ‘to be “behind the scenes” and “in the know”, rather than to find out.’

To this end, he suggested to Freud that he establish a secret committee composed of Freud’s most trustworthy lieutenants, a privy council that would exclude Jung. Jones imagined it as ‘a united small body, designed, like the Paladins of Charlemagne, to guard the kingdom and policy of their master’. As Maddox nicely puts it, it would ‘sniff out heresy wherever it might begin’. There were five disciples – Jones, Ferenczi, Karl Abraham, Otto Rank and Hanns Sachs (Max Eitingon would join later) – to each of whom Freud gave an intaglio ring. Jones, who used the committee to manoeuvre himself into place as Freud’s second-in-command, outlived all the others – and was the only one to lose his precious ring when it was stolen from his car. He was also the only non-Jewish member.

In his autobiography Jones implies that Jung always assumed that Jones would side with him in his dispute with Freud over the centrality of sex to psychic life because they were fellow Christians. Jones, however, considered himself an honorary Jew, a Shabbes-Goy, and liked to drop Yiddish expressions into his conversation. His first contribution to the Rundbriefe, the secret letters that circulated between committee members after Jung had been excommunicated, began: ‘We are all good Jews.’ To cement his philosemitism, Jones married Katharina ‘Kitty’ Jokl, the sister of Hanns Sachs’s mistress, and, like Freud, a Moravian Jew. He’d originally hired her as his secretary, but within 72 hours of meeting they were engaged. She later translated Moses and Monotheism (which earned her her own intaglio ring) and after Freud’s death helped Jones with the massive task of compiling the definitive biography of his idol. The daughter they had three days before their first wedding anniversary was blessed, Jones wrote to Freud, with ‘a wonderful Jewish smile with twinkling eyes’. Their second child, born two years later, was a ‘Typical Judenbub, but with blond hair and blue eyes’.

Jones suggested in his memoir that Freud always retained a ‘certain mistrust’ of Gentile analysts, even if he relied on them to spread his word outside Jewish circles, and his suspicion of Jones was shared by many other Viennese analysts (as Sándor Radó said, ‘they did not consider him as belonging’). Freud often feared that Jones would try ‘to become independent from Europe and to establish his own Anglo-American realm’. Relations came closest to breaking point when, in 1926, Jones invited Melanie Klein – Anna Freud’s nemesis as a child analyst – from Berlin to set up a practice in London. Among Klein’s first British patients were Jones’s wife and their two children, then aged four and six (a third child later saw Donald Winnicott). Freud thought Jones had initiated ‘a regular campaign against Anna’s child analysis’ out of resentment towards her for having rejected him and worried that Jones might prove as treacherous as Jung. (In later debates between Klein and Anna Freud, Maddox writes, ‘Jones’s tactic was to tell each of the adversaries he was on her side.’)

In an essay entitled ‘The Inferiority Complex of the Welsh’, Jones equated the Welsh with the Jews. He claimed that as a Welshman he shared the Jewish feeling of being ostracised, but he was not immune to charges of anti-semitism. He was much criticised by his colleagues when the American analyst A.A. Brill reported that he had described Rank in a letter as a ‘swindling Jew’ (Maddox unpersuasively assures us that all Jones said was that Rank’s ‘general way of conducting business was distinctly oriental’). Worse still, in 1933 Jones said to the analyst Paul Federn that Isidor Sadger should be sent to a concentration camp rather than be allowed to publish a disparaging book on Freud. Maddox claims he was being ironic. (Sadger died in Theresienstadt in 1942; Recollecting Freud was all but forgotten until it was republished last year by Wisconsin.[*])

As president of the International Psychoanalytic Association Jones was also accused by many of his colleagues of having tried to appease the Nazis by letting them purge the German Psychoanalytic Society (DPG) of Jews rather than allow the organisation to be dissolved. In putting the survival of psychoanalysis above politics and ideology, he claimed to have ‘saved’ psychoanalysis in Germany so that it could flourish again after the Nazis had been overthrown. ‘All Jews have to resign from the Berlin Society,’ he wrote in a letter to Anna Freud. ‘Deplorable as it would be, I should still say that I prefer psychoanalysis to be practised by Gentiles in Germany than not at all.’ In 1936 the DPG became part of the German Institute for Psychological Research and Psychotherapy, headed by Goering’s cousin, who advised members to ‘work through Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf with all scientific zeal’.

Maddox ascribes Jones’s actions to naivety; and considers, quite rightly, that his wartime efforts in helping psychoanalyst refugees into exile were his proudest moments. Whatever differences there may have been between Jones and Anna Freud were put aside as the pair plotted the diaspora, dispatching analysts as far afield as Johannesburg and Honolulu. Jones set up an immigration office in London to finance and co-ordinate the movements of the fleeing analysts, many of whom, among them Freud and his entourage of 17, owed their lives to him.

Maddox opens her book with Jones – the last surviving Paladin – bravely flying into Vienna, the day after Hitler’s own arrival, to rescue Freud from house arrest. Soon after landing, Jones was taken prisoner by Nazi soldiers but nimbly talked his way out, brandishing his impressive diplomatic connections (one of his ice-skating friends was Samuel Hoare, Chamberlain’s home secretary). Freud was 81 and in the final stages of cancer and, even though storm troopers were in the process of looting his apartment when Jones arrived, it took Jones five days to persuade him to leave. Jones dispatched his human trophy to London on the Orient Express. At his journey’s end Freud hobbled out into the garden of his rented house in Primrose Hill, threw up his arms in admiration of the view of Regent’s Park and the City of London, and said: ‘I am almost tempted to cry out “Heil Hitler!”’

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