Janet Malcolm

Start Free Trial


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 446

Malcolm was born in the 1930s to a Jewish family in pre-World War II Prague, Czechoslovakia. Her father was a psychiatrist. Because of rising anti- Semitism, the family left Europe in 1939 and settled in New York. Malcolm attended the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan and went on to the University of Michigan. Malcolm wrote reviews for the student paper and worked as an editor for the university’s humor magazine.

In the 1960s, Malcolm became a staff writer for the New Yorker, focusing primarily on interior decoration and design. By the 1970s she had branched out into writing about photography for the magazine. She published her first book, Diana and Nikon: Essays on the Aesthetic of Photography, in 1980. Ten of the eleven essays had originally appeared in the New Yorker, and many of her later books would also have their first publication in the magazine.

With her next book, Malcolm delved into the psychoanalytical world. Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession presented a history of the psychoanalytical profession and community. Her next book was the first of many that would cause great controversy. In 1983, Malcolm published a pair of articles in the New Yorker, ‘‘In the Freud Archives,’’ which was published by Knopf the following year. It concerned the fight for control of Sigmund Freud’s archives. Malcolm met one of the central figures, psychoanalyst Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, won his trust, and then proceeded to write what Craig Seligman called in Salon, ‘‘a masterwork of character assassination.’’ Masson quickly sued Malcolm for libel, basing his case on five quotations that he claimed she had made up. The suit was not wholly resolved until 1994, when a jury found that although Malcolm had falsified two quotes, she had not done so with ‘‘reckless disregard.’’

While undergoing this trial, Malcolm took on the subject of journalist freedom. ‘‘Reflections: The Journalist and the Murderer’’ appeared in two installments in the New Yorker in 1989, and it was published as the book The Journalist and the Murderer the following year. In it, Malcolm explored the relationship between the journalist and the subject, but her assertions as to the inherent dishonesty that all reporters practice disturbed many readers.

Malcolm’s 1994 The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes (which also first appeared as a New Yorker article) generated controversy as she took an unorthodox view of Hughes. In The Crime of Sheila McGough (1999), Malcolm chronicles the trial of Virginia attorney McGough, who served two and a half years in federal prison after her 1990 felony conviction for defending a con artist and having financial involvement in his business dealings. Malcolm steadfastly believed in McGough’s innocence, and her book examines the legal system.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Critical Essays