Toni Wolff and Carl Jung

For a number of years, I thought less of Jung because he had so many (alleged) extra-marital relationships, including relationships with his clients. However, if this is what it took for him to individuate as he did and to provide us with such profound insights into the nature of the psyche, then so be it.

President Kennedy allegedly said he couldn’t think as well unless he slept with a different woman every night; somehow the Kennedy myth has survived in a more intact way that Jung’s reputation.

This is an excellent summary article from Wikipedia:

Toni (Antonia Anna) Wolff (18 September 1888 – 21 March 1953), was a patient and later a student and lover of Carl Jung. Wolff later became a Jungian analyst. Her extramarital relationship with Jung was openly enacted through a course of ten years. Jung had been looking for the “Anima woman”, eventually coming to call Toni his “second wife”, his legal wife being Emma Jung.

During her psychoanalytic career Toni Wolff focused on analysis and published relatively little. Her best-known paper was an essay on four “types” or aspects of the feminine psyche: the Amazon, the Mother, the Hetaira (or Courtesan), and the Medial (or mediumistic) Woman.

Wolff’s relationship with Jung began in 1913, when she was twenty-five, and Jung thirty-eight years old. According to the film Matter of Heart, after successful analysis with Jung she requested that they move to an intimate relationship and Jung agreed. Dr. Sonu Shamdasani notes in editorial comments to The Red Book, Jung recorded in his diary that he decided to undertake the relationship with Wolff after an impressive dream that occurred at the end of 1912. During the critical period of Jung’s “encounter with the unconscious”, the period between about 1913 and 1917 documented in Jung’s The Red Book, Wolff was a crucial companion to Jung.

Jung’s initiation of a relationship with Toni initially caused understandable tensions in his marriage, but by 1920 an accord of acceptance was evidently reached between Jung, his wife Emma, and Wolff.

Wolff was a frequent visitor to the Jung house, occasionally working on projects for Jung at his home office in the late mornings until the family lunch (from which she was excluded) and then continuing in the afternoon. She usually joined the family for Sunday dinners. From around 1920 until the end of her life, Jung was commonly accompanied by both Wolff and his wife, Emma, at public and private functions.

Throughout his life, Jung acknowledged the importance of his relationship with Wolff. Even in later years of life, they frequently spent time together at Jung’s Bollingen tower. Until his health deteriorated after a heart attack in the 1944, Wolff and Jung usually spent Wednesday evenings together at the home of Wolff.

In the early 1930s, Jung began to pursue alchemy. To Jung the internal, private mental processes of alchemists paralleled the process of individuation. Wolff became concerned that Jung would be marginalized by this arcane focus of study. She invited a group of university students to visit Jung, including the brilliant and socially awkward 18-year-old Marie-Louise von Franz.

In her 2003 biography of Jung, Deirdre Bair quotes von Franz as saying she intellectually replaced Toni Wolff in Jung’s life, confirmed by von Franz herself in Matter of Heart:

“Her [Wolff’s] big mistake was in not being enthusiastic about alchemy. It was unfortunate that she refused to follow him there, because otherwise he would not have thrown her over to collaborate with me. He would have used me just for translating, and he would have confided in her. But she wasn’t interested. She was too much a slightly conventional Christian, and she refused to follow him.”

By age 60, Toni Wolff was in poor health, suffering from both severe arthritis and her years of heavy smoking. In 1953 she died suddenly and unexpectedly. Jung was overcome with grief, and found himself physically and emotionally unable to attend her funeral, fearing a public collapse; Jung’s wife, Emma, attended for them both. (Jung’s absence at the funeral is often misrepresented as implying Jung’s coldness toward Toni, while in fact it was the result of the depth of his feelings in old age.)

