Books by Janet Sayers

Released: Aug. 2, 1995

Fifteen all-too-brief case studies that show how abusive or emotionally neglectful father figures can permanently scar their children's lives. British psychotherapist and feminist Sayers (Mothers of Psychoanalysis, 1991) claims convincingly that ``we are all at risk of succumbing to imagined images of menas patriarch or phallus, monster or idolsustained by the harmful childhood fixations, acted-out rebellion and inward defenses my tales describe.'' The people she analyzes range from a compulsively and joylessly sexual Don Juan to a psychologically self-emasculating ``wimp,'' from a woman who so rigorously denies any male presence in her life that she is convinced her child is the result of a virgin birth to several women who repeatedly become involved with abusive men as a paradoxical way of trying to overcome disenchantment with the male sex. Sayers frames her tales with brief, usually illuminating Freudian analyses; she views her book as a corrective to the excessive emphasis laid on the child's relation with the mother by most British neo-Freudians (e.g., Melanie Klein, Donald Winnicott, and Wilfred Bion). Yet she overstates her case, ignoring in particular the influences of classsurprisingly so, given the dreary near-uniformity of her subjects, almost all of whom are socially isolated, lower-middle-class English men and women with limited education and little psychological self-awareness. Perhaps for these reasons, Sayers's attempts at helping them improve distorted, unhappy lives usually seem brief and ineffectual. And because her subjects' pain is not always reducible to Freudian and feminist terms, the book's subtitle seems contrived and the author's approach of less value than one that would take socioeconomic factors into account. Fascinating stories, but told with a reductionist analysis. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 28, 1991

A notable, if occasionally impenetrable, attempt to trace the shift of psychoanalysis from a patriarchal to a matriarchal emphasis by analyzing the lives and works of the most prominent female successors to Freud. Wary of the ``one-dimensional'' mother-centered bias of contemporary psychoanalysis, Sayers, a British psychotherapist, insists that close study of the works of pioneering female psychoanalysts Helene Deutsch, Karen Horney, Anna Freud, and Melanie Klein reveals that ``in drawing attention to mothering, they seldom lost sight of the patriarchal determinants of our psychology.'' Nevertheless, their own experiences as mothers, albeit secondhand in Anna Freud's case, led to a radical transformation of the Oedipal scheme and a new awareness of the effect of social factors on the individual psyche. For Deutsch, this took the form of the first discrete analysis of women's psychology as well as path-finding studies of narcissistic personality disorder. The more iconoclastic Horney, attacking ``penis envy'' with her countervailing description of ``womb envy,'' went on to co-found (with Erich Fromm) the sociologically based ``culturalist'' school of psychoanalysis. Concentrating on child psychology, Freud used her wartime nursery experience to focus on different therapeutic approaches to children, while Klein pioneered play therapy, object-relations theory, and the treatment of schizophrenic and autistic patients. The biographical approach here allows Sayers to note the apparent direct correlation between the thinkers' favorable view of their own fathers (adored by Deutsch and Freud; disdained by Horney and Klein) and adherence to a strict Freudian line. At the same time, the narrative's fragmented structure, with each figure discussed separately, prevents a sustained analysis of the interrelations between four women who all knew (and frequently battled) one another. And Sayers's references to ongoing controversies in the field may prove confusing to a general audience. Ambitious and often penetrating, a laudable effort to explain the origins of, and restore balance to, current psychoanalytic debate. (For a complementary study of early male successors to Freud, see Phyllis Grosskurth's The Secret Ring, p. 1134.) (Photographs.) Read full book review >