|Catrine Clay, photo by John Goodyer|
Catrine Clay is the author of the new biography Labyrinths: Emma Jung, Her Marriage to Carl, and the Early Years of Psychoanalysis. She also has written King, Kaiser, Tsar and Trautmann's Journey. She has worked for the BBC for more than 20 years, and she lives in London.
Q: Why did you decide to write about Emma Jung?
A: The short answer is when you finish one book, you find yourself casting around for the next. You look at the bits you can do that other people can’t. I spent time at BBC television working on documentaries. My mother was Swiss. I thought about a Swiss subject of some sort.
I knew a certain amount about Jung. Their house was only an hour away from where my mother grew up, and where I spent every summer holiday. The key was whether the family was able to help and if they weren’t, there wouldn’t be a book.
Q: How did they end up helping?
A: Jung’s and Freud’s families are famous for being extremely private. My cousin on the Swiss side, Gaby, lived in Zurich where the Jung family house is, which is lived in by their grandson. It’s very much unchanged.
Gaby managed to get a half-hour visit. We went along together. I think the family were not keen, but then as we talked, things came out—they were fed up with a biography that had been written about Carl Jung that they felt had mistakes, and a film by Cronenberg, A Dangerous Method.
I said I would like to correct the misinterpretations and you can trust me. If you want to read my book after it’s finished [during the publication process] you’re welcome to do it. It’s to do with telling the story of a woman in a very complicated marriage and how she comes to turn it [around].
They consulted, there are about 12 grandchildren left. Two were very against, but the rest thought it was a good idea. The grandson Andreas, who lives in the house, I think he said sooner or later someone is going to write about our grandmother—we all adored her—and why don’t we, if Catrine can write the definitive book, there won’t be anyone else [writing about her].
I left him with my book King, Kaiser, Tsar, and they liked it. So they decided to give enough help [with the project].
Q: So what were some of the perceptions and misperceptions about Emma Jung?
A: She was basically unknown, but people kept writing things about him and other women, and she was [seen as] the quiet little woman putting up with it.
It’s the story of a marriage. Once you get to know how it works, it’s more shaded than that she was a quiet little person in the corner. It wasn’t like that at all! I was pleased to be able to write it.
The original idea [for the book] was Mrs. Freud and Mrs. Jung. I was so enamored of this idea! That’s when I looked into both. Mrs. Freud was nice, but was indeed a wife and mother, but the more I looked at Mrs. Jung, she was an absolute humdinger! It had to be about her.
Q: You begin the book by describing the Jungs’ first meeting with Freud in 1907. Why did you choose to start the book that way, and how would you describe the relationship between Freud and the Jungs?
A: I quite like starting stories in the middle. It involved Emma as well as Carl. People know about the famous first meeting lasting 13 hours [but] had no idea Emma was there too.
When she wrote to Freud afterwards, it was quite obvious they had established a relationship…Freud and Jung were a key part of the subplot of the story, and she was part of it.
She senses the split between them before either of them did. She was saying, Carl really doesn’t need to be your son and heir; he wants to do his own thing. She was saying it before they had split.
She admired and loved Freud. In a letter to him in 1911, she wrote:
“Usually I am quite at one with my fate and see very well how lucky I am, but from time to time I am tormented by the conflict about how I am to hold my own against Carl. I find I have no friends, all the people who associate with us really only want to see Carl, except for a few boring and to me quite uninteresting persons. Naturally the women are all in love with him, and with the men I am instantly cordoned off as the wife of the father or friend…what on earth am I to do?”
That’s the nub of it. She’s having to learn day by day how to handle the situation. He was charismatic; everybody wanted a piece of him.
Q: So how would you describe the relationship between Emma and Carl?
A: I talked to the grandchildren. The eldest is called Dieter, he’s 86 or 87 now. He explained, My grandparents learned from each other all their lives.
They were two people who had a lot to learn. She was only 17 when they met properly…by the time she was 21, they were married…She was never bored, and he made her laugh. And he enabled her to eventually grow and become an analyst in her own right. It was quite something [for that time period].
She gave him all the stability he did not have. She was phenomenally wealthy—some say that’s what it’s about, but not at all! She discovered he was very on edge…she was a well-grounded person [who gave him] home and stability.
Every grandchild I talked to said it’s clear he loved her. Adrian Baumann, Dieter’s brother, said when you’re a child and walking with your grandparents, you know if they’re good with each other…there was no tension between them.
All the grandchildren agree. That’s another reason they are furious with the way their grandmother has been portrayed, or ignored.
Q: How did you research the book, beyond the interviews with the grandchildren, and did anything particularly surprise you as you conducted your research?
A: One area was that when they got married in 1903 he was already working in a lunatic asylum near Zurich.
Emma, who had grown up in a privileged background with servants and carriages—she moves in with him into the asylum in a small flat, and takes her place in everyday life at the lunatic asylum, with catatonic schizophrenics. She was getting amazing training. It was the early years of psychoanalysis. I found it fascinating.
Also, their early years in Switzerland, what Switzerland was like—people don’t know a lot about it, how things were in the First World War. I found [information] in the usual ways—local archives, talking to people. I speak German, so I was able to read the local Swiss papers.
Q: Are you working on another book now?
A: My publisher is HarperCollins, and at the end of last week, I delivered a proposal for the next book. It’s something I’ve wanted to write for a long time. I have no idea whether they will take it on…
It’s called Against All Odds, and it’s really about the Communists and Socialists and Jews who were opposed to the Nazi regime from 1933 onwards. People have no idea what courage it took to make opposition to a terror regime. Factory workers, dockworkers, long before the aristocratic stuff, they were taking an enormous risk.
With all the terror going on now, if one took a terror regime that was known and think about everyday life of the people under such a regime—when they came to power, they had about 46 percent of the vote. What was going on with the others? Resisters who had the guts to resist; if you were caught, that was it. I thought I’d look into that.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Her own writings—The Grail, for example, her big work—it must have been the leitmotif to her whole life. I found that fascinating. Carl was fascinated by it; it was probably one of the first things they ever talked about. She was a clever 17-year-old already trying to learn Old French.
He [left] it to her, and she did it! What an interesting thing this was—she took the story of Percival and analyzed it. Her writings looks at women and stories from a psychological point of view. They are very personal—you can spot things about men and about Carl. [I’d like] her achievement to be clear—she became a really good analyst, and she wrote [two books].
--Interview with Deborah Kalb