15 Responses to Toni Wolff and Carl Jung

  1. Stephen: I’ve read through the Red Book and am left with the feeling that Sonu does not honor the role that Toni Wolff played in it. In my conversations with Franz Jung in July 1983 in Kusnacht, he told me that Toni ‘more or less’ saved his father’s life and sanity. She was his lover and ‘therapist’-he took his dreams(ie written into his ‘black books’) to her,she did active imaginations with them(him) and then he later polished them and wrote and drew them into the Red Book. This was the period 1913-1919. She was his constant companion-not only the Wed lunches and evenings at her apartment,at his house but also at Bollingen and travels to Ravenna in 1914(immediately after the birth of Helene) and again in 1933.I am concerned that Toni is not given sufficient credit for her ‘major’ role in this amazing testament(Red Book) to the Soul. Do you have any thoughts? John

  2. John: You’ve provided some very interesting anecdotal information about Ms. Wolff. I think the role of Toni Wolff has been largely ignored and denied in much of Jungian history; it doesn’t surprise me that your review of Shadamsani’s Red Book material concludes that he doesn’t give due credit to Ms. Wolff. Given her absolutely vital work and influence, we all owe her a great debt.

    As I am sure you are aware, there is no mention of her in Memories, Dreams and Reflections. (It is my understanding that an entire chapter about her was deleted from the book.) It reminds me of the old Soviet strategy of airbrushing historical figures out of photographs as a propaganda technique. (I would also note that a Google search for images of Toni Wolff results in finding only two unique photographs.)

    One explanation is that the the family (and culture) want to keep the persona of Jung as reputable as possible; this relationship certainly was outside of the cultural norm. The fear is of an ad hominem argument that would allegedly discredit Jung — that his theories are not legitimate because this relationship was not “legitimate.” (I’m also concerned that there may be some feminist issues here, that the cultural viewpoint once again is favoring the patriarchy and established order and not giving the Feminine its due.)

    I am reminded of the anecdote about Abraham Lincoln — when the Union generals were losing all the battles and only Ulysses Grant was winning battles in the West, Lincoln told his Cabinet that he wanted to promote Grant and give him a larger role in the Civil War. Their response was essentially, “But Mr. President, Grant drinks like a fish.” Lincoln responded, “Find out what he is drinking and send it to my other generals.”

  3. It does not take being a feminist to despise the omissions of Jung. I see a very selfish needy puello in him who took what he wanted/needed from women and then jealously wanted to claim all the knowledge and all the credit, so that he would be known to history, but she would not. It was all about him, or so the propaganda was. That he respected no relationship boundaries when it came to getting what he wanted was not a credit to him, as a man, and certainly not as a therapist. It seems by your comment that the ‘end justifies the means’. I think this is sloppy thinking and amoral. Sloppy thinking also applies to your anecdote, which was not aply to this argument.

    As a woman writer, I have often seen how men were very happy for me to be the intellectual companion, philosophical friend, and inspiratrice, but who became treacherously jealous and undermining when it came to my own work and ideas, something that was profoundly undermining. Perhaps this is also why Toni Wolff did not publish much. All her best work and thoughts had been creamed off and appropriated by Jung. This is a saboteur male shadow that perhaps you should examine, despite the shame, rather than dismissing with platitudes about ‘feminism’. If he had appropriated a male companion’s brilliant work, it would have been the same insult and betrayal.

    I have noticed that women sit at the well of the unconscious. We are the grail maidens. Men like Jung are not heroes, but rapists and thieves, seducing and plumbing the depths, and then greedily claiming themselves as the fount of illumination. Your initial revulsion for his amorality was correct.

    Another good example of this are the voices of women surrealist painters, which were stifled until art historians like Whitney Chadwick brought artists like Leonor Fini, Leonore Carrington, and Remedios Varo to attention in the 1980’s. Compared to the male surrealists whose work, which was often a puello’s playground of frustration/obsession with women and their power, their issues with their parents, and repressed homosexuality (Dali), the women’s work rings true, fluently. Some of these women were wives, lovers, muses to those men, and their work was buried.

