Juliet Mitchell interviewed by Alan Macfarlane 6th May 2008

0:09:07 Born in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1940 where mother had gone, as a botanist, as a research exchange student; we lived in a Jewish refugee enclave; many became lifelong friends and  it is very crucial to me; came back to England in 1944 and stayed with mother's parents in the Midlands; I have no Jewish ancestry; my maternal grandparents were the only ones I knew; my grandfather was an architectural stone mason in Tamworth; his family had been stone masons since the late 1300's; we stayed with them when we returned and also in every holiday, in a house that was surrounded by workshops full of gravestones; I spent hours as a child watching the engravers; had my mother's maiden name and all the gravestones in the area were signed 'Mitchell' (the maker) which I thought were my hundreds of relatives; spent time trying to persuade my grandfather's apprentices to come and play football with me in the yard; I also have feeling rather than conscious memories of New Zealand; they are colours; I didn't go back for thirty years but I had always known that it was yellow but didn't know why, but that part of New Zealand is full of yellow flowers and sand; I went to look for the house we had lived in and to my horror it was the wrong side of the road; I went on further south to Dunedin where I was lecturing but went back to the house and suddenly everything became right; I realized that I thought in terms of coming up the map which affects my sense of direction still; going back cured the nostalgia but it is still an important memory

7:06:02 My father was a geneticist in Canada, where I was conceived, and America; he died when I was eleven and we never lived together; I knew him by letters which were very important to me; my parents were separated and I was brought up by my mother; had a stepfather and brother when I was five but that broke up; closely after my own father's death my mother married somebody who survived the camps; she was lecturing a lot for International Friendship after the war and he was in her audience; he is much on my mind as he died recently aged ninety-six; he was a very big influence on the later part of my childhood and adolescence; after their marriage he gradually became ill as a result of his four years in concentration camps; I would take tea to him with aspirin in it and was told to say the milk was curdled as he was an anthroposophist who only took herbal medicines; these psycho-somatic illnesses were not severe but made it difficult for him to keep jobs; he worked in the post office in the basement at Selfridges in the early 1950's and described the anti-semitism that he met there as being as bad as anything that he had experienced; after having experienced the holocaust you survive but are never all right; my stepfather recovered when he went to work on the philosophy of anthroposophy - Rudolph Steiner - which believes that suffering in this life brings a better next life; went to work in Forest Row with handicapped youths and then his illnesses stopped

13:13:24 The Jewish community where we lived in New Zealand was in no way a camp ; my Jewish godfather had been Professor of Linguistics at Frankfurt and he had got out to Florence University; when Mussolini's laws made it difficult to stay, he and my godmother went to New Zealand as independent refugees; I was very important to them as they had no children of their own; they did take some Jewish children with them to New Zealand; people like them gathered together; there was a story that a person who was a complete anathema to the community was Karl Popper who made it impossible for anyone to get any work of an interesting nature; the first person my mother lived with was the Muntz family - Peter Muntz was here in Cambridge as a philosopher; I grew up with him as an elder brother for those three years; I did have a half brother later whom I think of as a full brother, who is five years younger; my father was considerably older than my mother and had grown-up children with whom I was later in correspondence; I am still close to the Muntz family; when I first came to Cambridge at five or six, Peter Muntz was living there; I came from London on the train alone and he met me; it made a great impression on me

17:33:23 One day a week nursery school in New Zealand, where I met my first boyfriend; communicated by drawings after returning to England; met him again recently; in England, mother taught at a progressive school, Burgess Hill, which was an offshoot of Summerhill; we lived there but she didn't want me to go to that school so I went to King Alfred School, another progressive school, in London; started aged three and a half and stayed until I was seventeen; it was hugely important to me and I still have close friends from there; for History had a wonderful 'O' level teacher who also influenced Raphael Samuel who was there too; he was older than me but it was a small school and our afternoon classes were not age related; although he was three years older, we were in the same group; the person who influenced both of us was John Handford whom I met again at Raphael's memorial service; he was a member of the Communist Party and for 'O' level we read Marx and Engels; unfortunately he left before 'A' level and at that point English took over because of a teacher called Margaret Maxwell  who had a passion for the subject; in a mixed ability school, I was coasting along at that time, and she encouraged me to make an effort; I had wanted to do Zoology at 'A' level but the only place one could go doing a mixed degree at that time was Keele and I didn't want to go there; instead I did History, English and Latin; I had got into Oxford before my 'A' levels and crammed Latin;  learnt to love Virgil and Ovid; knew 'O' level Richard II by heart; this love had really started with my mother who had always wanted to do English but she was the first person in her family to go to university but her father had only allowed her to go to become a teacher and to do science; few teachers that were inspirational but the school was so small, only 230 children in the whole school

25:55:13 Great love of water - swimming, looking at the sea; also very sporty at school and could run fast; sports were amateurish as it was such a small school; very good at netball; as children we played on the bomb sites and made camps in air-raid shelters;  we were gorgeously wild; went youth hostelling aged eleven on bicycles, two boys and two girls around southern England; then you could do it; we had working mothers so we were latchkey children; after school we played on the street very much as a group; I still know people from the street - Platts Lane; we had lived at Burgess Hill school until 1947 and then had come to a house in Platts Lane; we were the main people in the house but every room had one or two people living there; remember an election in 1949 or 1950 when people walking up from Kilburn to Hampstead Heath would stop in front of our house; by then my German-Jewish godparents had come to live with us from New Zealand; they had 'Liberal' on the ground floor, my mother, 'Labour', on the first floor and the top floor were anarchists who asked people not to vote at all; remember own ambivalence when people stopped to look at this

