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Ella Freeman Sharpe - A Review Of Her Contribution

The Letter, Issue 8, Autumn 1996, Pages 104 - 113


Barry O'Donnell

Ella Sharpe (1875-1947) came to psychoanalysis from a background in literature, particularly Shakespeare, and teacher training. She became a student of psychoanalysis at the Medico-Psychological Clinic in London in 1917 and three years later went to Berlin for analysis with Hans Sachs, a non-medical analyst who shared her interest in literature. (He had also written on symbolism with Otto Rank and had been well regarded in Ernest Jones' seminar paper The Theory of Symbolism).[1] Ella Sharpe would later say that her motivation from the beginning of her involvement in the field of psychoanalysis was not to cure but to understand. She began to work in accordance with two articles of faith: an absolute belief in psychic determinism, and that a process was set in motion in analysis.[2] By 1923 Ella Sharpe had returned to London and become a Member of the British Psycho-Analytic Society and quickly became involved in teaching. A series of lectures to students entitled The Technique of Psychoanalysis has been regarded as 'classic'.[3] Here and elsewhere she initiated many lines of thought that have since become very much associated with the British independents. With Ernest Jones and Joan Riviere she supported Melanie Klein in her 1926 attack on Anna Freud's book on child analysis and while she acknowledged Klein's 'special insight into the unconscious life' she remained suspicious of her 'theoretical formulations'.[4] Raynor groups Sharpe with Joan Riviere and Melanie Klein as the female analysts around Jones when he was questioning Freud's phallocentric theory and writing on female sexuality in the mid-thirties. However, she does not seem to have addressed this issue explicitly in her writing.

In the Controversial Discussions (1942-44) she made some important contributions on the questions of technique and training and the danger of a priori assumptions in the practice of analysis. She did not align herself to either side in those 'Discussions' and has become associated in retrospect with the Independent tradition in British psychoanalysis.

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