Janet Malcolm 1934-
Czechoslovakian-born American essayist, journalist, and critic.
The following entry presents an overview of Malcolm's career through 2003.
A highly acclaimed and controversial journalist, Malcolm writes introspective essays that explore ethical ambiguities and betrayal. From the unexplored social life of psychoanalysts to moral dilemmas in journalism, Malcolm analyzes the fabrications professionals use to maintain the perception of success in their fields and studies the effect betrayal has on those who trust them. Malcolm's essays are well researched and offer original viewpoints, startling conclusions, and thought-provoking questions. Upon reviewing Malcolm's Reading Chekhov: A Critical Journey (2001), Sebastian Smee stated that Malcolm “is one of the most consistent nonfiction writers of our time. Certainly, she is one of the most brilliant.”
Malcolm was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia in 1934 to a Jewish psychiatrist and his wife. Malcolm's family fled to America in 1939 to avoid the imminent danger to Jews from the advancing German invasion. After graduating from the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan, New York, Malcolm enrolled at the University of Michigan, where she met Donald Malcolm, a contributing writer to the New Yorker. She also began to write for the New Yorker, first on interior design and then on photography. Donald Malcolm died in 1975 and Janet married her editor, Gardner Botsford, several years later. Her first book, Diana & Nikon: Essays on the Aesthetic of Photography (1980), a collection of essays about the nature of photography and its relation to art, like many of her later works, is largely made up of essays she wrote for and published in the New Yorker. Malcolm encountered legal problems after In the Freud Archives (1984) was released. The work focused on Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, an up-and-coming analyst within the Freudian psychoanalytic ranks. His libel suit against Malcolm, filed in 1984, contended that she had falsified some of the quotes attributed to him and changed the meaning of other quotes. After ten years of trials and appeals, a jury ruled that Malcolm did in fact fabricate quotes, but found that the quotes in question did not defame Masson. Malcolm has published several other nonfiction books including The Journalist and the Murderer (1990), The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes (1994), and The Crime of Sheila McGough (1999). Malcolm resides in New York and is a regular contributor to the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books.
Diana & Nikon is comprised of ten essays that originally appeared in the New Yorker and one new essay. In this work, Malcolm examines pieces by traditional and contemporary photographers and analyzes the nature of photography as an art form. In Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession (1981), Malcolm provides an in-depth look at the lives of Freudian psychoanalysts. Using the pseudonym Aaron Green, she details the social order of Freudian analysts, studies the neuroses of the analysts themselves, and highlights difficulties faced by therapists who are required to remain emotionally detached from their patients, yet are bombarded with highly emotional dilemmas and the need to maintain empathy for their clients. In the Freud Archives further investigates the hierarchy of Freudian circles by studying the rise of Jeffrey Masson in New York analytical society and his subsequent downfall. Masson, a professor of Sanskrit at the University of Toronto, underwent psychotherapy and pursued a career as an analyst. His writings on Freud brought him to the attention of Kurt Eissler, the caretaker of the Sigmund Freud Archives in Washington, D.C. Eissler was impressed by Masson, giving him access to the archives and naming Masson his successor. According to Malcolm, while searching through Freud's letters in the archives, Masson discovered information concerning Freud's “seduction theory.” Early in his career, Freud studied the possibility that adults who suffer hysteria may have been sexually abused as children. Freud later rejected this idea and began to study the theory of infantile sexuality and fantasy. Masson uncovered letters that he believes prove that Freud changed his opinion not because of academic study, but because his theory of seduction met with disapproval and ridicule. Masson contends that analysts who treat patients according to Freud's infantile sexuality theory and Oedipal complex theories are actually denying their patients the correct therapy they need and allowing sexual abuse to go unchecked. After Masson published his findings, he was fired and blacklisted from the society of Freudian analysts. Malcolm revisits the theme of betrayal in The Journalist and the Murderer, recounting the relationship and subsequent lawsuit between Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald and author Joseph McGinniss. MacDonald, who was convicted of killing his wife and two children, contacted McGinniss during his trial and asked him to write about his story, in hopes that his innocence would be revealed. McGinniss was given complete access to all evidence and acted as part of the defense team. After MacDonald's conviction, McGinniss published Fatal Vision, which portrayed MacDonald as a psychopathic murderer. MacDonald was stunned and promptly sued McGinniss for pretending to believe in his innocence in order to retain access to damning information. Malcolm contends that although it may seem ethically reprehensible, journalists must occasionally use deceit to uncover important information and cannot be expected to adhere to the same moral compass as those in other occupations. Malcolm further explores journalistic integrity and writers' bias in The Silent Woman, where she empathizes with Hughes, underscoring hardships he experienced after Plath's death in 1963. Hughes has been vilified by many as a contributing factor to his wife's suicide and was frequently attacked for his methods of controlling his wife's literary estate. Malcolm analyzes five Plath biographies and concludes that such investigations often lend prestige to the deceased while survivors are wounded anew as facts are revealed. Malcolm compares the field of biography with that of journalism, skewering both and noting that a biographer “is like a professional burglar, breaking into a house, rifling through certain drawers … and triumphantly bearing his loot away.” In The Crime of Sheila McGough Malcolm again critiques the American legal system. McGough is a lawyer who represented Bob Bailes, an indicted con man. Using his charm and social skills, Bailes persuades McGough to use legally questionable tactics to secure his release from prison. According to McGough, she became an unwitting participant in fraud. McGough served two-and-a-half years in prison; on her release, she wrote to Malcolm in hopes of clearing her name. Malcolm reviews the evidence and, believing McGough used bad judgment, concludes that McGough's only crime was her loyalty to an undeserving client. Malcolm asserts that the legal system is not interested in uncovering the truth, but in comparing “competing narratives” to see which one will win “the prize of the jury's vote.”
