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Ernest Jones, the biographer of Sigmund Freud

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Phil Carradice Phil Carradice | 10:24 UK time, Thursday, 10 February 2011

The name Alfred Ernest Jones might mean very little to most people but, for some time, this enigmatic and fascinating man was the leader of the psychoanalytical movement in Britain and many years later was voted number 96 in the list of top 100 Welshmen of all time.

Perhaps more importantly, Ernest Jones wrote and produced the definitive biography of the great Sigmund Freud - a work that even now, over 50 years after it first appeared, is still regarded as a classic text.

Jones was born in Gowerton, just outside Swansea, on 1 January 1879. Educated at Llandovery College, he went on to study at University College Cardiff and University College London.

In 1901 he was awarded a first-class honours degree in medicine and obstetrics. He followed this with an MD and, in 1903, membership of the Royal College of Physicians.

Ernest Jones specialised in neurology and, in his early years in practice, worked mainly in hospitals in the London area. Appalled by the brutal, almost inhuman treatment of people then termed "insane", he began experimenting with hypnotic techniques.

Then, in 1905, he read an article by Freud in a German medical journal and became fascinated by the Austrian's theories. Concepts and terms such as the ego and libido were soon second nature to the young man.

However, the medical profession, and the whole medical establishment of the time, were opposed to Freud and his treatments and Jones faced considerable opposition from people who disliked the Freudian approach. So much so that in 1906 he faced a charge that undoubtedly hurt his professional standing.

Carl Jung

Jones encountered Carl Jung, Freud's pupil and fellow professional, in 1907 and this brought him first hand information about Freud's work. Then in 1908 he met the great man himself for the first time, at a psychoanalytical conference in Salzburg.

Ernest Jones promptly followed Freud back to Vienna after the conference and the pair carried out in-depth discussions on psychoanalytical practice. It was a period that helped form the personal and professional relationship between Freud and Jones, a relationship which lasted until Freud's death in 1939.

In 1908 Ernest Jones ably demonstrated that repressed sexuality was the underlying problem with the paralysed arm of a young girl who had come to him for treatment. Her parents, however, were appalled at the suggestion and promptly complained. Jones had little option and resigned from his position at the hospital.

Following his resignation, Jones moved to Canada where he taught at the University of Toronto. For the next five years he taught, wrote and organised conferences, even bringing Freud across the Atlantic for a lecture tour.

Ernest Jones returned to the UK in 1913 and set up in private practice as a psychoanalyst. In 1917 he married the Welsh composer Morfydd Llwyn Owen but she died 18 months later after an operation for appendicitis. Jones re-married just after the war, this time to Katherine Jake, a woman who had been at school with Freud's daughters.

Although Ernest Jones had taught himself German in order to better understand Freud's writings, it was his second wife's command of the language that later helped him when he was compiling documents, arranging letters and writing his biographical masterpiece.

Following the Anschluss of 1937, when Hitler's Germany annexed Austria, Freud, as a Jew, found himself in a parlous position. Ernest Jones promptly flew to Vienna and helped to negotiate the release of Freud to Britain.

It was a brave thing to do as anyone, even at this early stage of the new regime, who was connected with Jews was immediately suspect and liable to very severe treatment.

The major achievement of Ernest Jones' final years was the gathering together of Freud's papers and letters and then writing his three-volume biography of the man. The volumes were published between 1953 and 1957 to immediate acclaim - an acclaim that has lasted until the present day.

Always hugely proud of his Welshness, Ernest Jones was a member of Plaid Cymru and remained inordinately fond of the Gower Peninsula.

He was one of the first to spot the disagreement between Freud and Carl Jung, a disagreement that would, eventually, split the world of psychoanalytical treatment and thought in two.

Perhaps his greatest contribution to the profession, however, was in recognising and developing the concept of "rationalisation" - the excuses that people make for things that make them uncomfortable or unhappy. That and, of course, his magnificent biography of one of the greatest men of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.


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