A playwright’s journey into the heart of C.G. Jung
by Elizabeth Clark-Stern
I wrote the following essay after returning from the premiere performance of my play, OUT OF THE SHADOWS: A STORY OF TONI WOLFF AND EMMA JUNG, at the International Jungian Congress in Cape town in 2007.
The play has just been published, in may, 2010, a beautiful edition available at www.fisherkingpress.com, or on Amazon.
“And he rose up that night, and took his two wives, and his two women servants..and sent them over a brook...and Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day....And he said “Let me go, for the day breaketh”. And He said, “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me”...And Jacob blessed Him there, and called the name of the place Peniel: “for I have seen God face to face and my life is preserved.”
---Genesis 32:22-30 King James version
“Yahweh remembered a feminine being who is no less agreeable to him than to man, a friend
and playmate from the beginning of the world, the first-born of all God’s creatures, a stainless reflection of his glory and a master workman, nearer and dearer to his heart than the last descendants of the imaginal man, who was but a secondary product stamped in his image. There must be some dire necessity responsible for this anamnesis of Sophia: things simply could not go on as before, the “just” God could not go on committing injustices, and the “Omniscient” could not behave any longer like a clueless and thoughtless human being. Self-reflection becomes an imperative necessity, and for this Wisdom is needed.”
--C.G. Jung, ANSWER TO JOB
“I’m struggling with the anger I feel toward Jung”.
This statement hung in the air, as several of us gathered at the foot of the stage
following a Seattle performance of my play, OUT OF THE SHADOWS: A STORY OF TONI
WOLFF AND EMMA JUNG.
The woman sharing her feelings was a candidate in the Seattle-based Jungian analyst training
program, “My whole life is consumed with the study of Jung and his work”, she added, “and I don’t
know what to do with this anger toward Jung, the man.”
Her voice expressed confusion, outrage, betrayal. I had felt all of this myself, and certainly
heard it from many dedicated, passionately intellectual women: the struggle to reconcile the
luminous genius of this man with his behavior toward women.
Throughout his career women flocked to him, sensing in his work an invitation to the
Feminine - not only the archetypal one, but flesh and blood women searching for meaning and
depth. In ANSWER TO JOB Jung wrote of the reappearance of the goddess Sophia, the feminine
pneuma, Wisdom, beloved partner of God. Jung’s work calls women to enter a safe, sacred
place. It seemed inevitable that women students of Jungian analysis would feel betrayed, even
violated to learn of his relationship with some of the women in his life, as portrayed in the
documentary on Sabina Spielrein, the biography JUNG by Diedre Bair, now this production in which
the intellectual/love triangle between Jung, Emma, and Toni is given creative voice.
There was also the question of his actions in Germany during World War II. One of my
Jewish friends confronted me with documents from the Internet about Jung and the Third Reich. Even
if his blundering into Berlin was motivated by naiveté, it was troubling.
Now, with the play on its way the International Jungian Congress in Cape Town, I
looked at the faces of these women standing next to me at the foot of the stage. What did I feel
about Jung now? How had the creative process of writing the play and acting the role of Toni Wolff
impacted my conscious - and unconscious relationship to this man and his work?
If I go back to the beginning of my journey, the first character I encountered with contradictory
virtues and vices was not Jung, but Toni Wolff. Eighteen years ago when I wrote the first draft as an
independent study project at Antioch University, I played the role of Emma. Toni was portrayed by a
talented actor, also a fellow psychology student. The characters mirrored some facets of our own
lives. I was older, a mother raising a family. She had not yet married, and, like the young Toni Wolff,
was enamored of ideas, launching herself in the world as a therapist. It was easy for me to nestle
in Emma’s wifely virtue, to write the early draft, titled THE OTHER WOMAN, as a conflict centered
on Toni’s “selfish” usurping of the role of Jung’s intellectual muse, and lover.
Happily the young woman who first played Toni saw through my moral superiority, asserting
a vision of Toni as a bold, avant-garde woman ahead of her time. Her wisdom brought dimension
and vitality to the work, still resonant in the present version.
Some critics of THE OTHER WOMAN found the play unsatisfying because Toni was not a
“sympathetic” character. Sadly, back then, I valued others’ opinions above my own creative
authority, seeing this as a writer’s flaw. If I had been a better writer, I reasoned, I could have
portrayed this “unsympathetic” woman “sympathetically”. But how could I ? Look at what Toni had done: decades of a relationship with a married man, in defiance of the pain it caused his wife.
I was stymied. I see now that the flaw was not in my ability to put words on paper, it was in my pin
headed one dimensional way of seeing human character: good woman/ bad woman.
Unable to make Toni “sympathetic”, I put the play in a drawer, for the next 16 years.