    Also, much of the literature on these archetypes tries to split women literally into these little boxes for all time, when indeed, they are all there in one woman, simultaneously, layering and shifting, tools and positions from which she might operate. Mother-Queen, Amazon, Hetaira, Medial woman, I can speak as a women that I am all of these things at once. I am a mistress who marries, an amazon who senses and reads the portents, and who will call a spade a spade with a man like Carl Jung, and not make excuses for those who want to make a humble god out of him, or some kind of Prometheus figure. Nothing could be further from the truth, as he plundered and used every woman he knew, taking their energy and voices and going off with the glory – as though this was his entitlement as a man – and then presents the feminine to the world.

    Men always fail when they try to interpret the feminine to women. It is sadder still when they seek to be the bringers of knowledge and wisdom in an area that is not only natural for women to be experienced and wise in for them to be the teachers, but for which they are punished and marginalized under patronizing rationalizations. It is no wonder that Toni Wolff lost her voice, but spare a moment’s thought for Emma, who was forced into being a sacrificial doormat for all of them, neither a powerful wife, nor a mistress, and certainly not the scintillating and dangerous amalgamation of both of them. The unconscious is dangerous, you know.

    It serves patriarchal ends to split the archetypes of Madonna and whore or mother and hetaira between two or more women, but this is a literal and rigid interpretation which shows its masculine failing relative to nature. In short, you don’t get it. A woman can be all of these things with her husband. It is the suppressed woman who is not. There needs not be a slew of ‘other women’. It precludes the smug idea by both the husband and the intruding woman that the wife will play along in mute servitude as Emma did. Beware. A woman like me is a mistress who marries, but the man who forgets that I am his mistress will wake up one day to find that I am the mistress of another, and that soon, I will dispense with him, like the archaic face of the goddess.

    Jung has a very sanitized unreal image of the goddess he created, just as he engineered his relationships with women in his lives to serve him and to control. The feminine does not work that way. He is thinking of sheep dogs and cattle, and she is a leopard.

  4. Melusine:

    Thanks for your articulate comments.

    Regarding the “end justifies the mean,” i.e that Jung was ammoral when it came to women, but it resulted in greater knowledge for the rest of us.

    The paradox here is that, in my opinion, I think his work is very much behind the consciousness that has increased the awareness of the feminine and provided some of the material connected to evolution of the women’s movement.

    I think (and my intuitive side has always been better than my thinking side, so help me out here) it is a bit like the ethics of what to do if there is a runaway train headed for five people, and if you throw the switch to change the track the train is on you will kill an innocent bystander. His writings probably saved more people than he damaged by his actions, although that doesn’t make it moral. (And if there is a parallel of the runaway train to an out-of-control patriarchal society, that is fine with me.)

    Overall, I think his view of the feminine is very archaic and is very limiting.

  5. Thank you for your kind comments sir, it is good to stretch the intellectual muscles and to be well met in a tennis match of sorts.

    I agree that Jung’s view of the feminine is ‘very archaic and very limiting’. It is because he was basing it on what served him as a German patriarchal male living in the 19th century, what served and did not threaten him, and a tool to condition, deceive and coerce women into what they should be according to his paradigm. In such, I’ve never felt that he brought so much to women, because the message was so warped, encouraging women to look to him, rather to their own inner knowing for the nature and truth of these archetypes. It is disturbing that he not only fleeced off women thinkers to make his formulations, but assiduously destroyed all writings and letters of their work, which would have meant so much more, even a chapter in a book to make sure that her contributions were not known.

    I see no value in that, except what it did for his ‘legacy’. It reminds me of how the ancient Romans never even recorded female births and their names. This was referred to in the histories of Tacitus who covered the Celtic and Teutonic tribes and was horrified at the strength and presence of their women, how fiercely they fought, and sometimes even more dangerously ferocious than their husbands. He loved his wife very much, but never would have had her name known, as it was for men in his mind, and not for women to be remembered by history. (Our only records of Aspasia, wife-mistress of Pericles, are vile slanders by the comic poets.) Carl Jung is no different from Tacitus, actually he is worse, because he took important contributions of women on women and passed them off as his own.

