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Kanter, J. (2004). “Let's Never Ask Him What to Do”: Clare Britton's Transformative Impact on Donald Winnicott. Am. Imago, 61(4):457-481.

(2004). American Imago, 61(4):457-481

“Let's Never Ask Him What to Do”: Clare Britton's Transformative Impact on Donald Winnicott

Joel Kanter

In his recent biography of Donald Winnicott, F. Robert Rodman (2003) highlights the transformative role played by Clare Britton Winnicott, a social worker who in 1951 became Donald's second wife, in both his personal and professional life. Having had access to over seventy letters from their correspondence, Rodman documents the emergence of their relationship during their collaboration assisting evacuated children in Oxfordshire during World War II and suggests that this romance, and later marriage, had a profound impact on Donald's professional creativity: “During this relationship, which would continue the rest of his life, he became an entirely new kind of thinker and writer about the psychoanalytic understanding of human life” (8). In a 1946 letter, Donald himself wrote to Clare, “my work is really quite a lot associated with you. Your effect on me is to make me keen and productive and this is all the more awful—because when I am cut off from you I feel paralyzed for all action and originality” (C. Winnicott 1978, 252).

Both Brett Kahr (1996) and Rodman have remarked that not only the quantity but also the quality of Donald's written work dramatically improved after he became involved with Clare. Rodman offers several hypotheses about her impact: that Clare was reminiscent of Donald's transitional object, that she “made herself available to be re-created in the image of his desires and needs,” and that she “provided him with near-perfect ‘mirroring’” (2003, 103).

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