Although widely considered a skilled and intelligent writer, Malcolm has provoked strong debate over her intentions for and methods of obtaining and relaying information in her stories. In Diana & Nikon, her questioning of the validity of photography as an art form has been noted as an interesting analytical theory, but other reviewers were dismayed by her opinions and felt that she misunderstands the genre of photographic art. Psychoanalysis and In the Freud Archives have been highly praised and are considered informative and enlightening. Critics applauded Malcolm's exploration of psychoanalysis and her detailed descriptions of analysts and their virtually self-contained social and professional community. These books helped propel Malcolm into the ranks of top journalists and essayists, but her journalistic integrity was called into question when Masson filed his libel suit in 1984. The ramifications of a journalist accused of libel and defamation created a stir in the publishing community. Many writers suggested that Malcolm compromised journalists by opening them up as potential targets of frivolous future lawsuits. Malcolm was supported by writers who believe that “cleaning up” an interviewee's words is not only acceptable but is standard procedure and often enhances the image of the person being interviewed. Detractors rebutted, stating that the correct use of quotation marks is mandatory, and that if an interviewer paraphrases, such comments should remain outside quotation marks. The Journalist and the Murderer was published during the Masson v. Malcolm trial and some commentators believed that Malcolm's morally ambiguous stance on journalistic integrity in this work directly relates to her legal troubles and that her objectivity was compromised. Other journalists asserted that Malcolm's particular type of writing is unrepresentative of the way the majority of newswriters, reporters, and columnists write. In The Silent Woman, Malcolm agrees with biographer Anne Stevenson's position regarding the Sylvia Plath-Ted Hughes relationship. Stevenson's 1989 biography of Plath was derided for presenting a view of the couple's relationship markedly different from those commonly presented in the past. Malcolm presents details of her own interviews with Plath's family, acquaintances, and other biographers to support a more sympathetic view of Hughes, and enumerates difficulties he experienced after Plath's suicide. Many reviewers have questioned Malcolm's reasons for supporting this unorthodox view and some have argued she purposely ignores evidence hinting at Hughes's duplicity, but, on the whole, such dissenters note that Malcolm unearths intriguing material in The Silent Woman. Most critics agree that Malcolm creates a thought-provoking study examining interview methods and the art of creating biography in this work.
Diana & Nikon: Essays on the Aesthetic of Photography (essays) 1980
Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession (nonfiction) 1981
In the Freud Archives (nonfiction) 1984
The Journalist and the Murderer (nonfiction) 1990
The Purloined Clinic: Selected Writings (essays) 1992
The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes (nonfiction) 1994
The Crime of Sheila McGough (nonfiction) 1999
Reading Chekhov: A Critical Journey (essays) 2001
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SOURCE: Thompson, Peter. “The Painter's Palette and the Camera's Lens.” Washington Post Book World 10, no. 13 (30 March 1980): 8.
[In the following review, Thompson disagrees with Malcolm's theories about photography in Diana & Nikon. Thompson feels a photographer's work should be considered artistic when viewed within the whole body of an artist's career.]
The 11 essays in Janet Malcolm's Diana & Nikon are very close to reviews. They were written from 1975 to 1979 for The New Yorker and The New York Times and were transferred intact into book form. Characteristic of reviews for those publications, 10 of the 11 essays are tied to specific events: the publication of new photographic books or the exhibition of works by known photographers at major galleries and museums. The exhibited and published works with which Janet Malcolm deals are, in order, those of Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston, Irving Penn, Garry Winogrand, Richard Avedon, Herta Hilscher-Wittgenstein, Donald McCullin, William Eggleston, Robert Frank, Eve Sonneman, Harry Callahan, Walker Evans, Chauncey Hare. To some—Stieglitz, Weston, Winogrand, Avedon, Frank—she returns more than once, as she does to the Museum of Modern Art's curator of photography John Szarkowski.
Malcolm's central thought is this: “Scratch a great photograph and find a painting (or painterly influence).” This...
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SOURCE: James, Clive. “The Gentle Slope of Castalia.” New York Review of Books 27, no. 20 (18 December 1980): 22.
[In the following excerpt, James uses sarcasm to refute many of the proposed theories about photography in Diana & Nikon.]
The very first book illustrated with photographs, William Fox Talbot's The Pencil of Nature (1844), carried as an epigraph a quotation from Virgil. Talbot, who was a learned classicist as well as a chemist clever enough to invent photography, enlisted Virgil's aid in declaring how sweet it was to cross a mountain ridge unblemished by the wheel-ruts of previous visitors, and thence descend the gentle slope to Castalia—a rural paradise complete with well-tended olive groves. The gentle slope turned out to be a precipice and Castalia is buried miles deep under photographs. A subsidiary avalanche, composed of books about photographs, is even now descending. In this brief survey I have selected with some rigor from the recent output, which has filled my office and chased me downstairs into the kitchen.
In her book On Photography (1977) Susan Sontag darkly warned the world that images are out to consume it. Books about images are presumably also in on the feast. Hers remains the best theoretical work to date, although competitors are appearing with startling frequency. Gisèle Freund's Photography and Society, now finally...
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SOURCE: Storr, Anthony. “Portrait of a Therapist.” New Republic 185, no. 11 (16 September 1981): 34-6.
[In the following review of Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession, Storr evaluates Malcolm's views on traditional, dispassionate psychoanalysis, contrasting such methods to sympathetic and interactive analytical approaches.]
This short book [Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession] is based on a series of essays on psychoanalysis which attracted attention when they appeared in the New Yorker. As the bibliography attests, Janet Malcolm has done her homework. In addition, she recorded a number of interviews with practicing psychoanalysts, of whom “Aaron Green” is her principal informant. Aaron Green is a Freudian analyst of the fundamentalist variety. He has had two analyses himself: the first, lasting six years, when he was a medical student; the second, lasting nine years, when he was an aspirant psychoanalyst in training. He calls psychoanalysis a science. He believes that Freud made certain fundamental discoveries concerning infantile sexuality and the Oedipus complex which ought to have been accepted and passed down in the way that discoveries in chemistry and physics are handed on, and is amazed that this is still not the case. He considers psychoanalysis equivalent to a surgical operation; that is, it is both extremely intimate and yet entirely impersonal. He will...
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SOURCE: Shearer, Ann. Review of Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession, by Janet Malcolm. New Statesman 103, no. 2658 (26 February 1982): 28.
[In the following review, Shearer lauds Malcolm's probing of psychoanalysis in Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession, contending that her examination of techniques used by analysts is enlightening.]
No, but what do they really do in those 50-minute hours? Janet Malcolm's idea of setting her own lucid outline of Freud's theory against the confessions of one of his strict disciples works marvellously [in Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession], not just as a portrait of the man, but as a questioning of the creed he stands for.
The central mystery of the transference, without which nothing, may sound barmy to the unbeliever even after Janet Malcolm and Aaron Green, her pseudonymous interpreter, have done their best. But at the least it's one way of making sense of her own confession that she finds psychoanalysts ‘near-saints’—and that after all her hours with Aaron and the tape-recorder, not before. What the trade calls transference valence is clearly running high all round. He sounds to have been waiting for such a chance ever since he shrugged on the black-and-white herring-bone jacket which he discovered only later—aha!—to be the uniform of the New York Psychoanalytic Institute. He keeps a...
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SOURCE: Brophy, Brigid. “Transference.” London Review of Books 4, no. 7 (15 April 1982): 3, 5.
[In the following excerpt, Brophy occasionally questions Malcolm's beliefs and interpretations of psychoanalysis, but on the whole, states that Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession is thought-provoking, well written, and enjoyable to read.]
