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Sayers, J. (1987). A Life of One's Own and An Experiment in Leisure by Joanna Field (Marion Milner). Published by Virago: London, 1986; 225 and 235 pp; £4.50 each.. Brit. J. Psychother., 3(4):385-386.

(1987). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 3(4):385-386

A Life of One's Own and An Experiment in Leisure by Joanna Field (Marion Milner). Published by Virago: London, 1986; 225 and 235 pp; £4.50 each.

Review by:
Janet Sayers

Reading the lives of women analysts - Helene Deutsch, Karen Horney, Anna Freud and Melanie Klein - I was interested to come across British analyst Marion Milner's books, first published in the 1930s and now re-issued by Virago. But to read them as autobiography, I discovered, is like reading The Interpretation of Dreams as an account of Freud's life. For, like Freud, Milner uses self-analysis in these books not to describe the specifics of her own existence but as a general method of self-exploration through imagery.

Begun in late 1926 in response to personal difficulties which caused her then to have a brief personal analysis, A Life of One's Own starts with the problem of discovering what she most wants from life. She begins this quest, which she compares to that of Robinson Crusoe, by first recording the things that make her happy (‘counting over the day's spoils, like pink shells and treasures from the shore’), listing her wants (‘silk for underclothes’, ‘S thinking I'm not so innocent as I look - in fact, rather a woman of the world’), and her dislikes (being ‘dowdy’, being conspicuous through going ‘into a restaurant not meant for women’).

Recognising the disproportion between the banality of these situations and the emotions they evoke, Milner goes on to describe the Cartesian methods whereby she sought to determine the roots of these emotions. This included assuming ‘nothing that did not emerge out of my own direct experience’, letting her ‘automatic self’ roam freely without purpose, making an ‘internal gesture of mind’ not to ‘mistake the external ripples of life for all there was’, but to attend also to the internal ‘butterfly’ thoughts at the back of her mind.

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