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Peterson, C. (1989). Wehr, Gerhard. Jung: A Biography. Boston & London, Shambala, 1987. pp. 549. $25.00.. J. Anal. Psychol., 34(3):301-303.

(1989). Journal of Analytical Psychology, 34(3):301-303

Wehr, Gerhard. Jung: A Biography. Boston & London, Shambala, 1987. pp. 549. $25.00.

Review by:
Corinna Peterson

This long, detailed, scholarly work is by a West German writer well equipped to undertake the task, since he has already explored the fields of depth-psychology, anthroposophy and Christian spirituality and edited the works of Jakob Böhme. Writing in a straightforward way and deploying his resources with considerable tact and dexterity, he contrives to thread his way through the vast mass of material available without rendering it too complex, tedious or abstruse. Important turning-points in the narrative are highlighted with such skill that one continues to turn the pages eagerly, recognising familiar landmarks, but seeing them at times in a new perspective, illuminated by the comments and opinions of all those who knew Jung well and have written or spoken about him. It may be that the final result contains nothing startlingly new or controversial, but the effect is eminently sound, balanced and somehow reassuring, bringing the subject vividly to life.

The opening chapters, dealing with Jung's background, family and early youth, remind us how much he owed to certain gifted forbears, his paternal grandfather, Rector of Basel, described by his grandson as ‘a strong and striking personality … a great organiser, enormously active, brilliant, witty and eloquent’, and his mother's father, Samuel Preiswerk, ‘a visionary who experienced whole dramatic scenes, complete with conversations with spirits.’ His mother perpetuated a strange blend of personalities, ‘one innocuous and human, the other uncanny.’ The significance of Jung's very first and all-important dream of the subterranean man-eater, with all its mysterious connotations of life and death, is placed in the historical context of Nietzsche's defiant proclamation a year or so later: ‘God is dead’, and seen as a prelude to the whole of Jung's life-long spiritual struggle to reconcile the opposites, culminating in his book, Mysterium Coniunctionis.

From now on the author stresses what he sees as of central importance in Jung's achievement, ‘the fact that he recognised the threat from the chthonic maternal side and—at first for himself, later, as therapist, for others—sought to open a way through the world of the mothers.’

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