Today is my final day working with the William Ronald Dodds Fairbairn Archive, as my six-month, Wellcome Trust funded post comes to an end.
The main aim of my post was to reorganise and then catalogue the archive, in advance of associated conservation work, so that the records can be made available via a new website, created and hosted by the University of Edinburgh, our Fairbairn Project partners. I am delighted to be able to say this work is now almost complete and the records will be available to researchers when the website goes live later this year.
Since I am not a researcher, and this is not a scholarly article, I thought I might share some of my non-scientific interpretations of Fairbairn, as gleaned through his extant papers.
The vast majority of the papers in Fairbairn’s archive relate to his profession. This includes manuscripts and offprints for over 70 articles and lectures written by Fairbairn, some of which appear never to have been published. There are about as many reviews, written by Fairbairn, of the works of other authors, and a collection of offprints Fairbairn kept of the articles of others, which complement his library, held at Edinburgh University Library. As well as this, there are copious notes, in which Fairbairn seemingly poured forth his ceaseless thoughts, theories and re-conceptualisations (which seemed to come almost faster than he could write them down) of what psychoanalysis could be. And of course, there are the papers that relate to his private practice and his own self-analysis, including his dream drawings. All of this builds a picture, often remarked upon by those that knew him, of an extremely hard-working, focused and determined man who was almost entirely absorbed by his chosen field.
Indeed, for a time in the 1920s, Fairbairn appears to have become interested in graphology, and a friend, unidentified at this point, records what a practitioner made of a sample of Fairbairn’s own writing.
However, by comparison, the relatively small amount of more personal material in the archive offers glimpses into another aspect of Fairbairn’s personality. Here we see a more vulnerable and highly self-aware side to his personality, typically surrounded by his family in the photographs we have, but aware of the limitations of his own upbringing.
Here also is a man who records in his personal diaries his experience of the First World War – including his participation in the Battle of Jerusalem – partly captured in the crumpled, manuscript remains of a play Fairbairn had started to write based on his experiences of the Middle-Eastern front.
These same diaries reveal Fairbairn to us as a schoolboy, seemingly more interested in sport, particularly cricket, than in academia.
Fairbairn comes across as a meticulous, hard-working, kindly person, and as with all the people I have come to know through their papers, I only wish I had known him.