The publication of this book has been long delayed, but not, in my opinion, long enough. My first thought upon reading it was to wonder how much harm it would do, but on reflection I think it will not do much. Freud’s stature is above being impaired by a miscarriage of this kind, especially since the precise extent of his involvement in its composition has been left uncertain. Wilson’s reputation as a statesman has always been vulnerable, and opinion about him will no doubt continue to be divided between those who are charmed by the grandeur of his vision, the nobility of his sacrifice, and the high moral resonance of his rhetoric, and those who are more disposed to insist upon sureness of touch and effectuality in their statesmen and to emphasize the hard fact of his ultimate failure. Moreover, the basic pattern of his character set forth in this book is not altogether new. This book embellishes, with additional interpretive suggestions, a conception of the man, resting upon his extraordinary relation to his father, that is already familiar in its general outlines to those who know the Wilson literature.
Even Mr. Bullitt’s reputation is unlikely to be as much affected as one might at first think. In the history of culture he will always be entitled to a grateful footnote for having been instrumental in rescuing Freud from Vienna in 1938. He has no reputation as a biographer or psychographer to lose, and his qualities as a diplomat can only be somewhat underlined by the existence of this work. It was quite a stroke of personal diplomacy to secure and keep Freud’s complicity—Freud’s—in this undertaking. Finally, one must ask whether the complex and delicate work of applying depth psychology to history, biography, and public affairs will be set back by the appearance of such a book. The body of writing in this field is now large, and some of it is good enough to promise that the enterprise will survive occasional bad examples.
I have tried to come to terms with my own irritation at this book, which I find rests mainly on three things: its indefiniteness about the details of authorship, a certain persistent insensitivity in thought and style, and a punitive tone which gives it the aspect of a vendetta carried on in the name of science. One would like to know more than we are told about the circumstances of this collaboration, in which the extent of Freud’s participation is still unclear; and it seems hardly unreasonable to expect that a joint effort of this kind—in which Bullitt was working as a layman in psychology and Freud as a comparative stranger to research in the details of Wilson’s life—should be explained more substantially than it is in Mr. Bullitt’s foreword.
AS TO THE POSSIBLE ANIMUS of the authors, one would have been grateful if Bullitt had been as explicit as Freud, whose Introduction, though …
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.