What is a successful biography? How can inner lives of others be satisfactorily explored and explained? Join a panel of writers looking at the fascinating process of writing biography using psychoanalytic thinking to understand psychoanalysts. Three authors, two of them psychotherapists, will discuss with professional biographer Frances Spalding the differences between analysis and writing biography, both practices which try to make sense of individual lives.
The discussion will be chaired by Frances Spalding, who has written acclaimed biographies of Virginia Woolf, Stevie Smith, Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and Gwen Raverat, among others. The speakers and their subjects are Marion Bower on Joan Riviere, Dee McQuillan on James Strachey, and Emma Letley on Marion Milner.
Marion Bower is a BPC registered adult psychotherapist in private practice. She previously worked as a Consultant Social Worker at the Tavistock clinic. She has edited a book on ‘Psychoanalytic theory for social work practice’ (Routledge) and has co-edited ‘Addictive states of Mind’ (Karnac). She is writing a biography of Joan Riviere.
Tall brilliant and beautiful, Joan Riviere (1882-1962) was a patient of Freud and his favourite translator. She also wrote ground breaking papers on female sexuality and patients who respond to getting better by getting worse. She was a highly respected psychoanalyst and her patients included Donald Winnicott and John Bowlby. Joan was a close friend and colleague of Melanie Klein and a brilliant expositor of Klein’s ideas, some of which she anticipated in her own work.
At 17 she spent a year in Gotha where she learned fluent German, which she later used to translate Freud’s writings. On her return she engaged in a whirl of balls and dances and met her husband to be, Evelyn Riviere, a barrister. Her parents arranged for her to be apprenticed to the dressmaker of Ellen Terry and Henry Irving where she was able to indulge her passionate interest in clothes. Joan’s aunt Margaret Verrall, who was one of the first lecturers in classics at Newnham College Cambridge, introduced her to the society for Psychical Research which is where she first encountered psychoanalytic ideas. A depressive breakdown led to her going into analysis with Ernest Jones who sent her some of her first patients.
Dr Emma Letley is a writer and psychoanalytic psychotherapist. After more than 20 years as a lecturer in Literature, she trained with the Arbours Association, works in private practice in London and, for many years, at King’s College London. Her publications include a study of 19th Century Scots Literature and a biography of Maurice Baring. Her biography of Milner, Marion Milner: The Life was published by Routledge in 2013 and she is Series Editor of the newly-issued works of Milner (Routledge 2012-1010). She is also on the Editorial Board of the British Journal of Psychotherapy.
Emma Letley discusses Milner as a biographical subject, her influence on the author’s own clinical work, and Milner’s own contributions to creativity. As biographical companion, an artist, psychoanalyst and educationalist, whose life spanned the whole of the twentieth century, Milner brings with her ‘the riches of world culture’. Milner’s contributions to creativity focus on her great book On Not Being Able to Paint, a book as relevant today as it was in the year of its publication (1950).
Dee McQuillan is a mature student with a background in features writing and editing. Her first degree was history, some time ago in both senses. She is a voluntary mental health worker, has an MSc in Theoretical Psychoanalytic Studies and is in the third year of PhD study at the Psychoanalysis Unit, University College London researching James Strachey’s life and work.
James Strachey was the youngest of an upper middle class family of ten children that included the writer and essayist Lytton Strachey, and was one of the original Bloomsbury set. Strachey is now mostly known as the editor and, with his wife Alix Strachey, main translator of the Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Freud, but he was a distinguished and busy psychoanalyst from 1928 until around 1946. He lived and worked in Gordon Square, London WC1 and gave lectures in technique and supervision to trainee analysts at the Institute of Psychoanalysis. As DW Winnicott said in an obituary, James Strachey was a very cultured and very shy man.
Frances Spalding is an art historian, critic and biographer. She read art history at the University of Nottingham and began writing journalism and books while still a post-graduate. In the late 1970s and 1980s she wrote extensively on twentieth-century British art, at the same time developing an interest in biography. Her reputation was established with Roger Fry: Art and Life in 1980 and she went on to write lives of the artists Vanessa Bell, John Minton, Duncan Grant and Gwen Raverat, as well as a biography of the poet Stevie Smith.
Her survey history, British Art since 1900, in the Thames & Hudson World of Art series has been much used in schools, colleges and universities, and in the mid-1990s she was commissioned by Tate to write a centenary history of this national institution. In 2000 she joined Newcastle University where she is now Professor of Art History. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Art and in 2005 was made a Companion of the British Empire for Services to Literature.