The phenomenon of transference—how we all invent each other according to early blueprints—was Freud's most original and radical discovery. The idea of infant sexuality and of the Oedipus complex can be accepted with a good deal more equanimity than the idea that the most precious and inviolate of entities—personal relations—is actually a messy jangle of misapprehensions, at best an uneasy truce between powerful solitary fantasy systems. Even (or especially) romantic love is fundamentally solitary, and has at its core a profound impersonality. The concept of transference at once destroys faith in personal relations and explains why they are tragic: we cannot know each other.
Janet Malcolm does not suppose that her distress about a fact will stop its being a fact. Neither is she part of the Freud-processing industry, whose ambition is to pop Freud into the blender and dish up something bland. Hers is a legitimate cry of wounded romanticism. As she utters it [in Psychoanalysis: The Impossible...
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SOURCE: Mindess, Harvey. “Seductions in Psychoanalysis.” Los Angeles Times 103, no. 197 (17 June 1984): 2.
[In the following review of In the Freud Archives, Mindess, a psychotherapist, asserts that Jeffrey Masson's refutation of Freud's infantile sexuality theory is subversive, incorrect, and potentially could cause harm to patients.]
Dear Sigmund: I am sorry to have to tell you that they are dancing on your grave. Since your beloved Anna joined you at that great Vienna in the sky, there is no one so good at keeping trespassers away. Kurt Eissler still tends your shrine, but his veneration conceals a neurotic blind spot for a young man named Jeffrey Masson—an apparent opportunist if there ever was one—who had taken training in psychoanalysis and delivered some impressive papers.
Masson seemed like a great admirer of yours, so Eissler had him appointed his successor as keeper of the archives. Only then did Masson begin to issue statements defaming your integrity.
Masson's ambition, it turned out, was to wreck the entire edifice of psychoanalysis. If he could make his points, he gloated in an interview. “they would have to recall every patient since 1901.”
But that was only the beginning. Soon another assassin entered the scene—a Welshman named Peter Swales. This master of invective began to circulate rumors that you not only slept...
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SOURCE: Seabrook, John. “Psychoanalysis: A Telling Critique.” Christian Science Monitor 76, no. 168 (24 July 1984): 21-2.
[In the following review, Seabrook characterizes In the Freud Archives as a captivating examination of psychoanalysis and an insightful look at the tenets and practices of analysts who follow Freud's teachings.]
In the Freud Archives is Janet Malcolm's second book about Freudian psychoanalysis. In her previous book, Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession, Malcolm recalled the heyday of the discipline, the 1950s, when with unlimited optimism analysis reached out to every kind of human disorder. In the 1960s government-funded clinics made analysis accessible to almost everyone, and analysts talked about improving the health of society as a whole.
But in the '70s both the money and the optimism ran out. Today analysts acknowledge that at least as many treatments fail as succeed, and success has been more modestly defined. Most analysts won't treat the severely ill, and most prefer educated patients to uneducated ones. The average analysis takes six to eight years, 11 months a year, five days a week. Many analysts have begun to rely on antidepressant drugs to effect the “cure” their method promises. And other, less severe kinds of therapy have eroded the supremacy of Freudian analysis.
Having devastated the profession in...
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SOURCE: Wilmers, Mary-Kay. “Fortress Freud.” London Review of Books 7, no. 7 (18 April 1985): 10-11.
[In the following review, Wilmers studies Malcolm's Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession and In the Freud Archives, underscoring the exclusiveness and the separatist aspects of the psychoanalytical professional's lifestyle.]
Psychoanalysts have a difficult relationship with the rest of the world—or, as they sometimes call it, ‘the goyim’. Janet Malcolm's two very striking books of reportage, Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession and In the Freud Archives, make this clear. Freud's wife, according to her grandson, ‘divided the world into those who knew of grandfather and those who did not’. The latter, he said, ‘did not play any role in her life’. In that sense every analyst is Freud's wife and lives in a world entirely taken up with psychoanalytic concerns. Sometimes it seems that they hardly know what may happen in real life and fear it accordingly. On the night of the New York black-out in 1965 someone I know was with his analyst. As the lights went out the analyst—not the patient—jumped out of his chair and shouted: ‘They're coming to get me.’ Psychoanalysts have had good reasons for considering themselves beleaguered, but for the past twenty years at least, the world, being less interested in them, has been less interested than they imagine...
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SOURCE: Rieff, David. “Hoisting Another by Her Own Petard.” Los Angeles Times Book Review 109, no. 98 (11 March 1990): 4.
[In the following review of The Journalist and the Murderer, Rieff investigates Malcolm's theories regarding the role of journalists and the ideas of exploitation, integrity, and artistic merit.]
Some years ago, Joan Didion ended one of her most famous essays—a piece that all her admirers remember, and, fortunately, that few of her subjects subsequently took to heart—with this gaunt, defiant coda: “Writers,” she warned, “are always selling somebody out.”
At times, Janet Malcolm's brilliant and discomfiting new book, The Journalist and the Murderer, is an attempt to graft flesh onto the bones of that remark. Her formulation is, if anything, even more stark than Didion's. “Every journalist,” she writes, “who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people's vanity, ignorance or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse. … Journalists justify their treachery in various ways according to their temperaments. The more pompous talk about freedom of speech and ‘the public's right to know’; the least talented talk about Art; the seemliest murmur about earning a living.”
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SOURCE: Stimpson, Catharine R. “The Haunted House.” Nation 250, no. 25 (25 June 1990): 899-902.
[In the following review, Stimpson discusses The Journalist and the Murderer, and Malcolm's opinion that moralistic shortcomings are inherent in journalistic endeavors.]
The Journalist and the Murderer is a slim book that has raised a hefty ruckus because of its chilly thesis: “The journalist must do his work in a … deliberately induced state of moral anarchy … [an] unfortunate occupational hazard.” To get information, a journalist must gain access to people. To write up this information, he must betray their faith in him as a good buddy and sympathetic publicist. Journalism is a rough trade that trades off human solidarity for the chance to craft a powerful likeness of reality. Trado, ergo sum, not Cogito, ergo sum or even Scribo, ergo sum, is its existential slogan. In brief, the journalist must become a kind of murderer.
Journalists have endured harsher opprobrium than this. Think of Matthias Pardon in Henry James's novel The Bostonians (1886), a giddy lightweight of an interviewer for whom a person is but “food for newsboys.” In 1978 the argument of Sissela Bok's ethical meditation, Lying, anticipated the worst of The Journalist and the Murderer. “Journalists, police investigators, and so-called intelligence...
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SOURCE: Christmas, Linda. “Get the Story.” New Statesman and Society 3, no. 135 (25 January 1991): 35.
