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Brierley, Marjorie Flowers (1893-1984)


Marjorie Flowers Brierley, British psychoanalyst, was born on March 24, 1893, and died on April 21, 1984.

Entering University College, London, in 1916, she gained her BSc Hons (first class in psychology) in 1921, and her MB BS in 1928, registering as a medical practitioner in 1929. Concurrently, she trained with the British Psycho-Analytical Society, having personal analysis with John Carl Flugel (1922-1924), and Edward Glover (1925-1927). She was "passed for practice" in October 1929, becoming a full member in 1930, and training analyst, control analyst and lecturer to students in 1933.

In 1922 she married William B. Brierley, botany professor at Reading University, formerly husband to Susan Isaacs.

Between qualification and the late 1940s she served actively on many committees of the British Society, including the Training Committee and Board and Council, and helped organize the Controversial Discussions of 1943-1944 (King, Pearl, 1991). She read thirteen papers to the Society and published eleven papers, thirty-one book reviews and twenty-four abstracts in the International Journal, and one book. In 1954 her husband retired and they moved to the country, whence she published twenty-six further book reviews and two articles, continuing as assistant editor of the International Journal until 1978.

Her earliest psychoanalytic publications, two papers on the then-topical subject of female development (1932, 1936), were notable for scholarship and independence; Brierly was, though not aggressive about it, one of those who differed from Freud. Her book, Trends in Psycho-Analysis (1951), contained versions, sometimes revised or expanded, of all her other papers of 1934-1947. These included "Affects in Theory and Practise," a concise and original review, which aimed to restore affects (which had never lost their importance in psychoanalytic practice) to their consonant place in theory, which had lapsed into disuse after Freud focused more on repressed unconscious and instinct theory. The chapter "Problems Connected with the Work of Melanie Klein" derived from her papers "A Preparatory Note on Internalised Objects," and "Internal Objects and Theory," and on contributions Brierley made to the Controversial Discussions.

Valuing the great enrichment of Klein's new ideas of infantile phantasy and object relationships, she acutely explored problems concerning inter alia precocity, regression, and differences between stages, as well as terminology confusing concept and phantasy conceptually. A later chapter extended this differentiation to describe two independent aspects of psychoanalytic theory, the abstract objective, "Metapsychology," and the subjective, which she named "Personology." Later sections explored metapsychology as "Process Theory," and many other aspects and ramifications of psychoanalytic thinking.

John Bowlby described Brierly as "[p]robably having a better grasp of scientific principles than anyone else" (King 1991), regarding her 1937 paper on affects. This paper was considered "seminal" and as "opening a new era in understanding," when the 1977 International Congress took "Affect" as its main theme. Calm and open-minded, she contributed significantly towards the partial resolution of acrimonious disputes within the British Society prior to and after the Controversial Discussions. During them, her clarifying contributions were much valued by both sides. Her writings are remarkable for concision, clarity, scholarship, intelligence and great intuitive sensitivity.

Anne Hayman

See also: British Psycho-Analytical Society; Controversial Discussions.


Brierley, Marjorie. (1932). Some problems of integration in women. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 13, 433-448.

. (1936). Specific determinants in feminine development. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 17, 163-180.

. (1951). Trends in psycho-analysis. London: Hogarth.

Hayman, Anne. (1986). What do we mean by phantasy? International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 70, 105-114.

King, Pearl H. M., and Steiner, Riccardo. (1991). The Freud-Klein controversies 1941-1945. London, New York: Tavistock Publications-Routledge, New Library of Psychoanalysis.

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