(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 20)

Carl Jung’s memoirs, Erinnerungen, Träume, Gedanken (1962; Memories, Dreams, Reflections, 1963), became the most popular work by the Swiss psychologist and one of the most widely read autobiographies of the twentieth century. Many psychologists have traced their interest in the field to this book. However, it was almost withheld from readers when Jung died, shortly after he had approved the English translation, and his secretary, Aniela Jaffé, became the book’s legal author, while a son-in-law became his literary executor. The Swiss reverence for privacy and decorum threatened to block publication, or to require further cuts that Jung had not approved, and only a miracle of tact on the part of the American publisher led to its eventual appearance.

Subsequent biographies of Jung have built on these memoirs but have raised many questions about his personal and professional conduct. Because his heirs have guarded the archives closely, most books about Jung have treated him as a saint or sinner, depending on whether the authors are supporters or detractors. Deirdre Bair has performed a second miracle of tact in convincing the heirs to open the archives to her research and in persuading former associates and their families to speak to her, on or off the record, while she kept full editorial control. Seven years in the making, her biography deals directly with almost all the controversies raised by previous authors, including those avoided by Jung and Jaffé. It offers new evidence on many issues but lets readers draw their own conclusions. With two hundred pages of notes and thirty-two pages of photographs, some never before published, the book is truly monumental.

Bair is a biographer by profession, not a psychologist. She follows the sequence of Jung’s memoirs, from separate chapters on his childhood, school years, medical studies, and early practice to his championship of psychoanalysis and its founder, Sigmund Freud, his eventual break with Freud, and the mental crisis out of which he developed his own theory of personality and his practice of analytical psychology. She continues, as he did, with chapters on his writings, travels, and thoughts. However, Bair adds a chapter on Jung’s Swiss ancestry at the beginning, whereas he only drew up a genealogical table that appeared only in the German edition; and she concludes with the writing of his autobiography and a postscript on its eventual publication.

Bair also has an entirely different emphasis. Jung, in old age and observing medical confidentiality, wrote very little about the people in his life. What he wrote about his main professional influences was so sketchy that his American publisher, Kurt Wolff, urged him to place all accounts but that of Freud in an appendix, much of which was cut from the English-language version. Bair has returned to the original “protocols” for the book, based largely on Jung’s conversations with Jaffé and has included Jung’s reactions to people. Wherever possible, she has sought out further information on these figures in their own private papers. She has also interviewed several of his associates during their final years, including the Swiss assistants C. A. Maier and Marie-Louise Von Franz and the American analyst Joseph Henderson, and has recorded their last words on the subject.

As a result, Bair’s book is much more about daily life with “C. G.” than about his private life with books. The focus has shifted from the intensely driven writer of Memories, Dreams, Reflections to the patients who wondered if he was listening and the children who knew he seldom listened. There is often a quiet humor reminiscent of the proverbial cobbler’s barefoot children or, even more to the point, the alchemist’s starving family. Bair makes the amusement possible, along with the instruction, by allowing all involved to be heard. She recognizes, all the same, that Jung’s huge output, running to more than twenty volumes in his collected works, would not have been possible for a less self-centered person. (In the psychological parlance of a later generation, he was an alpha male.)

Jung was always a controversial figure, but the controversy came to a...

(The entire section is 1713 words.)