[In the following review of The Journalist and the Murderer, Christmas focuses on the lengths journalists will go to get a story and comments on their perception of moral obligations.]
This [The Journalist and the Murderer] is a book about betrayal: about journalists who give fake sympathy and support to interviewees in order to encourage them to talk freely, and then go back to their keyboards and put the boot in. It's also an American book, so I'd better start at the beginning. Some 20 years ago, in North Carolina, a woman and her two daughters were murdered. The husband, Jeffrey MacDonald, serving as a doctor in a Green Beret unit, was charged and then cleared by an Army tribunal. But, eight years later, the stepfather of the murdered woman succeeded in bringing the case to trial.
MacDonald, proclaiming his innocence and in need of money to pay for his defence, decided to let a journalist become an official member of the defence team in order to write a book about the case. Joseph Wambaugh turned down the invitation. “I suspect that you want a writer who would tell your story, and indeed your version may very well be the truth as I would see it. But you'd have no guarantee, not with me.” Admirable straight talking.
Joe McGinniss accepted the...
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SOURCE: Symons, Julian. “Journalists on Trial.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4582 (25 January 1991): 14.
[In the following review of The Journalist and the Murderer, Symons disagrees with Malcolm's assertion that journalists must use any means available to report a story.]
The background should be briefly sketched. In 1970 the wife and two young children of Jeffrey MacDonald, a physician serving with the Green Berets in North Carolina, were stabbed and bludgeoned to death. MacDonald, who had been slightly wounded and knocked unconscious according to his account by never-discovered intruders, was charged with the murders and acquitted by an Army tribunal. In 1979, however, largely through the persistence of the dead woman's stepfather, he was tried again in a criminal court, found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.
MacDonald's guilt or innocence remains a matter of passionate argument in the United States, in large part because of the furore caused by the publication of Fatal Vision, an account of the case by Joe McGinniss, who had sprung to instant journalistic fame with The Selling of the President. This was a book about the successful advertising packaging of Richard Nixon (an early and less sophisticated version of the equally successful packaging of Margaret Thatcher). McGinniss had been given access to the deliberations of the Nixon team, and...
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SOURCE: Barber, Lynn. “Lynn Barber of the Independent on Sunday Defends the Indefensible.” London Review of Books 13, no. 6 (21 March 1991): 5.
[In the following review, Barber faults The Journalist and the Murderer, alleging the book fails to carry the weight of its opening lines and that Malcolm's intent in writing the book is aimed at deflecting blame in her own legal battles.]
I shall bite the next person who comes up to me at a party and asks if I've read The Journalist and the Murderer. It is not a well-intentioned question. It implies that Ms Malcolm's book has dealt irreparable damage to me and my kind (journalists who do interviews for a living), and that henceforward we must hang our heads in shame. I don't see it myself, but let's begin with the book.
It is an account of the ethical issues supposedly arising from the MacDonald-McGinniss case in the United States. Jeffrey MacDonald was a Green Beret doctor who was found guilty of murdering his wife and children. Joe McGinniss is a journalist who, shortly before MacDonald's trial in 1979, signed a contract to write a book about the case. (Books about murders were all the rage then.) Under the terms of the contract, MacDonald was to waive libel rights and give exclusive co-operation to McGinniss, in return for 26[frac12] per cent of the book royalties. McGinniss interviewed MacDonald during the run-up to...
(The entire section is 1862 words.)
SOURCE: Hoyt, Michael. “Malcolm, Masson, and You.” Columbia Journalism Review 29, no. 6 (March-April 1991): 38-44.
[In the following essay, Hoyt examines the Masson v. Malcolm libel case, and Malcolm's book The Journalist and the Murderer. Hoyt provides background information on both Malcolm and Jeffrey Masson, chronicles the genesis of the trial, and reviews the implications of the verdict.]
“We are all perpetually smoothing and rearranging reality to conform to our wishes. …”
Janet Malcolm, “Trouble in the Archives,” The New Yorker, December 5, 1983
To your list of things to worry about, if there's any room, add the Jeffrey Masson-Janet Malcolm libel suit, which the Supreme Court heard in January and is expected to rule on some time before the middle of the year. Malcolm, journalism's grand inquisitor, is in the odd position of protecting the interests of journalists in a way not all of us are sure we want to be protected. And the Court, in an effort to keep us from doing our worst, could set standards that inhibit us from doing our best.
Like a lot of subjects of unflattering articles, Masson claims he was terribly misquoted [in Malcolm's In the Freud Archives]. Unlike most such subjects, he filed a ＄10 million libel claim and, despite setbacks in two lower courts,...
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SOURCE: Himmelfarb, Gertrude. “The Right to Misquote.” Commentary 91, no. 4 (April 1991): 31-4.
[In the following essay, Himmelfarb examines the Masson v. Malcolm lawsuit and its legal ramifications, referring to In the Freud Archives and written summaries about the case. Himmelfarb asserts that Malcolm's misuse of direct quotes is dishonest and unprofessional.]
It is not often that the Supreme Court is presented with a case in which the evidence consists of such titillating remarks, allegedly made by the plaintiff, as his likening himself to “an intellectual gigolo,” desiring to convert Anna Freud's house, the repository of the Freud Archives, into “a place of sex, women, fun,” and anticipating being acclaimed “the greatest analyst who ever lived”—after Freud, to be sure.
These are among the quotations attributed to Jeffrey Masson by Janet Malcolm in two articles in the New Yorker in December 1983 and in her book In the Freud Archives published by Knopf the following year. Masson denies having made these statements and charges that they are malicious and libelous. Malcolm claims that he did make them although they do not appear on her tapes, and in any event that they are neither malicious nor libelous because they accurately reflect other comments by Masson that do appear on the tapes. (The other defendants in the suit are the New...
(The entire section is 3450 words.)
SOURCE: Erens, Pamela. “Flirting with the Past.” New England Review 15, no. 3 (summer 1993): 212-19.
[In the following review, Erens appraises the essays in The Purloined Clinic, noting that Malcolm urges readers to uncover truths by exposing falsehoods.]
Janet Malcolm has a rare talent: She is able to write about psychoanalysis in language that cats and dogs can read, without distorting or diluting its complexity, its mystery or its pleasures. The books she published in the early 1980s, Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession and In the Freud Archives, both of which first appeared as articles in The New Yorker, plucked psychoanalytic thought from the pages of professional journals and collections of literary theory and returned it to public discourse, reforging its connections with the ordinary stuff of life: desire, memory, morality, mortality.
To Malcolm, psychoanalysis is not simply a body of knowledge or a clinical method. She prefers to use the word in its adjectival form: ideas, truths, and ways of thinking are psychoanalytic or—if less profound—not. Four essays that touch on various aspects of psychoanalytic theory and history make up the first section of Malcolm's new book of writings, The Purloined Clinic, and the conclusions they arrive at are subtly revisited throughout the remainder of the collection, a mix of book reviews,...
