Biographer Brenda Maddox in conversation with Ken Robinson
Venue: The Institute of Psychoanalysis, 112a Shirland Road, London W9
Date: Friday 21 September 2007
Brenda Maddox is an author, biographer, and journalist. Her latest book is Freud's Wizard, a biography of Dr. Ernest Jones, Freud\\'s rescuer and biographer. Her previous biographies include Rosalind Franklin: the Dark Lady of DNA, the life story of the DNA scientist Rosalind Franklin, which won the English-Speaking Union's Marsh Biography Prize for 2002-3. Her George's Ghosts: The Secret Life of W.B. Yeats, published in May 1999, it was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Non-Fiction Prize. Earlier, D.H. Lawrence: The Married Man, won the 1994 Whitbread Biography Prize for 1994. It was shortlisted also for the New York Critics Circle and the James Tait Black awards. In 1988 her Nora, the life of Nora Barnacle,the wife of James Joyce, won the Los Angeles Times Biography Prize, the British Silver P.E.N.Award for non-fiction and, later, the French Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger. Nora was also shortlisted for the Whitbread and National Book Awards. Both the Lawrence and Joyce biographies have been published in Germany by Kiepenheuer & Witch. The Joyce book has been translated into nine languages and made into the film, Nora, starring Ewan McGregor and Susan Lynch.
Maddox\\'s earlier books include Beyond Babel: New Directions in Communications (1972) and The Half-Parent (1975), a study of step parenthood. She is a regular contributor to the press on both sides of the Atlantic and is a book reviewer for the Observer, the New Statesman, the New York Times and the Washington Post. She also lectures frequently on biography and the subjects of her books. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, past chairman of the Broadcasting Press Guild and also past chairman of the Association of British Science Writers. She is a member of the board of the British Journalism Review and is a vice-president of the Hay-on-Wye Festival of Literature.
Born in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, she holds a degree in English literature cum laude from Harvard and is an honorary member of the Harvard Phi Beta Kappa Society. She began as a journalist and columnist on the Quincy, Mass. Patriot Ledger. In London she first joined the U.K. desk of Reuters Ltd, then moved to The Economist for many years, becoming Britain editor, Home Affairs editor and leader writer.
What's in a name?
Tuesday 25th September, 2007 | Posted by Caroline Graty
Brenda Maddox abandoned one of her own principles of biography writing when she tackled the life of Ernest Jones in Freud’s Wizard. Discussing her work at the latest Connecting Conversations event, she talks about her usual chronological method. ‘I don’t jump ahead,’ she says. ‘I try to tell the story the way we live our lives – we don’t know what’s going to happen next.’ Freud’s Wizard, however, opens with Jones’ risky journey to Nazi-controlled Austria in 1938 to negotiate Freud’s passage to safety in England.
Her reason for this narrative decision? To anticipate the question ‘Jones who?’ The name ‘Freud’ is familiar to most people - in fact reference to his first name isn't even necessary. But Ernest Jones, who rescued Freud, wrote his biography, popularised his ideas in the UK and established the Institute of Psychoanalysis, is a little-known figure outside the world of psychoanalysis.
A vain man, Jones himself worried about obscurity. How would he be distinguished from ‘the other half a million people called Jones’? He considered writing under the name 'Beddoe-Jones', but was dissuaded by Freud. Maddox thinks Jones had a point. 'The ordinariness of his name obscured the singularity of his achievements,' she says.
Jones’ name may have been ordinary, but his life was anything but. From modest beginnings in a small Welsh village he trained in medicine but was prevented from pursuing a medical career following allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour around children. He turned instead to the emerging field of psychoanalysis. He was highly intelligent with a gift for communicating ideas, and was valued by Freud as a non-Jewish champion of his work. Jones played a central role in the establishment of the psychoanalytic field, dealing with squabbles and gossip amongst the analysts. A small, dark and entirely self-assured man, women seemed to find him irresistible and his exploits earned him the nickname ‘erogenous Jones’.
‘I’m a journalist at heart,’ says Maddox, ‘I like a good story.’ Maddox also has the journalist’s knack of finding a new angle, of seeing fascinating stories in the otherwise overlooked. Her study of Jones will ensure that he gets at least some of the recognition he so desired.