Sigmund Freud. By Stephen Wilson. Stroud: Sutton Publishing (Pocket Biographies series).
Review by: Jane Milton
Stephen Wilson's last book was The Cradle of Violence (1995, Jessica Kingsley), a fascinating and diverse collection of his essays whose overall link was that of the unconscious roots of human behaviour. This is a book of quite a different kind, a slim volume that is one of an inexpensive paperback biographical series. Previous subjects have included Beethoven, Marilyn Munroe and Jane Austen; the Curies, Margot Fonteyn and Enid Blyton are to come. The challenge of writing a ‘pocket biography’ and to succeed in being concise without being superficial, is considerable, especially where the subject is one who has been exhaustively studied and written about by so many scholars. One has in addition a considerable responsibility, as the average reader of such a work is likely to be a casually interested lay person, nowadays probably one whose prior knowledge of Freud consists mostly of the frequent and wildly inaccurate character assassinations of the Sunday papers!
Wilson tells us that his main sources are the biographies of Jones and Gay. He succeeds admirably, I think, with broad and vivid brush-strokes, in illustrating his complexsubject. Freud comes alive from the first pages, in his dignified retreat from the Nazis in 1938. Both his courage and ironic humour (‘I can most highly recommend the Gestapo to everyone’), his stubbornness, and his passionate involvement with friends, colleagues and family, come across well in Chapter One, ‘The Reluctant Refugee’.
Having started in this lively way near the end of Freud's life, Wilson takes us in more traditionally chronological order, starting with Chapter Two ‘Boyhood’, and moving swiftly and concisely through the life of both the man and the pioneer discoverer. Inevitably this reader would have liked more detail of both, but the important point is that Wilson's writing does whet the appetite for more, and it is to be hoped that he will engage readers to pursue further.
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