A series of synchronous events found me in the second half of life, empty-nested, awakening to
a new creative yearning, and with it, Jungian analysis. Another woman, psychoanalyst/actor, Rikki
Ricard, returned to my life. I realized she would make a fabulous Emma Jung, and asked if she would
be interested in doing a reading of this two-woman play. Happily, she was. I began to revise the work,
pouring over Diedre Bair’s JUNG, which yielded much more solid information about Toni and
I reached for other sources, thrilled that I could now see ways to flesh out the play as never before. It also became clear I would take the role of Toni this time. No accident. It was time for me to wrestle first hand with all the brilliant light and the “unsympathetic” shadow of this woman.
It was illuminating to read the old draft with fresh eyes. “Not bad” I thought, “but there is so
much more to it...”I could see through to my own younger self, crafting the bones of the drama
between these women, but sidestepping the depth of complexity and tension that occurred when Toni
and Jung transcended conventional morality. This begs the question: to achieve psychological
wholeness is transgression of moral convention sometimes required? How do we navigate an
ethical boundary between self actualization and the principle, “First do no harm”?
And then there was Jung. I knew this new draft, now titled OUT OF THE SHADOWS,
had to include not only what made him fascinating, but the dark reality of some of his behavior. A
voice inside of me screamed, “sacrilege!’ I had just begun a two-year seminar program for prospective
Jungian analytic candidates. Wasn’t it the height of hypocrisy for me to be so in love with the
man’s ideas while waving his dirtiest laundry in public? What was I doing? But, whose story was this?
Wasn’t my fear playing into the very patriarchal paranoia women have been subjected to for years? I
realized it wasn't my job as the playwright of a creative work to protect the public image of C.G.
Jung. My job was to get out of the way and let Emma and Toni speak from the fullness of their lives.
I told myself not to worry about being sacrilegious, but to immerse myself in the characters.
Through the women I began to experience Jung as a very different person from the likable old
magician of MEMORIES DREAMS AND REFLECTIONS. The Jung that emerged in relationship
to Toni and Emma was brilliant, inspiring, brutal, selfish, inflated. I was enacting my own duel
reality, writing a play evoking a ruthless, flawed Jung, while in my professional Jungian seminars, I
relished presentations from dynamic Seattle analysts of his luminous ideas. We shared our cases, our
dreams, held lively debates, enacted fairy tales-- all of this possible because years ago Carl Jung sat
down to write about the visions emerging from his bounteously creative mind. Inspired by Jung the
thinker, I would go home and write a scene about Jung, the man, in which Emma poured out pain
and outrage to her husband, for his many transgressions against her.
Both “Jung’s” were real and valid. One side of Jung in my psyche seemed to be feeding the
other, as the women came forth with their own strong voices. The tension between the women
dramatized the tension of opposites; tradition versus the exigencies of intellectual passion; the striving
to define themselves in their own right, and in relation to the creative masculine. Jung came to
embody the patriarchy: its power to shape the modern world, to dominate, to idealize women,
to vilify them.
Toni, the “selfish” woman of the earlier draft, became a father’s daughter, suffering from
depression following his death. She had been raised as his intellectual air, allowed access to his study,
tutored in philosophy, literature, and the arts. (“What future is there besides, marriage to some
dreary man I will despise”?) Of course there would be a strong mutual attraction between her and this
older man, a father figure, a scholar, a doctor, innovating a philosophic/artistic science of treating the
wounds of the soul. Now that I was thunderstruck with my own dream analysis, and immersing
myself in the evolving complexity of Jungian psychology in my seminars, I understood completely
why Toni initiated the relationship with Jung with all the passion of her 24 years. It would have been
Was she “selfish”, “unsympathetic”? That seemed the wrong question. I recalled that Somerset
Maughm once said, “the job of the writer is not to judge, but to know.” But in this “knowing”, every
artist must also be as conscious as possible of the implications of their work. In my heart I felt I was
“channeling” the voice of these historical women, but clearly doing so from my own frame of
experience, values, and feelings.
As for Emma, she became multi-dimensional: a mother who enjoyed making mud cakes and
picking berries with her children; a wife who clearly understood her husband’s genius, yet longed for an
intellectual life of her own. She chose to stay married to her husband, despite the many ways in which
he was not responsive to her needs and desires. Why? What did it mean for her to be forced by Carl to
coexist with this “other woman” who usurped so much of his life. She tells Toni, “I would give my
soul to have what you have: his heart, his mind, his loins, on a platter.”
What did it mean for Toni Wolff to be an intellectual woman living in turn of the Century
Switzerland, a country that restricted women’s access to reproductive rights, property, higher
education, even the right to vote. It must have felt like life or death for Toni to seize the opportunity
to form an intellectual/spiritual/ sexual relationship with Jung, prioritizing her happiness over moral
dictates of her time.
In the fall of 2005, we did an informal reading of the revised version of the play. The response
was essentially positive, with many ideas for improving the work. We began rehearsals and performed
a staged reading in May, 2006, at the annual Forum of the Northwest Alliance for Psychoanalytic
Study in Seattle. In this version I had written Jung in as a character, a suggestion from a theater
director outside the Jungian community. She made the case to me that an audience needed to see the
actual man, as opposed to an off stage character referred to in monologues. I thought this might be
an important step in bringing the characters fully into being. The play still focused on the women and
their relationship, but there he was, in flesh and blood, holding forth his theories, loving both women,
championing Toni’s intellect over his wife’s, wrangling with Emma over his visits to Berlin during the
Nazi’s rise to power. No hiding the man and all the bold dimensions of his whole being.
