Ernest Jones

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Alfred Ernest Jones (1 January 1879 – 11 February 1958) was a Welsh neurologist, psychoanalyst and Sigmund Freud’s official biographer. As the first English-language practitioner of psychoanalysis and as President of both of the British Psycho-Analytical Society and the International Psychoanalytic Association in the 1920s and 1930s, Jones exercised unmatched influence in the establishment of its organisations, institutions and publications in the English-speaking world.


Early life and career

Born in Gowerton (formerly Ffosfelin), an industrial village on the outskirts of Swansea, Wales, UK, the son of a colliery engineer, Jones was educated at Swansea Grammar School, Llandovery College, University College Cardiff and University College London where in 1901 he obtained a first-class honours degree in medicine and obstetrics followed by an MD and membership of the Royal College of Physicians in 1903. He was particularly pleased to receive the University’s gold medal in obstetrics from his distinguished fellow Welshman, Sir John Williams.

After obtaining his medical degrees Jones specialised in neurology and took a number of posts in London Hospitals. It was through his association with the surgeon Wilfred Trotter that Jones recalled first hearing of Freud’s work. Having worked together as surgeons at University College Hospital they had become close friends, with Trotter taking the role of mentor and confidant to his younger colleague. They had in common a wide-ranging interest in philosophy and literature, as well as a growing interest in Continental psychiatric literature and the new forms of clinical therapy it surveyed. By 1905 they were sharing accommodation above Harley Street consulting rooms with Jones’s sister, Elizabeth (later to become Trotter’s wife), installed as housekeeper. Jones, appalled at what he had seen of the institutionalised treatment of the “insane”, began experimenting with hypnotic techniques in his clinical work.

It was in 1905 in a German psychiatric journal that Jones first encountered Freud’s writings, in the form of the famous Dora case-history. It was thus he formed, as his autobiography records: “the deep impression of there being a man in Vienna who actually listened with attention to every word his patients said to him...a revolutionary difference from the attitude of previous physicians...” (Jones 1959:159).

Unfortunately for Jones the medical establishment of Edwardian England was deeply antagonistic to Freudian theory and in this context Jones’s early attempts to employ psychoanalytic insights in his clinical work proved less than circumspect. In 1906 he was tried and acquitted over allegations of improper conduct with pupils in a London school. In 1908, having demonstrated the repressed sexual memory underlying the hysterical paralysis of a young girl’s arm, he faced allegations from the girl’s parents and was forced to resign his hospital post.

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