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SOURCE: Pettingell, Phoebe. “Plath and the Perils of Biography.” New Leader 77, no. 3 (14-28 March 1994): 14-15.
[In the following review, Pettingell praises The Silent Woman, contending Malcolm provides an adept treatment of Sylvia Plath's death, her relationship with husband Ted Hughes, and the biographies written about Plath's life.]
Janet Malcolm has created a literary niche for herself as a chronicler of quarrels. Ten years ago, In the Freud Archives gave us a blow-by-blow account of orthodox Freudians duking it out with their master's detractors. In 1990, The Journalist and the Murderer depicted the feud between an Army doctor convicted of killing his family and a friendly writer with whom he cooperated in hopes of exoneration, but whose book ultimately concurred with the court. Not one to pull her own punches, Malcolm lets us see how people talk to a reporter, how in seeking to control a story they usually reveal the very information they later regret having mentioned. Her tales are gripping precisely because she zeroes in on the essence of a personality. Without being disengaged—her own opinions do emerge, and tend to be strong—she fashions portraits that, favorable or not, retain the feel of authenticity.
Now, in The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, Malcolm explores the conflicts inherent in accurately describing the life of a dead...
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SOURCE: Showalter, Elaine. “Going Underground.” London Review of Books 16, no. 9 (12 May 1994): 3, 5.
[In the following review, Showalter describes The Silent Woman as nonfiction, yet notices that the story contains elements of mystery, romance, and melodrama pertaining not only to Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes's lives but also to the drama surrounding the five earlier biographies about Plath.]
Ours is not an age in which literary events get much attention, but the publication in the New Yorker last August of Janet Malcolm's study of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes was an exception. Brilliantly packaged with reprints of the Plath poems which the New Yorker had originally published, the issue was a sell-out on both sides of the Atlantic, and for weeks no dinner party from Hampstead to the Hamptons was complete without a discussion of it. Now published as a book, The Silent Woman is ostensibly a scathing denunciation of the ethics of literary biography in general and a defence of Hughes and his formidable sister Olwyn in particular. Malcolm takes arms against the hordes of biographers, journalists, feminists and sensation-seekers who have mercilessly raked over the ashes of Plath's life, often blaming Hughes for his infidelity during Plath's life and his iron control of her copyrights since her death. ‘The pleasure of hearing ill of the dead is not a negligible one,’ she...
(The entire section is 3259 words.)
SOURCE: Bromwich, David. “The Bell Jar.” New Republic 210, no. 23 (6 June 1994): 34-8.
[In the following review of The Silent Woman, Bromwich compliments Malcolm's determination and journalistic prowess, but questions Malcolm's judgment to make herself an active character within the book.]
The jacket photo on Janet Malcolm's new book [The Silent Woman] shows the author standing relaxed, arms folded, three-quarters turned to the camera, her glasses pushed above her forehead. The pose seems to say: “I may not see you clearly yet, but wait.” Meanwhile, the look is direct and possibly sympathetic: it gives nothing at all away. You would know from this picture what you learn from Malcolm's writings, that she is an attentive listener, the sort who can lead people to blurt out more than they realize. Her published portraits honestly record the signals by which she gets that response. She does it in every journalist's way, by cues of geniality and shared experience. Often the cues are partial. Almost always, the subject talks on. Armed with this skill of tacit coaxing, Malcolm has survived in a bad time for journalism as one of the few living writers who practice the New Yorker profile in the grand manner. She has been able to carry the genre to the length it needs; and she possesses a further and a more unusual distinction. In America she is the only reporter who writes books on...
(The entire section is 4766 words.)
SOURCE: Crick, Bernard. “No End of Blame.” New Statesman and Society 7, no. 323 (7 October 1994): 38-9.
[In the following review, Crick wholeheartedly endorses The Silent Woman as an insightful study of the genre of biography and the influences and preconceptions that appear in any biographer's writing.]
I often meditate on the art of blurbs as well as on the art of biography. Learned libraries, unlike public libraries, do us no service to discard the jacket as if not part of “the text” or semiotic package.
This book's [The Silent Woman] blurb is not just a good blurb but one which this reviewer, having read the book three times (first in the New Yorker, then the American edition, now in an almost identical English edition), can for once wholeheartedly endorse. It describes “a brilliant, elegantly reasoned meditation on the art of biography, in which [Janet Malcolm] takes as her example the various biographies of the poet Sylvia Plath … It is not a book about the life of Sylvia Plath, but about her afterlife: how her reputation was forged from the poems she wrote just before her suicide, how her estranged husband, Ted Hughes, as executor of her estate, tries to serve two masters—Plath's art and his own need for privacy.”
Surprisingly, for a book of this importance, the English blurb and jacket-copy are identical and American. I...
(The entire section is 1348 words.)
SOURCE: Chisholm, Anne. “People Say the Life Is the Thing.” Spectator 273, no. 8679 (12 November 1994): 41-2.
[In the following review, Chisholm judges The Silent Woman as engaging but finds that the book sheds little new light on the Sylvia Plath-Ted Hughes relationship or on the art of biography itself.]
In 1989, Janet Malcolm, a New Yorker journalist, read Bitter Fame, a biography of Sylvia Plath, the American poet who committed suicide in 1963, by another American poet, Anne Stevenson. The book, Malcolm tells us, gave a focus to the unease she had felt while reading other biographies; and she was also intrigued because she recalled Anne Stevenson from college as an enviable, romantic literary figure. Predictably, Bitter Fame stirred up trouble, which was not hard to do given the hostility between Plath's supporters and those who wished to protect the man who had been married to her, Ted Hughes, the Poet Laureate. Impelled by a mixture of personal and professional curiosity and no doubt the smell of a good story, Malcolm embarked upon an extended piece of reporting that emerged as a highly critical essay on the state of contemporary biography in general and the exceptionally fraught Plath biography saga in particular. First published by the New Yorker in the summer of 1993 and shortly afterwards as a book in America [The Silent Woman], it comes out here...
(The entire section is 979 words.)
SOURCE: Viney, Rebecca. Review of The Silent Woman, by Janet Malcolm. Midwest Quarterly 36, no. 2 (winter 1995): 227-28.
[In the following review, Viney contends that The Silent Woman is intelligently written but maintains that Malcolm is one-sided in her adoration of Ted Hughes and less than sympathetic to other biographers who have had dissenting views.]
The Silent Woman, not a biography itself but a book about biographies, offers almost as much information about Sylvia Plath's life and death as a biography would offer. If “the biographer at work … is like the professional burglar, breaking into a house” (9), then Janet Malcolm at work is like a burglar breaking into another burglar's house.