After the premiere performance, I sat on the edge of the stage facing the audience, in the hair
and makeup of Toni Wolff, but now I was the playwright, accountable for what I had crafted.
A man asked, “Why did you choose to write about this, when you could write about anything you
wanted to?” I answered “ on behalf of Emma and Toni and all women: “This story seemed
compelling, and to reflect the struggle of women, throughout history--” I looked at him, feeling the
warm flow of guilt in my stomach, for “outing” the dark side of Carl Jung.
Another man asked, “Do you think Carl Gustave was a bad man?” “No, “ I said,
remembering my Jewish friend, who dismissed Jung as a Nazi sympathizer, “I think he was flawed
man, not a bad one”. What a liberating thing to say. “Bad” implied a one-dimensional condemnation
of the man. I thought of the demonizing rage many people have expressed against George Bush, a
sentiment mirroring his condemnation of the terrorists in the Middle East as evil incarnate. A man
who is ‘bad” becomes an object, not a man. Jung ultimately redeemed himself, in the play, and in
history, by finally renouncing Hitler and achieving a place on the Nazi black list. “Bad” is neither
black, nor white. The shadow comes in many shades of gray.
Watching the character of Jung in the play was a necessary step in its evolution. Even more
significant was my decision to take the scenes in which he appeared onstage, and rewrite them as
monologues. I borrowed a technique used in plays like THE BELLE OF AMHERST, the one-
woman play about Emily Dickinson, who speaks to unseen characters, placing Jung “out there” as a
presence sitting somewhere on the third row. This gave the play back to the women, where it
belonged. Paradoxically, Jung was more “outed” than ever, because now the audience received the
rage, indignation, confrontation of both Emma and Toni.
In playing Toni’s monologues to Jung I felt the full power of her rage. This man “who held my
darkness in his hands” deals harshly with her when he discovers another woman of intellect he deems
more appropriate to serve as his “lieutenant”. Toni characterizes his rejection of her as his
“Exterminator”, unleashing the full range of her emotions, from shock to alienation, depression, rage.
But the shift in her status with Jung opens new possibilities in her relationship with Emma, an unlikely
source of solace and womanly support. It becomes clear these two women share an emotional and
intellectual bond, by virtue of their mutual intimacy with Jung. What does it mean for both of them to
confront the prospect of “taking down the veils so thick between us”? What does it mean when
enemies can peer through the glass darkly to the essence of being of the “other”?
As for Jung, I took my cue from the women analytic candidate who expressed her anger at
him that night at the foot of the stage. There was a piece left hanging in the play that would provide,
if not resolution, at least an articulation of what I had learned on my journey. I knew that the real
authority on the subject was Toni Wolff. I had read that as soon as Jung heard of Toni’s death, he
burned all of her letters, so we have no record of the intimate correspondence between them. What if
Toni had written a final letter to him. What would she say?
I felt she would not use the word “forgiveness”. She writes to Jung not of forgiveness, but of
regret that when she was a young woman attempting to help him through his darkest hours, she did
not have the experience, or maturity of vision to guide him in confronting his “Inner Exterminator”.
She sees the split in his psyche, and chides herself for not having been “ a giantess of an analyst”. She
then laughs at herself, “A giantess of an analyst, what inflation!” But surely it is a hope of our
profession, that in looking at our darkness within and owning all the ugliness, all the light, we can
help to heal the world. I think of Alice Miller’s portrayal of all murderers on death row as victims of
abuse, the child Adolph Hitler almost beaten to death by his father. Don’t we love to think that if
Dora Kolf, the Jungian analyst who innovated Sand Play therapy, had been able to serve little Adolph
in her clinic, it would have made a difference in the history of the Twentieth Century?
Toni concludes her letter with emotion flowing from a woman’s heart, writing of her love
for his face, his “body so large it blocks out the sun”, his wild laughter. She sees the shadow, the
split, and still loves the man. After writing that letter, on Toni’s behalf, I realized I could no longer
separate “me” from the voices of Emma and Toni in my head. I’m not angry with Jung any longer.
The creative process opened doors for me into the minds of the women, and through their
eyes I see Carl Gustav Jung in all his brilliance, in all his darkness.
I embrace the wisdom of wrestling with the shadow. When Jacob did hand-to-hand combat
with the stranger through the night, the only way to save his life was to bless his enemy, who then
revealed himself as the image of God. When Jung evoked the recall to consciousness of the much-
beloved Sophia, he envisioned that She would inspire a multidimensional concept of God, part angel,
part devil, capable of advanced consciousness. Only through relationship with human beings, can
God experience the completeness his nature.
By “becoming” Emma Jung and Toni Wolff, I learned that that through the power of our
creative imagination, we can journey to the full dimension of our humanity.