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Janet Malcolm

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Janet Malcolm
Janet Malcolm in 2013
Janet Malcolm in 2013
BornJana Wienerová
(1934-07-08)July 8, 1934
Prague, Czechoslovakia
DiedJune 16, 2021(2021-06-16) (aged 86)
New York City, US
Alma materUniversity of Michigan
Notable workThe Journalist and the Murderer (1990)
Notable awardsAmerican Academy of Arts and Letters, 2001
RelativesMarie Winn (sister)

Janet Clara Malcolm (born Jana Klara Wienerová;[1] July 8, 1934 – June 16, 2021) was an American writer, staff journalist at The New Yorker magazine, and collagist who fled antisemitic persecution in Nazi-occupied Prague.[2] She was the author of Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession (1981), In the Freud Archives (1984), and The Journalist and the Murderer (1990). Malcolm wrote frequently about psychoanalysis and explored the relationship between journalist and subject. She was known for her prose style and for polarizing criticism of her profession, especially in her most contentious work, The Journalist and the Murderer, which has become a staple of journalism-school curricula.

Early life[edit]

Malcolm was born in Prague in 1934, one of two daughters (the other is the author Marie Winn), of Hanna (née Taussig) and Josef Wiener (aka Joseph A. Winn), a psychiatrist.[3][4] She resided in New York City after her Jewish family emigrated from Czechoslovakia in 1939, fleeing Nazi persecution of Jews.[5] Malcolm was educated at the High School of Music and Art, and then at the University of Michigan,[5] where she wrote for the campus newspaper, The Michigan Daily, and the humor magazine, The Gargoyle, later editing The Gargoyle.[5]


Malcolm was a literary nonfiction writer known for her prose style and her examination of the relationship between journalist and subject.[6] She began working at The New Yorker in 1963 with women's interest assignments,[7] writing about holiday shopping and children's books, as well as a column on home decor.[5] She next wrote about photography for the magazine.[8] She moved to reporting in 1978, which Malcolm attributed to her smoking cessation in a 2011 profile by Katie Roiphe: "She began to do the dense, idiosyncratic writing she is now known for when she quit smoking in 1978: she couldn't write without cigarettes, so she began reporting a long New Yorker fact piece, on family therapy, called 'The One-Way Mirror.'"[5] Her preference for writing in the first person was influenced by New Yorker colleague Joseph Mitchell, and she developed an interest in the construction of the auctorial subject as much as the objects it described, quickly realizing "this 'I' was a character, just like the other characters. It's a construct. And it's not the person who you are. There's a bit of you in it. But it's a creation. Somewhere I wrote, 'the distinction between the I of the writing and the I of your life is like Superman and Clark Kent.'"[7] She turned this interest in the construction of narrative to a variety of subjects, including two books about couples (Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas,[9] and poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes),[10] one on Anton Chekhov,[11] and the true crime genre,[12] and particularly returned repeatedly to the subject of psychoanalysis.[5]

Malcolm was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2001.[13] Her papers are held at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University, which acquired her archive in 2013.[14]

Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession[edit]

In 1981, Malcolm published a book on the modern psychoanalytic profession, following a psychoanalyst she gave the pseudonym “Aaron Green”. Freud scholar Peter Gay wrote that Malcolm's "witty and wicked Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession has been praised by psychoanalysts (with justice) as a dependable introduction to analytic theory and technique. It has the rare advantage over more solemn texts of being funny as well as informative".[15]

In his 1981 New York Times review, Joseph Edelson wrote that Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession "is an artful book", praising Malcolm’s "keen eye for the surfaces — clothing, speech and furniture — that express character and social role" (noting she was then the photography critic for The New Yorker). It succeeds because she has instructed herself so carefully in the technical literature. Above all, it succeeds because she has been able to engage Aaron Green in a simulacrum of the psychoanalytic encounter — he confessing to her, she (I suspect) to him, the two of them joined in an intricate minuet of revelation."[16]

The book was a 1982 National Book Award for Nonfiction finalist.[17]

In the Freud Archives and the Masson case[edit]

