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Donald Winnicott

Winnicott’s banquet of 1966

As psychological practitioners and scholars from around the globe prepare to celebrate the launch of The Collected Works of D.W. Winnicott, it might be of interest to know that, almost exactly fifty years ago, the great English psychoanalyst played a substantial role in anointing the publication of the complete works of his hero, none other than Sigmund Freud.

Although Winnicott wrote extensively, producing enough books and chapters and essays to fill twelve volumes, Great Britain’s most accomplished psychoanalyst would never have described himself as a Freud scholar. As Winnicott’s biographer, I can attest to the fact that he read Freud in rather a cursory manner. Some years ago, I purchased quite a number of Winnicott’s personal copies of books by Freud, with the former’s unmistakable signature on the flyleaf, and I can confirm that many of these well-preserved tomes still have copious numbers of uncut pages.

But in spite of the fact that Winnicott read very little Freud, he actually loved the man profoundly.

Winnicott held the distinction of having undergone personal psychoanalysis from not one, but two, of Freud’s disciples, firstly, James Strachey, the younger brother of the littérateur Lytton Strachey, and secondly, Joan Riviere, the wife of a barrister, who had joined the psychoanalytical movement after having suffered from considerable psychological struggles of her own. So, in the course of Winnicott’s extensive period in personal analysis, he learned a very great deal about Freud from his two analysts, both of whom became leading translators of the maestro’s German prose.

Winnicott’s admiration for Freud developed apace. When Freud emigrated to London in 1938 to escape the Nazi menace, Winnicott paid an unexpected visit to Freud’s home in order to inquire about the well-being of the Viennese refugees and to offer help and support – a gesture deeply appreciated by the family.

Throughout his working life, Winnicott remained a devoted Freudian.

Throughout his working life, Winnicott remained a devoted Freudian. When James Strachey, the more beloved of Winnicott’s two analysts, needed access to the library at the Royal Society of Medicine in order to assist his translation work, he turned to Winnicott, his former patient and, also, a physician, for a letter of introduction. Thus, in a small and quiet way, Winnicott helped Strachey quite practically with the preparation of what became The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud in 24 volumes.

James Strachey had begun translating the works of Freud from German into English during the early 1920s, and he continued to do so throughout his working life. In fact, having spent more than 45 years as Freud’s translator, Strachey eventually suffered retinal detachment in the process.

Thus, when in 1966, the work on the Standard Edition neared completion, Winnicott, then President of the British Psycho-Analytical Society, arranged for a lavish banquet to be held in the Connaught Rooms on Great Queen Street, in Central London, not far from the theatre district, to pay homage to the unparalleled contributions of Freud and to the heroic labours of Strachey. Clare Winnicott, second wife to the great psychoanalyst, helped to organise the banquet along with Winnicott’s private secretary of long-standing, the intensely loyal Joyce Coles.

After much planning, some 377 guests, festooned in evening dress, gathered on Saturday, 8th October 1966, to enjoy a delicious meal and to celebrate the publication of the first fully comprehensive edition of Freud’s corpus in English.

Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud by skeeze. CC0 public domain via Pixabay.

Winnicott chaired the festivities smoothly and began by reading out congratulatory telegrams from those dignitaries who could not attend. Thereafter, Dr. Piet van der Leeuw, President of the International Psycho-Analytical Association, spoke, praising the “artistry” of Strachey’s translations.

Subsequently, James Strachey delivered his own speech, apologising for his fraudulence in not yet having completed either Volume I or Volume XXIV, which would come to bookend the compendious publication project, sponsored by the Hogarth Press. Next, the sartorially unprepossessing – though clinically brilliant – Anna Freud, dressed in peasant sandals, offered her warm appreciation to all who contributed to the publications of her father’s collected works.

Before the evening concluded, the 85-year-old Leonard Woolf, doyen of the Hogarth Press and widower of Virginia Woolf, reminisced about how he and his late wife had devoted a lifetime to the publication of English-language editions of Freud. Writing about this memorable banquet years later, Woolf confessed that, “I do not find psycho-analysts in private life – much as I have liked many of them – altogether easy to get on with”, and that he experienced the speech-making at the Connaught Rooms as rather “intimidating”.

With characteristic graciousness and generosity, Winnicott concluded the formal proceedings by singling out some special guests, including Freud’s youngest son, the architect Ernst Freud. Winnicott, then 70 of age, must have experienced considerable satisfaction in hosting an evening to mark the publication of 24 landmark volumes, still in use today, more than half a century later.

A consummate Freudophile, Donald Winnicott spent the remaining years of his life working most successfully to commemorate Freud in a more concrete form. Not long after the banquet, Winnicott launched an international campaign, eager to accumulate sufficient funds so that the Oscar Nemon’s life-size plaster statue of Freud, sculpted years previously, could be preserved in bronze. With considerable charm, Winnicott succeeded in raising a great deal of money from psychoanalytical colleagues from such faraway countries as Finland, Portugal, India, Australia, and Brazil.

Happily, on 2 October 1970, Donald Winnicott presided over the unveiling of this marvelous bronze statue in Swiss Cottage, North London, not far from Sigmund Freud’s final home in nearby Maresfield Gardens.

Winnicott died some three-and-a-half months later, felled by his multi-decade cardiological vulnerabilities. But he departed this world knowing that he had undertaken heroic acts of commemoration of Sigmund Freud in both bibliographic and artistic form. And one can only imagine that it would delight him beyond all measure that, half a century after Winnicott launched the collected works of Freud, the editors and publisher of The Collected Works of D.W. Winnicott have now offered him a comparable posthumous prize.

Featured image credit: D. W. Winnicott for The Collected Works of D. W. Winnicott. Reproduced with permission.

Recent Comments

  1. Norman Rosenblood

    Kudos to Winnicott and the Stracheys. No bashing or traducing–just genuine application to psychological challenges and unbiased understanding.

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