Prisoners of Childhood
Ruth Rendell, New Statesman, 5 June 1987
The works of the great psychoanalysts are often as readable as fiction and the writings of Freud are like the best of biography. Alice Miller is another such Her field is the psychological abuse of children and what she has to say about it in “The Drama of Being a Child” (trans. Ruth Ward, Virago) and “For Your Own Good” (trans. Hildegarde and Hunter Hannum, Virago) is both illuminating and distressingly familiar. The reader has the complex experience of recognising a great truth simultaneously with revelation and the realisation of personal tragedy long and deeply suppressed. Childhood injury, whether subjectively experienced or unwittingly perpetrated, here appears the more awful because of its irrevocability.
‘Even the worst criminal of all time was not born a criminal,’ Dr Miller writes, taking Adolf Hitler as one of her subjects for examination. If Hitler had a loving mother even she was not free from the ‘poisonous pedagogy’ which is aimed at shaping children to their parents’ taste: her husband’s submissive serving maid, addressing him incredibly as ‘uncle’, she impassively witnessed the brutal beatings of her son. And a reason is found for Hitler’s euthanasia law and need to liberate Germany from the ‘plague’ of the mentally ill in his enforced daily exposure to the frightening behaviour of his mad aunt. His adult life was a long act of revenge.