Articles Malcolm published in The New Yorker and in her subsequent book In The Freud Archives (1984) offered, according to the book's dust jacket, "the narrative of an unlikely, tragic/comic encounter among three men." They were psychoanalyst Kurt R. Eissler, psychoanalyst Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, and independent Freud scholar Peter J. Swales. The book triggered a legal challenge by Masson, the former project director for the Sigmund Freud Archives.[7] In his 1984 lawsuit, Masson claimed that Malcolm had libeled him by fabricating quotations she attributed to him.[18]

In August 1989, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco agreed with a lower court in dismissing a libel lawsuit that Masson had filed against Malcolm, The New Yorker and Alfred A. Knopf.[19]

Malcolm claimed that Masson had called himself an "intellectual gigolo". She also claimed that he said he wanted to turn the Freud estate into a haven of "sex, women, and fun" and claimed that he was, "after Freud, the greatest analyst that ever lived."[20] Malcolm was unable to produce all the disputed material on tape.[8] The case was partially adjudicated before the Supreme Court, which held that the case could go forward for trial by jury.[21]

After a decade of proceedings, a jury finally decided in Malcolm's favor on November 2, 1994 on the grounds that, whether or not the quotations were genuine, more evidence would be needed to rule against Malcolm.[22]

In August 1995, Malcolm claimed to have discovered a misplaced notebook containing three of the disputed quotes,[23] swearing "an affidavit under penalty of perjury that the notes were genuine."[24]

The Journalist and the Murderer[edit]

"Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible."

Janet Malcolm, 1990

Malcolm's 1990 book The Journalist and the Murderer begins with the thesis: "Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible."[25]

Her example was the popular nonfiction writer Joe McGinniss. While researching his true crime book Fatal Vision, McGinniss lived with the defense team of doctor Jeffrey MacDonald while MacDonald was on trial for the murders of his two daughters and pregnant wife. In Malcolm’s reporting, McGinniss quickly arrived at the conclusion that MacDonald was guilty, but feigned belief in his innocence to gain MacDonald’s trust and access to the story—ultimately being sued by MacDonald over the deception.[6]

Malcolm's book created a sensation when in March 1989 it appeared in two parts in The New Yorker magazine.[26] Roundly criticized upon first publication,[27] the book is still controversial, although it has come to be regarded as a classic, routinely assigned to journalism students.[28][5][6] It ranks ninety-seventh in The Modern Library's list of the twentieth century's "100 Best Works of Nonfiction".[29] Douglas McCollum wrote in the Columbia Journalism Review, "In the decade after Malcolm's essay appeared, her once controversial theory became received wisdom."[28]

Further books[edit]

In the posthumously published Still Pictures: On Photography and Memory, Malcolm writes autobiographical sketches, starting the chapters from family photographs.[30]


Malcolm's penchant for controversial subjects and tendency to insert her views into the narrative brought her both admirers and critics. "Leaning heavily on the techniques of psychoanalysis, she probes not only actions and reactions but motivations and intent; she pursues literary analysis like a crime drama and courtroom battles like novels," wrote Cara Parks in The New Republic in April 2013. Parks praised Malcolm's "intensely intellectual style" as well as her "sharpness and creativity."[31]

In Esquire, Tom Junod characterized Malcolm as "a self-hater whose work has managed to speak for the self-hatred (not to mention the class issues) of a profession that has designs on being 'one of the professions' but never will be." Junod found her to be devoid of "journalistic sympathy" and observed: "Very few journalists are more animated by malice than Janet Malcolm.”[32] Junod himself, however, has been criticized for a number of journalistic duplicities, including a smirking piece in Esquire which outed the actor Kevin Spacey,[33] as well as a similarly homophobic faux profile of the singer Michael Stipe.[34]

Katie Roiphe summarized the tension between these polarized views, writing in 2011, "Malcolm's work, then, occupies that strange glittering territory between controversy and the establishment: she is both a grande dame of journalism, and still, somehow, its enfant terrible."[5]

Charles Finch wrote in 2023 "it seems safe to say that the two most important long-form journalists this country produced in the second half of the last century were Joan Didion and Janet Malcolm."[30]

Personal life[edit]