Malcolm examines each of the five Plath biographer's methods to “bring back the goods” (10) on Plath, and each book's worthiness in general. Malcolm praises Bitter Fame by Anne Stevenson (1989) as “the most intelligent and the only aesthetically satisfying” (10). However, Malcolm criticizes Stevenson for allowing Plath's husband, Ted Hughes, and his sister, Olwyn Hughes (Plath's literary executor) to strongly influence the final product. The Hugheses are the hostile tribe defending the territory the explorer, Anne Stevenson, must claim (11). Malcolm suggests that “Stevenson apparently had not subdued the natives but had been captured by them and...
(The entire section is 548 words.)
SOURCE: Dinnage, Rosemary. “Kicking the Myth Habit.” New York Review of Books 42, no. 6 (6 April 1995): 6-8.
[In the following review, Dinnage agrees with Malcolm that myths surrounding Sylvia Plath's life and career have overshadowed actual history. Dinnage judges The Silent Woman as offering a truly unique perspective as a chronicle of the lives of those affected by Plath's suicide.]
Why the “silent woman”? Among the vast number of words generated by the suicide of the poet Sylvia Plath (which [in The Silent Woman] are hereby being added to) is an account of a scene in Yorkshire in 1960. Olwyn Hughes, sister of Plath's English husband, Ted Hughes, and a crucial figure in the wretched cause célèbre that the girl's death became, called her brother's wife badly behaved, inconsiderate, and rude—the kind of sisterly-in-law remark that can crop up in family gatherings. Sylvia “glared accusingly [and] … kept up her unnerving stare. Olwyn, who immediately regretted she'd said a word, remembers thinking, ‘Why doesn't she say something?’” The glaring, silent woman, as described here by Olwyn Hughes to a biographer, is the Bad Sylvia; the Good Sylvia is the one described by another biographer as “a fragile, lovable creature, in danger of being crushed,” female victim of a cruel male world. And she is a silent woman also because, while everyone else argues and...
(The entire section is 2969 words.)
SOURCE: Kagan, Wendy. Review of The Silent Woman, by Janet Malcolm. Chicago Review 41, no. 1 (1995): 92-6.
[In the following review, Kagan focuses on Malcolm's protective stance of Ted Hughes in The Silent Woman, and expresses disapproval of Malcolm's negative portrayal of journalists, biographers, and readers of biographies.]
The biographical approach to literature has an antique aura about it these days; certain circles condemn it as unfashionable. Ever since Foucault announced “the death of the author,” custodians of literary history and criticism have taken careful pains to separate the art from the life of the artist. But in the case of Sylvia Plath it would take an extraordinary muscle to pry these two entities apart; here the art and the life entwine to form one indivisible whole. A chain of biographical events—a troubled marriage, separation, and divorce; a feverish period of poetry writing; the suicide in 1963 (Plath was thirty); and the posthumous publication of Ariel two years later—lays the foundation for a grand mythologization of the poet, her life, and her work.
Plath's late poems speak in raw, emotive first-person (“I have suffered the atrocity of sunsets”),1 and many narrate plots of domestic deception (“My ribs show. What have I eaten? / Lies and smiles”).2 Some readers interpret the tragic heroine pose of...
(The entire section is 2142 words.)
SOURCE: Mitchison, Amanda. “Open Secrets.” New Statesman and Society 9, no. 400 (26 April 1996): 31.
[In the following review, Mitchison feels that at times the essays in The Purloined Clinic are verbose and stray off track, but when Malcolm is focused, her writing is honest, direct, and stimulating.]
The New Yorker writer Janet Malcolm is the daughter of a Czech psychoanalyst. Her great breadth of knowledge spans literature, psychoanalytic writing and the fine arts—all of which are covered in this selection of reviews and essays [The Purloined Clinic]. She also carries her erudition lightly and with poise. This book, for example, gained its title via a most tortuous route. It is named after an essay about a book about a painting which she thinks resembles an essay about a detective story—but in her accomplished, urbane prose, this train of thought seems quite effortless.
The story in question, which also bears on Malcolm's previous more substantial works, is The Purloined Letter by Edgar Allan Poe. Poe's detective Dupin is called on by the prefect of the Paris police to help find a vital letter stolen from the royal bedchamber by a government minister. The police have already secretly searched every possible hiding place in the minister's home—probing cushions with needles, unscrewing table legs—but to no avail. Dupin takes a different approach....
(The entire section is 744 words.)
SOURCE: Lakoff, Robin Tolmach, and Mandy Aftel. “In the Malcolm Archives.” Nation 263, no. 20 (16 December 1996): 32-5.
[In the following essay, Lakoff and Aftel describe the techniques Malcolm employs in her writing to persuade readers, disapproving of her subtle guidance, and asserting that nonfiction should be written from a completely objective stance.]
Janet Malcolm covers the trendiest topics of current intellectual discourse: psychoanalysis, its powers and its decline; crime and punishment; the nature of creativity and the price it exacts. Sometimes she subjects herself and her work to pitiless critique: Biography is ghoulish; journalism is a scam. Thus she wins our trust along with our admiration.
Malcolm's style is as worthy of admiration as her content: lucid yet artful, complex but not turgid. We appreciate her skill in playing postmodern games: genre-crossing (is The Journalist and the Murderer a whodunit, a metawhodunit examining the rules of crime reportage or a critique of journalism itself even as it is a piece of journalism: text and metatext at once?) and indeterminacy (in In the Freud Archives, Jeffrey Masson is at once an intrepid, brilliant gadfly and an empty-headed, sex-obsessed egomaniac). She switches perspective at dizzying speed: from Sylvia Plath's world view to Ted Hughes's to Hughes's sister Olwyn's, in The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath...
(The entire section is 1912 words.)
SOURCE: Coles, Robert. Review of Diana & Nikon, by Janet Malcolm. Wilson Quarterly 22, no. 2 (spring 1998): 106.
[In the following review, Coles alleges that in Diana & Nikon Malcolm attempts to emphasize the vagueness of photography, both in terms of artistic intent and interpretation.]
The adage has it that a picture is worth a thousand words, but [in Diana & Nikon] the essayist Janet Malcolm manages deftly to reverse that assertion—indeed, to make the reader in some instances quite wary of a given photographer's intentions and work. For many years in the pages of the New Yorker, Malcolm has displayed a talent for getting to the bare bones of the matter, and, not rarely, a brusque impatience with the received pieties that go unexamined. In a sense, photography itself has become one of those pieties, its supposed “truths” an easy bromide, gladly accepted as a means of avoiding life's complexities, not to mention our own inclination to protect ourselves from recognizing those complexities by seeing only what suits our (psychological, social, economic) convenience. As in our dreams (those nightly visual productions that hint at meaning rather than directly express it), the photographer has intentions, assumptions, that inform his or her work, but they are not necessarily out on the table—hence an indirection that can be misleading, if beguiling, in a medium...
