I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized Guilty Truant

Guilty Truant

Seamus O’Mahony
In Two Minds: a Biography of Jonathan Miller, by Kate Bassett, Oberon Books, 488 pp, £20, ISBN: 978-1849434515 Although he practised medicine for less than three years more than fifty years ago, the first of many job titles ascribed to Jonathan Miller is usually “doctor”, followed by theatre and opera director, television presenter and documentary maker, author and populariser of science, sculptor, photographer, public intellectual, humanist, and so on (“and so on” being a favourite phrase of Miller himself). He is the only son of a high-achieving household; his father, Emmanuel, was an eminent child psychiatrist and his mother, Betty (born in Cork), a novelist. Betty was also a great-niece of the philosopher and Nobel laureate Henri Bergson, and was distantly related to Marcel Proust. Emmanuel’s parents were illiterate refugees from Lithuania. Kate Bassett, in her recent biography of Miller, In Two Minds, describes a home long on intellectual ambition, but short on intimacy. “Those memories I have of childhood”, Miller remarked, “are mostly wretched and miserable.” Ironically for a child psychiatrist, Miller père found it difficult to relate to his clever and somewhat hyperactive son, while his mother remained equally distant. “I was never kissed by either of my parents as a child, never embraced,” he told Anthony Clare when he appeared on In the Psychiatrist’s Chair. The child Jonathan stammered and was attention-seeking: he compensated for his stammer by speaking in foreign accents and also developed an astonishing talent for mimicry, his repertoire including steam trains and chickens. Stevie Smith, a friend of Betty’s, rather disloyally wrote a story based on the Millers called “Beside the Seaside: a Holiday with Children”. Hughie, the character based on the boy Jonathan, is precocious and brattish, full of unfocused energy, constantly demanding attention. The young Miller was brought for assessment to several child psychiatrists, including the great DW Winnicott. As a teenager he had many sessions with the psychiatrist Leopold Stein; while Miller is to this day sceptical of psychoanalysis (“the latter-day derivative of the séance”), he enjoyed these sessions with Stein, as they “simply conversed about philosophy and Hughlings Jackson’s early neurological theories”. Religion was a battleground with Emmanuel, who, after the war, became increasingly religious, observing the Sabbath and all the major Jewish festivals. Jonathan, who later cracked the famous joke “I’m not really a Jew. Just Jew-ish”, rebelled, and refused to have his bar mitzvah. Responding to accusations that he is a…

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