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Zachary, A. (2020). The Life and Work of Joan Riviere: Freud, Klein and Female Sexuality by Marion Bower. Published by Routledge, Abingdon, 2019; 173 pp, £22.99. Brit. J. Psychother., 36(1):165-168.

(2020). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 36(1):165-168

The Life and Work of Joan Riviere: Freud, Klein and Female Sexuality by Marion Bower. Published by Routledge, Abingdon, 2019; 173 pp, £22.99

Review by:
Anne Zachary

A book is not to be judged by its cover, but this one stands out. Such a compelling black and white photograph of a woman, Joan Riviere, taken in the 1920s, wearing a billowing coat and a jaunty little hat - perhaps all made by her, given her earlier life before psychoanalysis in dressmaking and millinery. The playful and beguiling expression on her face kept me returning over and over to look at it again. As soon as the book had appeared in the Institute of Psychoanalysis library I had borrowed it, drawn by the enigma of her personality.

I only knew two things about Joan Riviere. One was her timeless paper, 'Womanliness as a masquerade’ (1929) about a failure of femininity. The other was an unfortunate remark she had made to a candidate, reported down the generations. I wondered, would it appear in the book? It does, but I will leave readers to discover it for themselves. It belongs to a bygone era of class difference and prejudice.

This book by Marion Bower offers much more to be known about Joan Riviere. At the recent International Journal of Psychoanalysis centenary conference in London (July 2019) and the concurrent exhibition at the Freud museum in London, ‘The Enigma of the Hour: 100 years of Psychoanalytic Thought’, consciousness was raised about her role as chief translator for the Journal from 1922 to 1937. She was Freud's favourite translator, Bowers says, ‘The words leap off the page’ (p. 90) as she endeavoured to capture Freud's style of addressing the reader directly. This created something of a power struggle between Ernest Jones and Riviere, both over the office of translator and about the place of women in general, but they seem to have come to a solid working compromise over the former and he did support the latter in his leading them on writing about female sexuality at a time before women had an independent voice.

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