(The entire section is 623 words.)
SOURCE: Chisholm, Anne. “The Flash of the Knife.” Spectator 281, no. 8880 (17 October 1998): 39.
[In the following review, Chisholm underscores the predatory aspects of journalism and notes that, in The Journalist and the Murderer, Malcolm raises interesting questions about the ethics of journalism.]
It is not easy for other journalists and biographers to know what to make of Janet Malcolm, the New Yorker reporter and critic who for some years now has made it her business to put all of us on the spot. Her intelligence and subtlety of mind cannot be denied; she writes exceptionally well; her perceptions are often striking and original. The questions she raises, about the nature of the relationship between writers and the people they write about, need to be asked. The dilemma pond in which she dangles her hook is murky and insufficiently plumbed. There is much to admire in what she does, but it has nevertheless become increasingly clear that Malcolm's own performance is as deeply flawed as, and perhaps even more self-serving than, the work of those she takes to pieces with such relish.
This book [The Journalist and the Murderer] began as a series for the New Yorker, like most of her writing, and was first published in 1990. It is an investigation in the form of an extended essay—Malcolm's preferred form, which allows her to take short cuts with narrative...
(The entire section is 800 words.)
SOURCE: Citron, Jo Ann. “Good Intentions.” Women's Review of Books 16, no. 6 (March 1999): 8.
[In the following review of The Crime of Sheila McGough, Citron expresses amazement at the glaring mistakes committed by McGough in her relationship with client Bob Bailes. Citron is taken aback by McGough's lack of judgment and her professional improprieties.]
I remember sitting in an uncomfortable seat on the first day of law school, listening to interminable welcome messages, when the dean himself walked into the well of the lecture hall. Without greeting or preliminaries of any kind, he leaned into the microphone and solemnly intoned three words: “Don't commingle funds.” And then in case he hadn't made himself clear, he repeated the incantation: “Don't commingle funds. If you forget everything else you learn here, never forget that.” Sheila McGough should have been there.
McGough was an attorney in Alexandria, Virginia, who in 1986 supposedly conspired with one of her clients to defraud investors. The federal indictment, which ran to fifteen counts, charged her with various forms of fraud, conspiracy, receiving stolen money, obstruction of justice, witness intimidation and perjury. In the fall of 1990. McGough was found guilty of most of it and eventually went to prison for two and a half years. In 1996, about a year after being paroled, she wrote to Janet...
(The entire section is 1761 words.)
SOURCE: Lamb, Richard. “The Journalist and the Bore.” New Leader 82, no. 4 (5 April 1999): 17-18.
[In the following review, Lamb asserts that Malcolm fails to make McGough's innocence convincing in The Crime of Sheila McGough.]
As a writer, Janet Malcolm is chiefly interested in betrayal, and in the stories we tell ourselves and others to facilitate it. Her taste is that of a connoisseur, so while seduction or garden variety fraud might intrigue her, she prefers the sort of apostasy that somehow reflects the state of an entire profession, that can compromise careers. Thus her fascination, in her books, with watching Jeffrey Masson flamboyantly fail the litmus test on Freud's seduction theory and wilt professionally (he had been set to take over the Freud Archives). Or with watching the small, hurtful deceptions of a marriage explode into large irremediable acts coloring Ted Hughes' reputation as a poet as well as that of his wife, Sylvia Plath.
Fascinating, too, from a reader's perspective, is Malcolm's take on her own profession. After having been accused of fabricating quotes (she was later found guilty), she began The Journalist and the Murderer:
Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he is doing is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people's...
(The entire section is 1377 words.)
SOURCE: Oates, Joyce Carol. “The Case of the Canned Lawyer.” New York Review of Books 46, no. 6 (8 April 1999): 14-17.
[In the following review, Oates asserts that The Crime of Sheila McGough is not one of Malcolm's stronger works. Oates feels journalistic strengths are evident in the book, but with McGough as subject matter, the story becomes bland and weighed down.]
“Writing cannot be done in a state of desirelessness.”
—Janet Malcolm, The Silent Woman
“Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible.”
—Janet Malcolm, The Journalist and the Murderer
Just as The Journalist and the Murderer (1990) was a provocative, and provoking, meditation upon the ambiguous ethical role of the journalist vis-à-vis his subject, and The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes (1995) was an equally original meditation upon the complicated art of biography (“the medium through which the remaining secrets of the famous dead are taken from them and dumped out in full view of the world”), so Janet Malcolm's seventh book, The Crime of Sheila McGough, is both a highly detailed portrait of a woman lawyer and the court case with which...
(The entire section is 3652 words.)
SOURCE: Posner, Richard A. “In the Fraud Archives.” New Republic 220, no. 16 (19 April 1999): 29-34.
[In the following review, Posner, a U.S. Chief Justice, outlines what he perceives as flaws in The Crime of Sheila McGough. Posner disapproves of Malcolm's lenient attitude toward McGough's complicity in the crimes carried out with Bob Bailes.]
In 1990, a federal jury convicted Sheila McGough, a criminal defense lawyer in Alexandria, Virginia, of fraud, perjury, witness intimidation, and related crimes. She was sentenced to three years in prison. Her conviction and her sentence were affirmed, and her subsequent motion for a new trial on the basis of newly discovered evidence was denied, and that denial was also affirmed. After her release from prison, she wrote to the journalist Janet Malcolm, claiming that she had been framed because her pertinacious efforts to defend her clients had irritated federal prosecutors and judges. Malcolm investigated the matter and concluded that McGough had indeed been unjustly convicted. “It seems scarcely possible that in this country someone could go to prison for merely being irritating, but as far as I can make out, this is indeed what happened to Sheila McGough”—though Malcolm does not believe that the judges and prosecutors “framed” McGough in the sense of deliberately fabricating a case against a person whom they believed to be innocent. Malcolm...
(The entire section is 4833 words.)
SOURCE: Landsman, Stephan. “The Perils of Courtroom Stories.” Michigan Law Review 98, no. 6 (May 2000): 2154-75.
[In the following essay, Landsman attempts to analyze Malcolm's intent in writing The Crimes of Sheila McGough. Landsman believes Malcolm's views reflect her growing repugnance for the legal system and contends that her single-minded defense of McGough's actions are misplaced and irresponsibly lead the reader to improper conclusions.]