Malcolm met her first husband, Donald Malcolm,[8] at the University of Michigan. After graduation, they moved to Washington, D.C., where Malcolm occasionally reviewed books for The New Republic before returning to New York.[5] Donald reviewed books for The New Yorker in the 1950s and 1960s[35] and served as a theater critic.[5] They had a daughter, Anne, in 1963.[5] Donald Malcolm died in 1975.[5]

Malcolm's second husband was long-time New Yorker editor Gardner Botsford,[5] a member of the family that had originally funded The New Yorker.[8] The author of A Life of Privilege, Mostly: A Memoir,[36] Botsford died at age 87 in September 2004.[37]


On June 16, 2021, Janet Malcolm died of lung cancer at the age of 86 at a Manhattan hospital.[6]



  • Malcolm, Janet (1981). Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession. Jason Aronson. ISBN 978-1-56821-342-2.
  • — (1984). In the Freud Archives. Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0394538692. Reissued in 2002 with an afterword by Janet Malcolm by New York Review Books. ISBN 9781590170274
  • — (1990). The Journalist and the Murderer. Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 978-0-394-58312-9.
  • — (1994). The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath & Ted Hughes. Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 978-0-679-43158-9.
  • — (1999). The Crime of Sheila McGough. Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 978-0-375-40508-2.
  • — (2001). Reading Chekhov: A Critical Journey. Random House. ISBN 0-375-50668-3.
  • — (2007). Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-13771-2.
  • — (2011). Iphigenia in Forest Hills: Anatomy of a Murder Trial. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-16883-9.
  • — (2023). Still Pictures: On Photography and Memory. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 978-0-374-60513-1.[38]

Essay collections[edit]


As editor[edit]

  • Chekhov, Anton (2018). The Lady with the Little Dog and Other Stories. Translated by Constance Garnett; selected, with a preface by Janet Malcolm. riverrun.
  • — (2020). The Duel and other stories. Translated by Constance Garnett; selected, with a preface by Janet Malcolm. riverrun.
  • — (2020). Ward No. 6 and other stories. Translated by Constance Garnett; selected, with a preface by Janet Malcolm. riverrun.

Awards and honors[edit]