    This is not uncommon though, as I said, I have experienced this dynamic many times, where I am the philosophical friend who enlightens a male writer into his work, especially per the voice of his female characters, and in one case, found a more apt quote from Jung than he had chosen, and he sucked this all up and then distanced himself from me so that he would not have to have been reminded of the feminine mind who instructed and enlightened him.

    Another case would be the male writer friend who sat and listened raptly while I read some of my own work, and after praising it, he spoke bitterly about how he wished that it had been his. Some time later, he astounded me by telling me about a film project he was working on – that followed the structure of my work exactly. He slipped when he told the title, it was a version of my own. I was sick. I never spoke to him again. I watched the film ‘Camile Claudel’, and empathized with her rage. I was so discouraged, I buried my own project, and will never share with a male writer again.

  6. Melusine:

    What you say feels right, and it is disturbing and insidious how pervasive the patriarchal structure is.

    It kind of makes me as a male want to move to back to Mars in order to save this planet, and leave this one to the better sides of our nature.

  7. “I shall always be grateful to Toni for dong for my husband what I or anyone could not have done for him at a most critical time.” ~Emma Jung in Jung and the Story of our Time by Laurens van der Post [Page 177]

    “You see, he never took anything from me to give to Toni, but the more he gave to her the more he seemed able to give to me.” ~Emma Jung in Jung: His Life and Work by Barbara Hannah [Page 110]

  8. I have been studying analytic psychology for years and I still puzzled by the biography of Dr. Jung. His theory is correct but the way he lived his life was a contradiction to his theory. At the end, I always get to the same conclusion: Jung was a great academic and researcher of the psyche, but it´s my conviction that he failed to experience the psyche fully and the individuation process. When a person goes through the individuation process, such person ends up having a conscious relation with his/her psyche; in other words, the person stops unconscious projections. At the very core of the individuation process there is an unimpeachable ethical command. In the very first instance in which Jung projected his anima on Toni, he showed that he did not only was being immoral but, most importantly, he was acting guided by unconscious projections. So it´s very hard for me to think of Jung as an authentic, individuated person. The fact that Jung was a great researcher of the psyche, it doesn´t necessarily mean that he experienced the psyche to its fullness. After all, what he did was to recollect the teachings of true individuated people like the alchemist Gerhad Dorn. Jung used his intellect to make inferences from the lessons of truly individuated people in history. I have to give Jung credit for being a great researcher and a great interpretor, but that´s all. The alchemists used to say that the opus requires the most important element: love. I cannot think that there was love when Jung was having extramarital relations with other women. Sorry, love does not work that way!

  9. Stephen,

    When you say, “Regarding the “end justifies the mean,” i.e that Jung was ammoral when it came to women, but it resulted in greater knowledge for the rest of us,” there is something that you don´t understand. The knowledge that Jung left means NOTHING. The best way to explain you this is by means of a story that comes to my mind. I mean the movie of Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail. At the end of the movie, if you remember, the bad guy was left with the the decision of choosing between two cups; one of the them was the Holly Grail. One cup was shinny full of jewelry and beautiful; the other was ugly and worthless. The bad guy was seduced by the resplendent and sophisticated cup, as he was convinced it was the Holly Grail. But he was wrong. The Holly Grail was the cheap and ugly cup that represented humbleness.
    Knowledge means nothing if there is not the right moral/ethical attitude.

  10. Andres: I think morality is a very complicated, relative and cultural issue. Rumi allegedly said, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” Perhaps that is where he met Ms. Wolff.

  11. Stephen ~

    Wow, your reference to Rumi’s beautiful quote seems quite a stretch of your romantic imagination!

    If you re- visit the documentary, A Matter of the Heart, you will hear Jung say that we must find access to our inner divinity through aloneness, dreams and reflection (when the unconscious visits).

    An affair is an intoxicating shadow that often takes over in mid-life. To say it is divine is as delusional as one feels in that state! It is a sexual compulsion, and although perhaps a striving to unite with the Divine through a relationship, it falls short of the goal of Individuation.

