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Yorke, C. (1989). Peter Gay: Freud, A Life for Our Time. Published by Dent 1988. Price £16.95 Hardback, Paperback soon to appear.. J. Child Psychother., 15(1):127-129.

(1989). Journal of Child Psychotherapy, 15(1):127-129


Peter Gay: Freud, A Life for Our Time. Published by Dent 1988. Price £16.95 Hardback, Paperback soon to appear.

Review by:
Clifford Yorke

In a recent radio talk, I reflected on the following points: that Freud was one of the most talked about and least read figures of all time; that the interest in him far exceeded the interest in what he wrote; that what Freud thought and said has influenced the twentieth century incomparably less than the misconceptions by which discovery gives way to demotic notion; and that this transmogrification was matched only by failure to understand what psychoanalytic therapy really amounts to.

The assertions underlying these reflections cannot be expected to stand without supporting argument, but they were prompted by the appearance of yet more books about Freud. Now a new biography has been added to the growing list, this time by Peter Gay. The plethora of source material is fully acknowledged in a bibliographical essay that forms an indispensible appendix to Gay's biography. There he observes that “the secondary literature on Freud is vast, rapidly growing, almost out of control. Some of the avalanche is revealing, much of it is useful, more of it provocative; an astonishing share is malicious or downright absurd.” Like others before him, Gay was seriously handicapped in his endeavour. Freud deliberately set out to make the lot of any future biographer as difficult as possible. He destroyed papers, letters and notes, saying, after one such instance: “let the biographers labour and toil, we won't make it easy for them”; and when, following the Anschluss, he was about to leave Vienna, he threw away valuable material rescued only through the diligence of Anna Freud and Princess Marie Bonaparte.

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