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Did Susan Sontag write her ex-husband's book? Her biography says yes

  • Published at 01:53 pm May 21st, 2019
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Lit news

The latest biography of Susan Sontag, an acclaimed American writer, which is due to be published soon, claims that she is the original writer of her first husband Philip Rieff’s influential book Freud: The Mind of the Moralist. 

After reviewing a copy of the book, Sontag: Her Life, the Guardian has reported the claim citing a statement of the author Benjamin Moser.

Moser collected evidence from different sources, which reveal that she was more than an unofficial co-author of that book. The book, published under Rieff’s name, placed Sigmund Freud and his brainchild, psychoanalysis, in a historical context. The collected evidence suggests that Philip Rieff’s role in this venture was limited to research only. Sontag was the one to put the information in words. 

“He almost certainly did not actually write the book upon which his career was based,” the author claims in the biography.   

For the completion of the biography Sontag: Her Life, Moser was given access by Sontag’s estate to the parts of the author’s archive at UCLA. He also recorded her friends’ statements, who had never talked about this issue before. 

One of Sontag’s friends Minda Rae Amiran told him that, “Susan was spending every afternoon rewriting the whole thing from scratch.” 

Moser also quoted from a letter, at that time, which Sontag wrote to her mother that says, “In third gear now on the book - working about 10 hours a day on it at least.”     

In the statement to the Guardian, Moser said, “It had long been rumored that Susan Sontag was the true author of her husband’s great book, Freud: The Mind of the Moralist…But in the course of my research, I discovered that she had indeed written it, only agreeing to sign it over during an acrimonious divorce, in order to keep her ex-husband from taking her child. ‘It was a blood sacrifice,’ a friend told me.” 

Besides being a writer, Susan Sontag was also known as a filmmaker, philosopher, teacher, and political activist.  

She married Philip Rieff, American sociologist and cultural critic, when she was only 17.     

In the preface of the first edition of the book, published in 1959, she was credited as Susan Rieff with “special thanks.” Later, in the same year, they got divorced, which ended their marriage of eight years.  

Consequently, in the 1961’s edition of the book, Philip Rieff did not give her any credit.    

However, the most convincing evidence comes from Rieff himself. According to Moser, Rieff sent his ex-wife a package forty years later. The package contained a copy of the book, along with a dramatic note asking for her forgiveness, “Susan, Love of my life, mother of my son, co-author of this book: forgive me. Please. Philip.” 

Rieff died in 2006, two years after the death of Sontag.