Whitbread Prize-winning biographer Brenda Maddox has undertaken the life story of an obscure and probably unlikable man who was in the center of a maelstrom and knew how to navigate. His name was Ernest Jones, and he was an analyst who had the uncommon fortune to meet, admire and promote the great Sigmund Freud.
Potentially a failure, Jones is the kind of person whom history would have forgotten had it not been for his linkage to the man who is considered the father of modern psychology. Jones was a lackluster medical student whose career was marred by two significant instances of alleged child molestation, both involving patients in his treatment. One might have been overlooked - indeed, it was - but two… Even so, given the climate of the times, Jones scraped out on both counts, though he did spend a little time in a local jail while one of the incidents was under investigation. He was, after all, a doctor, and his alleged victims mere common girls. The author concludes that DNA testing and our modern determination to protect the innocent would probably have condemned Jones, but as it was he got off with his reputation untarnished. He confessed to Freud, his great mentor, that he “had often been conscious of a sexual attraction to his patients.” More than one of his many liaisons with women began in the doctor/patient atmosphere of emotionally charged confidentiality.
Luckily for Jones, one great impulse that guided the new science of psychoanalysis was sex, and both Freud and his disciples such as Jones were able to speak of it in clinical terms at a time when no one spoke of it at all. Sexuality and its denial inspired much of Freud's probing into the subconscious mind, giving the world a host of new terms and new concepts to contemplate. Freud believed he had his hands on a groundbreaking discipline as valid as any physical study of the human being. Introducing psychoanalysis in the academic towers of power could be a tough sell, however, as Maddox explains: “…unlike in ‘hard’ science, there were no facts, only theories and private observations of individual cases.” Those who opposed the ideas of Freud were expelled from European psychoanalytic societies, making it look all the more like a one-man show. The skill that Jones possessed was to make that one man seem worth the adulation.
Jones not only helped the Jewish Freud get out of Germany to London on the eve of the long night of the Third Reich, but as an ambitious Welshman whose German was fluent, he was uniquely placed to advertise Freud to the lesser mensch of the Americas. He served as Freud’s stalking horse in Canada and the U.S., orchestrating the formation of psychoanalytic societies in both places, societies worthy of the great Doctor and unlikely to mutiny. Jones translated much of Freud’s work to English. Always the underling, he was to be Freud’s first biographer after the great man died slowly and horribly of invasive throat cancer. Jones completed the three-volume Life and Work of Sigmund Freud shortly before his own death.
Admitting that “the jury is still out on Ernest Jones,” Maddox believes that the Life is his legacy and a worthy one. Her book evokes a time when the world was languishing in more than one sort of darkness. Freud saw the potential for error that lurked in the human heart, not only in the roiling ascension of anti-Semitism but in the refusal of enlightened people to examine the human psyche and understand it. Freud’s theories have altered the way we consider ourselves and our fellow beings, have given society sympathy for mental aberrations in place of denial and punishment. “Freud’s wizard” rode the crest of the wave.