30:03:04 Went to read English at St Anne's, Oxford; at school was hopeless at music but love listening to it; recently went to a Barenboim concert and it was transformational; was at Oxford as an undergraduate and then started a B.Lit. for a D.Phil. but was not very happy with the subject I had chosen; at the end of that year got a job as an Assistant Lecturer at Leeds and abandoned the B.Lit.; as an undergraduate it was Beowulf to the Romantics; we had Milton for prelims. and a new optional nineteenth-century novel paper; it was nothing like Cambridge which was then Leavis; we had no sense of a critical tradition; what we did do was read; had one very good teacher called Dorothy Bednarowska who was very encouraging; she was Catholic and used to teach at one of the Jesuit colleges; once a month she would take me and three Jesuits out to lunch in the Cotswolds; at that time we were not used to amazing food; the condition was that we should talk about Langland, Chaucer, Piers Plowman - early Middle English - all the way there but were allowed to sleep on the way back; there were women teachers then that so loved their subject

36:28:22 Met Perry Anderson as an undergraduate but got to know him well when he had gone down and I was a post-graduate; I was living with Luke Hodgkin, son of Dorothy, and Anna Davin, his wife was daughter of my supervisor, Winnie Davin; my subject was Joyce Cary which I was allowed to do because there were manuscript sources; I was doing his African novels because I had become interested in the whole independence movement and he had been a District Commissioner in Nigeria at an interesting period; my then boyfriend went out to work in Ibadan at that point; it was difficult because if I made even a slightly critical comment about Cary, Winnie Davin would burst into tears; it was so inhibiting that when I had the opportunity to go to Leeds I took it; Winnie Davin was outside the University but was Cary's literary executor; very proud to get such a job at twenty-one

39:23:21 I had grown up in a left-wing but also anarchist environment; Burgess Hill had been dominantly anarchist and we kept in touch when we moved; also  had anarchist living above us whom I was very fond of; Philip [Sansom] ran 'Freedom Press' and 'Freedom Newspaper' and took me to watch the boat race on the Freedom barge; go to the Malatesta Club and shop for olive oil and spaghetti in Soho; I used to paint; at school had wonderful art teachers; still, when I want to start writing I go to an art exhibition, and also when I finish a book; after finishing 'Medusa' at about four in the morning, I managed to see both an El Lissitzky and a Monet exhibition; on politics: we had elections at school; Raphael Samuel and the New Left Review; CND demonstration after having tonsils out at eighteen with mother who had just had a hysterectomy; Suez demonstrations; steeped in politics

45:20:08 On religion, my mother sent me to King Alfred because she was against corporal punishment and compulsory religion; at thirteen my adored present was 'The Bible as Literature' etc. but I was educated without any form of religion whatsoever; my mother had been to church two or three times a day as a child; my grandfather died when I was seven, but would take me to churches where he was working; I adore church bells; at twelve I became a serious Quaker and took my reluctant brother with me to meetings; I was on lots of junior Quaker committees from about twelve to sixteen; when my mother died ten years ago I had a memorial in a Quaker meeting house; my stepfather was an anthroposophist which was a meditative influence on me; he was a proselytiser and took me to Goethe's 'Faust' at twelve; I liked the herbal remedies and the paraphernalia around it but was very opposed to the actual Rudolph Steiner doctrine; hated the goodness associated with it and found it worrying; may have had an influence on my becoming a psychoanalyst; I hated the religious side and their art, though recently found myself speaking on a platform with a man who was studying  a Goetheanum, a Rudolph Steiner centre; I could see that architecturally it was an interesting building, but can't stand their passive water washes based on religious themes; I drifted out of Quakerism and intellectually became an atheist; my daughter went to a convent at one point and I remember subsequently talking to her about religion and she said that I had always given her the feeling that I had a sort of belief, but never what the belief was; can remember  talking seriously with her about god; I have got into trouble for my tolerance of religion; do believe that there are more things than we know about; both my parents were scientists which relates to this rather than a religious position, but it joins them; working as a group on psychoanalytic training recently, stunned by the telepathetic communication between us

55:53:24 First job was at Leeds; there was an emotional strain as just about the time I got the job Perry Anderson and I got married; he was working at New Left Review in London; Edward Thompson was in Halifax, Peter Worsley, in Hull, and there were people in Birmingham; the old guard were very important to me; having not grown up within rigid age bands I found it easy to communicate; I had not realized that working in Leeds and living in London would be stressful, and it was; I hadn't realized how rooted Perry was to London; I went down every weekend and returned on the early train on Tuesday morning; at first we felt the physical separation was very hard; then I got to like Leeds and made friends - Hide Ishiguro, Arnold Kettle, and others; Terry Lovell, a mature student, had married one of the New Left in London, Alan Lovell of the British Film Institute; Terry and I used to go down in her bubble car quite often; however it didn't work out and I left Leeds after a year with considerable regret; the job was tough but the students were lively and critical; learnt a lot from them about how to teach and lecture; by that point I was very active in New Left so there were benefits; I didn't want a job in London University but got a doctoral studentship at Reading to which I could commute; Perry also got a research post there under Andreski and wondered whether to move, but we stayed in London; in my second year at Reading I got a lectureship in the English Department which was an excellent department; it specialized in Yeats