Riviere-Hodgson Verral, Joan (1883-1962)

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British psychoanalyst Joan Riviere was born Joan Hodgson Verrall in Brighton, England, June 28, 1883, and died in London, May 20, 1962.

A founding member of the British Psycho-Analytical Society, she used her highly accomplished literary skills and sensitivity to meaning in her translations of Freud's work and the writings of other psychoanalysts. As translation editor of the International Journal of Psycho-Analysis she was responsible for the translation of all papers from its inception in 1920 until 1937, after which she gave more time to her teaching and writing.

As a friend, colleague, and collaborator of Melanie Klein, she was an articulate proponent of Klein's ideas, probably the most able among Klein's colleagues to express her theories incisively and convey them with subtlety. Most important, Riviere contributed many original ideas to the body of psychoanalytical knowledge that was being developed during the more than 40 years of her professional life.

Her education was irregular, even for late Victorian times: school in Brighton, a seaside town in Sussex where she was born, was followed by some unhappy years in a girls' boarding school. Then, at 17, she spent a year in Gotha, Germany, where she gained the remarkable command of German that was to play such an important part in her translations.

She was married in 1906 to Evelyn Riviere, a barrister, and her only child, Diana, was born in 1908. In the following years she struggled to find a place in the professional world. She was involved in various movements for social change, such as divorce reform and suffragette activity. However these efforts did not alleviate the considerable emotional distress from which she suffered, and this led her to a therapeutic psychoanalysis with Ernest Jones in 1916. The latter was so impressed with her deep and sensitive understanding of psychoanalytic principles and processes that he made her a founding member of the British Psycho-Analytical Society, formed in 1919.

The analysis with Jones was difficult and, reaching an impasse, he recommended her to Freud for further psychoanalysis. This took place in 1922 with evident success. On her return to London from Vienna, Riviere became actively involved in the work of the British Psycho-Analytical Society, becoming a training analyst in 1930. She was the analyst of such well-known individuals as Susan Isaacs, John Bowlby, and Donald Winnicott. She was reported by those she supervised, such as Hanna Segal, Herbert Rosenfeld, and Henri Rey, to be an excellent supervisor.

Her original contributions to psychoanalysis are to be found in her papers: "Femininity as a Masquerade" (1929) examines an area of sexual development, in which the femininity of certain women is found to be the mask assumed to hide phallic rivalry and hatred of men. "Jealousy as a Mechanism of Defence" (1932) shows remarkable originality in that she finds jealousy to be a defense against envy aroused by the primal scene. Her most original work is "A Contribution to the Analysis of the Negative Therapeutic Reaction" (1936). In it she incorporates Klein's findings on the depressive position, and describes for the first time the concept of a "defensive organization" as a protection against a psychic catastrophe. In the same year she showed her ability to put Klein's theories in a context of Freud's discoveries with "The Genesis of Psychical Conflict in Earliest Infancy," delivered in Vienna in 1936 in honor of Freud's 80th birthday. The richness of her thinking about our unconscious drives is apparent in the inner world in Ibsen's "Master-Builder" (1952), where she describes how the forces that shape the world find expression on the stage as in life.

Athol Hughes

See also: British Psycho-Analytical Society; Controversial Discussions; Dependence; Feminism and psychoanalysis; Great Britain; Negative therapeutic reaction; Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud .


Riviere, Joan (1929). Womanliness as a masquerade. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 10, 303-313.

. (1932). Jealousy as a mechanism of defence. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 13, 414-424.

. (1936). A contribution to the analysis of a negative therapeutic reaction. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 17, 304-320.

. (1936). On the genesis of psychic conflict in earliest infancy. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 17, 395-422.

. (1952). The inner world in Ibsen's "Master Builder." International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 33, 173-180.