    Women are naturally closer to the numinous and so we must be careful not to over extend ourselves. Everyday I take some alone time to reconnect within. And my partner and I meditate together. As a near-death survivor, I am clear that my psychic well being is my individual path. Whether or not my partner dives inward as deeply as I do or not, that doesn’t threaten our love or enjoyment of one another. The best I can be is to stay close to my wisdom self – what is God but the still voice within? (Rumi) – and practice loving kindness and compassion. But it all begins with an open inward connection.


  12. Sarah — I suspect that much of the torment that surfaced in Jung’s writing to the Red Book was due to his conflict over his relationship to Toni Wolff that started about this time, although I have yet to see anything written about this hypothesis. This violation of basic social norms was one reason for his feeling as if he had been through hell. That this work partially came out of such a violation does not justify it, but it does suggest — (and now from Rumi to Shakespeare) that “Sweet are the uses of adversity.” Thanks for your thought and heartfelt response.

  13. Andres: I think morality is a very complicated, relative and cultural issue. Rumi allegedly said, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” Perhaps that is where he met Ms. Wolff.

    Stephen–I can see now why you justify Jung´s extramarital affairs. If you maintain a relativistic posture on ethics and morality, then you are quite lost. It´s true that there are moral values that are relative to cultures and times, but there is also another ethics and morality that is universal because they are imbued in our human condition. The universal ethic/morality I am referring to isn´t based in wrongdoing or rightdoing but on being honest with oneself. I have a degree in philosophy, but studying philosophy doesn´t necessarily teach you to be ethical either.

  14. I want to thank the original posters/webmasters and contributors to these comments, this article gave me some powerful food for thought this year, and is really more relevant than ever.

    A few thoughts:

    – This relationship has interesting parallels with the Nietzsche/Wagner relationship (particularly in terms of the philosophical break in the couples) and Nin/Rank later.

    – Not everyone wants fame and accreditation, and some really don’t care a whit about their place in history.

    – Unless I’m mistaken, Toni got exactly what she wanted out of the relationship – and, really had a life which most adults wouldn’t mind in terms of freedom and companionship – and both began and ended the sexual component of their relationship. She ended it, not incidentally, when Jung was at an age where all men tend to lose what remains of their physical and intellectual potency.

    – Progressives/Intellectuals of a century ago would feel a sense of bewilderment and pity at our current attachment to marriage as an institution and as some mystical vessel of social morality. It is ridiculous and archaic, and really has nothing to do with the mechanics of any relationship of any real personal value. Thankfully, we have Emma’s direct quotes above, which should really be the last word on the subject.

    – I see a bit of projection at a failed Daddy figure more than anything else in some comments. This certainly ties in with some of the more cultish aspects of Jungian thinking, with “individuated” being analogous to “clear” in the syntax of other groups. Oh, how we love to rage at our failed Daddies, cannibalistic, blind titans that they are!

    – It strikes me as a beautiful love story. Almost twenty years of a transformative, truly intimate relationship with a real peer and co-explorer is twenty years more than almost all of us get, and the same may apply to their forty years of friendship. Too bad our own baggage obscures that.

  15. I’ve never quite understood why our heroes also need to be saints, and if they fail to live up to some standard of saintly behavior their heroism becomes false or empty. If one were a teacher, and a student’s work warranted an A+ grade, would you suddenly give the student D’s and F’s because it was discovered the student was a ferocious bully, or a drug dealer, or was earning bad grades from a different teacher? Of course not. The student’s character is judged by one standard, and the student’s work is judged by another – namely it’s quality and accuracy. One need not want to be Jung’s friend to see the value of his professional output.

    More importantly (to me, anyway) is the fact that Jung never held himself out as a guru, or leader, or a model for others to pattern their lives after. To the contrary, he made a point of emphasizing his individuality, of emphasizing the point that he could not POSSIBLY tell others what they ought to do because only they can live their own individual life, and even went as far as to mock the idea of there being “Jungians” at all!

    Jung is, at the end of the day, a human being. He did not transcend the flaws of his historical epoch and cultural upbringing in some ways. In other ways, he did. Take what was useful from him for yourself, discard or ignore what isn’t useful, and go on your way.

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