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Freud’s Wizard: Ernest Jones and the Transformation of Psychoanalysis
Am J Psychiatry 2009;166:732-733. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2009.09010141

by Brenda Maddox. Cambridge, Mass., Da Capo Press, 2008, 352 pp., $18.95.

I find the apostle Paul appealing and

The apostle Peale appalling.

—Adlai E. Stevenson

Though the latter years of the 20th century saw a decline in the influence and fortunes of psychoanalysis, it enjoys an enduring clinical, ideological, and political presence within our profession. This decline, however, may leave our younger cohort uninformed as to the history and legacy of the psychoanalytic movement in American psychiatry. Ernest Jones, the subject of this superb biography, began promulgating psychoanalysis to our continent in 1908 and arranged Freud’s visit to the United States to participate in a conference at Clark University in 1909 (1). By the 1920s, “the psychiatric profession deserted the state hospital in its organizational aims” and set its sights on transforming itself into a community-based (outpatient) specialty (2). Despite the passage of a full century, the history of how the analytic wing achieved its fulminant growth and became so influential in American psychiatry has yet to be fully explicated in print. In this brief, illuminating journey through the life of Ernest Jones (1879–1958), award-winning biographer Brenda Maddox adds a long-overdue chapter to the story of psychoanalysis and an unanticipated perspective on its ascendancy.

Jones, a remarkable man by anyone’s appraisal and a rambunctious subject for the most dedicated historian, is well defined in each of the many facets of his long and momentous career. His attractive persona, bristling intelligence, and unflagging industry are unfailingly beguiling. The appalling flaws that characterized his heretofore unacknowledged darker side and stain his work, career, and profession will dismay the faithful. Maddox, who admits to having found him “captivating,” nevertheless manages an admirable reportorial narrative tone that is neither laudatory nor reproving.

Neither Jones’s lower middle-class Protestant-Welsh coal-country heritage nor his respectable, successful, and very involved (indeed, he seems to have been a mutterkind) parentage could have alone determined the international intellectual stardom he was to achieve. An excellent student at all levels, he moved easily into medicine and through his preclinical work at Cardiff. In the big-city environs of London, his voracious reading and enlightened confreres lured him from his childhood Baptist orthodoxy to “philosophical materialism.” During his clinical years in medical school, he became a noted prankster, smuggling friends into autopsies and surgeries. He once dressed himself and a fellow student in medical consultant’s garb, called at the home of a pretty young actress whom they had observed in surgery, and proceeded to dress her operative wounds. “It was the first realization of Jones’s boyish fantasy…of a doctor’s easy access to women.”

He used his “sharp intelligence, penetrating gaze, and knowing smile...and the looks of a man…who understands what a woman wants” in becoming a serial seducer. He comforted a variety of young women in his bed, including nursing students and anxious brides-to-be facing arranged marriages. Trouble soon followed. He was asked to resign as a resident medical officer from the North-Eastern Hospital for Children for going AWOL (he attributed the dismissal to “enemies,” but Maddox finds that hospital records reveal repeated offenses). The dismissal “brought ruin. He was never to hold a serious hospital appointment again.” Jones was left with little choice but to take a series of part-time positions, including one at a school for mentally deficient children where he was accused, tried (with considerable publicity), and finally acquitted of “indecently exposing himself” to two young girls. Maddox finds “that the evidence against Jones looks damning.” He subsequently did well enough financially to allow engagement to a hometown girl, but he never fully recovered from his disrepute within the London medical establishment.

Jones’s reading led him to a fascination with Freud and psychoanalysis, and he began to practice the new art. His lightening-quick intellect (and growing fluency in German) provided him with immediate access to Freud’s arcana, which he began translating (and explicating) in English. Introduced by a colleague to Loe Kann, a possible patient, “who was as beautiful as she was rich,” Jones moved in with her (he was never to fully explain what happened to his prior engagement). After several years in this arrangement, he began a prolonged collateral affair with Loe’s much younger maid.

Jones became Freud’s disciple during visits to Europe, and he was accepted into the master’s small circle of analysts, nearly all of whom (except Freud himself) were enjoying the usufructs of transference in sexual affairs with their patients (rumored even of the rectitudinous Jung). Among the initiates, Jones considered the libidinous Otto Gross “his first instructor in psychoanalysis.” Freud issued a public reproval of his coterie’s licentiousness, claiming that he had personally renounced even marital sex (for purposes of birth control), though later allegations about an affair with his sister-in-law make the claim questionable. Back in England, Jones was discovered in still another sexual impropriety involving young girls at a London hospital, bringing his dismissal and the end of his London medical career. He moved his practice to Toronto but there “foolishly” paid blackmail to a patient who had threatened suit. This scandal alienated the Toronto medical community, and they never again fully accepted him within their inner circles.

Jones’s first marriage, to a beautiful, talented Welsh woman 15 years his junior, ended tragically after one year when she died suddenly of a ruptured appendix. After several months of grieving, he became involved with an absent colleague’s wife. Freud was well aware of Jones’s personal and professional transgressions and never fully trusted him (Jones’s attempt to “woo” the 18-year-old Anna Freud clearly alarmed her father) but kept him within the group and part of “the Cause,” because he functioned as an essential emissary to the English-speaking world.

Jones excelled in this role. Despite having studied scientific methods with Emil Kraepelin and contravening voices such as Harvard’s Morton Prince (“a cult not a science,” it is like “Christian Science”), Philadelphia’s James Hendrie Lloyd, and what Jones saw as “the boycott of ‘official science’” (p. 93), Jones proceeded at full steam in dispensing Freud’s occult wisdom to a world he persuaded to be receptive. Maddox unzips a bag full of prodigious research to chronicle Jones’s promotion of Freud and “the Cause” in a sedulous schedule, tirelessly lecturing, traveling, personally entreating skeptics, founding national and international journals, promoting analytic societies, organizing meetings, and publishing prodigiously. Some of his clearly written expositions remain psychoanalytic classics. With his second marriage at the age of 40 and the birth of his children, Jones apparently banked his licentious fires. Henceforth he applied his brilliance with apostolic zeal to the proclaiming and establishment of Freud’s theories and systems. Maddox’s extensive descriptions of Jones’s interactions with Freud during this period (including his part in Freud’s move from Vienna to London in 1938) and abundant contacts with prominent figures within and outside the early movement will delight and inform even those with extensive prior reading in the history of psychoanalysis.

What should be seen as this remarkable man’s legacy? Surprisingly, Maddox, who claims to have benefited from her own analysis, makes no attempt to explore the deepest motivations of her subject and believes “the jury is still out on Ernest Jones.” It is Maddox’s implicit assertion that without Jones, psychoanalysis would not have reached its dominant position, and she suggests that this is his enduring contribution. Whether Maddox’s virtuoso account will assist us in properly evaluating the next enchanting fable told by so charming an apostle remains to be seen.

1.Sacks A, MaKari, G: Freud in the New World. Am J Psychiatry 2009; 166:662–663
2.McGovern CM: Masters of Madness: Social Origins of the American Psychiatric Profession. Hanover, NH, University Press of New England Press, 1985


+The author reports no competing interests.

+Book review accepted for publication January 2009 (doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2009.09010141).



1.Sacks A, MaKari, G: Freud in the New World. Am J Psychiatry 2009; 166:662–663
2.McGovern CM: Masters of Madness: Social Origins of the American Psychiatric Profession. Hanover, NH, University Press of New England Press, 1985

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