I. ONCE UPON A TIME—THE ALLEGEDLY SAD TALE OF SHEILA MCGOUGH
As Janet Malcolm1 tells it [in The Crime of Sheila McGough], Sheila McGough was a middle-aged single woman living at home with her parents and working as an editor and administrator in the publications department of the Carnegie Institute when she decided to switch careers and go to law school. She applied and was admitted to the then recently accredited law school at George Mason University. After graduation, she began a solo practice in northern Virginia that involved a significant amount of state-appointed criminal defense work.
In 1986, approximately four years after her graduation from law school, McGough received a call requesting assistance from an incarcerated arrestee named Bob Bailes. From the very start, McGough's assistance to Bailes was unorthodox. Immediately upon meeting him at the Fairfax County, Virginia, lockup,...
(The entire section is 9260 words.)
SOURCE: Bayley, John. “Fresh Oysters.” New York Review of Books 48, no. 19 (29 November 2001): 18-20.
[In the following excerpt, Bayley states that in Reading Chekhov, Malcolm masterfully blends personal insight with literary evaluation and social commentary about the life and works of Anton Chekhov.]
In her thoughtful and sensitive study Reading Chekhov, which she describes in a subtitle as a “Critical Journey,” Janet Malcolm writes of seeing a dreary production of Carmen in St. Petersburg—just the kind of boring evening that Chekhov might have featured in a story—in the course of which her own boredom was relieved by recalling that moment in “The Lady with the Little Dog” when two schoolboys, illicitly smoking in the cheap seats, see, with their own kind of boredom, Gurov, the “hero” of the tale, kissing the face and hands of Anna, with whom he has fallen deeply in love. Janet Malcolm also notices—has nobody done so before?—that Chekhov's details are like that, so unemphatic yet so unobtrusively effective, as with the moment when Gurov tells Anna “that he had taken his degree in Arts, but had a post in a bank; that he had trained as an opera singer, but given it up.”
“But had given it up”—what a telling phrase! As Janet Malcolm says, the reader assumes, if he notices the point at all, that Gurov gave it up because he wasn't good...
(The entire section is 2589 words.)
SOURCE: Bermel, Albert. “Master of the Monologue.” New Leader 84, no. 6 (November-December 2001): 45-6.
[In the following review, Bermel contends that, although Malcolm's black-and-white opinions on various Chekhov plays and characters are detrimental to understanding his message, Reading Chekhov is an enjoyable study of the playwright's works.]
In her exploration of Anton Chekhov's writings, life and reputation [Reading Chekhov: A Critical Journey], Janet Malcolm includes the contemporary testimony of such critics and artists as Dmitri Grigorovich, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky along with her own appreciations and occasional disparagements. She generally likes the works that enjoy public esteem and frowns on those that have been superseded by rewrites (like The Wood Demon, which became Uncle Vanya) or have passed into neglect. The journey of the book's subtitle takes her on a pilgrimage to places Chekhov lived or stayed in and captured memorably in print, from Moscow and St. Petersburg to Yalta and provincial settings.
Nowadays the full-length, full-strength plays lead secure lives. It is hard to believe that the first unveiling of The Seagull was a failure at St. Petersburg's Alexandrinsky Theater in 1896, after the author drastically reworked it before opening night—and after The Wood Demon similarly foundered. Within two years, though, the...
(The entire section is 1560 words.)
SOURCE: Smee, Sebastian. “Stopping Short of Omniscience.” Spectator 291, no. 9105 (8 February 2003): 29-30.
[In the following review, Smee examines Reading Chekhov and discusses Malcolm's analytic look at realism within Chekhov's works.]
Although Janet Malcolm has written in depth about an extraordinary range of subjects, from psychoanalysis and photography through to literary criticism, the art world, journalism, biography and the law, in thematic terms she has actually been one of the most consistent non-fiction writers of our time. Certainly, she is one of the most brilliant. I never feel such a keen sense of anticipation—the kind of adrenalised mental anticipation that feels almost luxurious to indulge—as when I start out on a new piece of writing by Malcolm.
For some, her thematic doggedness has been a problem: launching into a book about Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes (The Silent Woman), Plath groupies and gossip-mongers have been disappointed to find themselves reading what amounts to a reflection on the nature of biography, or, even more broadly, on having one's story told by others, rather than something passing itself off as the last word on its subject.
Similarly, some readers have been miffed to begin a book with the promising title The Journalist and the Murderer only to find themselves embroiled in a meditation on the...
(The entire section is 765 words.)
SOURCE: Eder, Doris L. “Janet Malcolm's Difficult Pursuit of Truth.” Contemporary Literary Criticism, edited by Jeffrey W. Hunter. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale, 2004.
[In the following essay, specially commissioned for Contemporary Literary Criticism, Eder discusses Malcolm's work and career.]
Janet Malcolm was born in Prague in 1925, one of two daughters of a psychiatrist. Her ancestors were secular Jews who immigrated to the United States in 1939 and settled in New York City. Malcolm was educated at Manhattan's High School of Music and Art and then at the University of Michigan. Both she and her sister became writers. Malcolm's career in journalism has been tied to The New Yorker, for which she first began writing about interior design and decoration and photography. Later she became well known for her profiles. She was married to Donald Malcolm, who also wrote for The New Yorker and died in 1975; she then married Gardner Botsford, a New Yorker editor.
THE QUEST FOR TRUTH.
A journalist's list of publications rarely attains the same semblance of coherence as a novelist's because a journalist writes principally for money and must, to some extent, “follow the news.” So, at first glance, Malcolm's bibliography has an “occasional” look. This is misleading, however, for there is a constant thread running through her...
(The entire section is 3055 words.)
Davis, Gwen. “Ignore That Woman behind the Curtain: The Trials of Janet & Jeffrey.” Nation 259, no. 18 (28 November 1994): 643-46.
Follows the final hearing and verdict of the Masson v. Malcolm libel suit, providing background information on the genesis of the case.
Fields, Howard. “Supreme Court Action in Masson-Malcolm Action.” Publishers Weekly 238, no. 29 (5 July 1991): 13.
Provides information on the Supreme Court's ruling that Masson v. Malcolm could be sent to a jury trial.
Arana-Ward, Marie. “Desperately Seeking Sylvia.” Washington Post Book World 24, no. 13 (27 March 1994): 18.
Compliments Malcolm's interviewing techniques and details she uncovers about the alleged ulterior motives of the biographers of Sylvia Plath.
Churchwell, Sarah. “Ted Hughes and the Corpus of Sylvia Plath.” Criticism 40, no. 1 (winter 1998): 99-132.
Draws comparisons between the struggle for control in Plath's life and the subsequent fight for control of her works after her death.
Conrad, Peter. “Living through the Lens.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4050 (14 November 1980): 1275-76.
Provides an overview of Diana & Nikon....
(The entire section is 590 words.)