  1. ^ Italie, Hillel (June 17, 2021). "Janet Malcolm, provocative author-journalist, dies at 86". Associated Press. Retrieved June 17, 2021.
  2. ^ "Janet Malcolm". Lori Bookstein Fine Art. Archived from the original on January 20, 2009. Retrieved July 19, 2014.
  3. ^ Malcolm, Janet (October 29, 2018). "Six Glimpses of the Past". The New Yorker.
  4. ^ "Winn Family Collection; Identifier: AR 25493". Center for Jewish History. Retrieved June 19, 2021.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Roiphe, Katie (2011). "The Art of Nonfiction No. 4". The Paris Review. Interviews. Vol. Spring 2011, no. 196. ISSN 0031-2037. Retrieved June 17, 2021.
  6. ^ a b c d Seelye, Katharine Q. (June 17, 2021). "Janet Malcolm, Provocative Journalist With a Piercing Eye, Dies at 86". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved June 17, 2021.
  7. ^ a b c Brockes, Emma (June 5, 2011). "A life in writing: Janet Malcolm". the Guardian. Retrieved June 17, 2021.
  8. ^ a b c d Seligman, Craig (February 29, 2000). "Janet Malcolm". Salon. Retrieved June 18, 2021.
  9. ^ Roiphe, Katie (September 23, 2007). "Portrait of a Marriage". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved June 18, 2021.
  10. ^ James, Caryn (March 27, 1994). "The Importance of Being Biased". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved June 18, 2021.
  11. ^ Hammond, Simon (July 20, 2013). "Reading Chekhov: A Critical Journey by Janet Malcolm – review". the Guardian. Retrieved June 18, 2021.
  12. ^ Friendly, Fred W. (February 25, 1990). "Was Trust Betrayed?". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved June 18, 2021.
  13. ^ a b "Academy Members". American Academy of Arts and Letters. Retrieved June 18, 2021.
  14. ^ Cummings, Mike (May 15, 2019). "Undergraduate mines Yale archives for insight into journalist Janet Malcolm". YaleNews. Retrieved June 18, 2021.
  15. ^ Peter Gay, Freud: A Life for Our Times (London, 1988) p. 763.
  16. ^ Adelson, Joseph (September 27, 1981). "Not Much Has Changed Since Freud". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 30, 2019.
  17. ^ a b "Janet Malcolm". National Book Foundation. Retrieved June 17, 2021.
  18. ^ Quindlen, Anna (May 19, 1993). "Public & Private; Quote Unquote". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 30, 2019.
  19. ^ Randolph, Eleanor (August 5, 1989). "New Yorker Libel Suit Dismissed". Washington Post. Retrieved April 10, 2023.
  20. ^ Margolick, David (November 3, 1994). "Psychoanalyst Loses Libel Suit Against a New Yorker Reporter". New York Times.
  21. ^ "Masson v. New Yorker Magazine, Inc., 501 U.S. 496 (1991)". cornell.edu. Retrieved August 27, 2016.
  22. ^ Boynton, Robert (November 28, 1994). "Till Press Do Us Part: The Trial of Janet Malcolm and Jeffrey Masson". The Village Voice. Archived from the original on January 9, 2015. Retrieved January 8, 2015.
  23. ^ Stout, David (August 30, 1995). "Malcolm's Lost Notes And a Child at Play". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 30, 2019.
  24. ^ "Stout, David, The New York Times, "Malcolm's Notes and a Child at Play", August 30, 1995". New York Times. August 30, 1995. Retrieved January 5, 2012.
  25. ^ Malcolm, Janet, The Journalist and the Murderer, New York: Knopf, 1990.
  26. ^ Scardino, Albert, The New York Times. "Ethic, Reporters and The New Yorker", March 21. 1989. "Janet Malcolm, a staff writer for The New Yorker, returned her magazine to the center of the long-running debate over ethics in journalism this month ... Her declarations provoked outrage among authors, reporters and editors, who rushed last week to distinguish themselves from the journalists Miss Malcolm was describing."
  27. ^ See Friendly, Fred W., The New York Times Book Review, "Was Trust Betrayed?", February 25, 1990, and Lehmann-Haupt, Christopher, The New York Times, "Deception and Journalism: How Far to Go for the Story", February 22, 1990.
  28. ^ a b McCollum, Douglas, Columbia Journalism Review, "You Have The Right to Remain Silent", January, February 2003.
  29. ^ Modern Library: 100 Best Nonfiction
  30. ^ a b Finch, Charles (January 11, 2023). "Janet Malcolm Remembers". The New York Times. Retrieved January 11, 2023.
  31. ^ Parks, Cara (April 30, 2013). "In Praise of Janet Malcolm's Prickly Career". The New Republic. Retrieved August 27, 2016.
  32. ^ Junod, Tom (July 11, 2011). "Rupert Murdoch, Meet Janet Malcolm — Pro Scandalist". Esquire. Retrieved June 19, 2021.
  33. ^ "A Public Bashing". Buffalo News. September 25, 1997.
  34. ^ "Writer Comes Clean On Fake Stipe Profile". Billboard. May 25, 2001. Retrieved March 3, 2012.
  35. ^ "Donald Malcolm". The New Yorker. Retrieved April 30, 2019.
  36. ^ St. Martin's Press, 2003.
  37. ^ Smith, Dinitia (September 29, 2004). "Gardner Botsford, 87, Dies; Editor at The New Yorker". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved June 17, 2021.
  38. ^ "Still Pictures | Janet Malcolm | Macmillan".
  39. ^ Begley, Adam (May 19, 2008). "Our Critic's Tip Sheet on Current Reading: Kingsley Amis Drinks; Bill Bryson Admonishes; and PEN Bestows Prizes". The New York Observer. Retrieved August 11, 2012.
  40. ^ Kirsten Reach (January 14, 2014). "NBCC finalists announced". Melville House Publishing. Archived from the original on January 8, 2017. Retrieved January 14, 2014.
  41. ^ "Announcing the National Book Critics Awards Finalists for Publishing Year 2013". National Book Critics Circle. January 14, 2014. Archived from the original on January 15, 2014. Retrieved January 14, 2014.
  42. ^ "Janet Malcolm". Literary Hub. Retrieved June 18, 2021.

External links[edit]