Frederick Crews
Born (1933-02-20) February 20, 1933 (age 90)
Known forThe Pooh Perplex

Critique of Sigmund Freud

Essays on American literature
Scientific career
FieldsAmerican literature
InstitutionsUniversity of California, Berkeley

Frederick Campbell Crews (born February 20, 1933)[1] is an American essayist and literary critic. Professor emeritus of English at the University of California, Berkeley,[2] Crews is the author of numerous books, including The Tragedy of Manners: Moral Drama in the Later Novels of Henry James (1957), E. M. Forster: The Perils of Humanism (1962), and The Sins of the Fathers: Hawthorne's Psychological Themes (1966), a discussion of the work of Nathaniel Hawthorne. He received popular attention for The Pooh Perplex (1963), a book of satirical essays parodying contemporary casebooks. Initially a proponent of psychoanalytic literary criticism, Crews later rejected psychoanalysis, becoming a critic of Sigmund Freud and his scientific and ethical standards. Crews was a prominent participant in the "Freud wars" of the 1980s and 1990s, a debate over the reputation, scholarship, and impact on the 20th century of Freud, who founded psychoanalysis.

Crews has published a variety of skeptical and rationalist essays, including book reviews and commentary for The New York Review of Books, on a variety of topics including Freud and recovered memory therapy, some of which were published in The Memory Wars (1995). Crews has also published successful handbooks for college writers, such as The Random House Handbook.

Life and career

Personal life

Crews was born in suburban Philadelphia in 1933.[3] Both his parents were avid readers and were tremendously influential in his life, said Crews: "They had both been raised in considerable poverty, and books had been extremely important to them personally, in shaping them. My mother was very literary; my father was very scientific. I feel that I got a little something of both sides."[4] In high school, Crews was co-captain of the tennis team, and for decades he remained an avid skier, hiker, swimmer, and runner.[3] Crews lives in Berkeley with his wife, Elizabeth Crews, a photographer who was born and raised in Berkeley, California.[3] They have two daughters and four grandchildren.[3]


Crews completed his undergraduate education at Yale University in 1955.[5] Though his degree was in English, Crews entered the Directed Studies program during his first two years at Yale, which he describes as his greatest experience because the program was taught by a coordinated faculty and required students to distribute their courses among sciences, social sciences, literature, and philosophy.[4] He received his Ph.D in Literature from Princeton University in 1958.[5] Crews cited Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Friedrich Nietzsche, Hawthorne, and Freud as major influences during his time at Princeton.[4]


In 1958, Crews joined the UC Berkeley English Department, where he taught for 36 years before retiring as its chair in 1994.[3][6] Crews was an anti-war activist from 1965 to about 1970[4] and advocated draft resistance as co-chair of Berkeley’s Faculty Peace Committee.[3] Though he shared the widespread assumption during the mid-1960s that psychoanalytic theory was a valid account of human motivation and was one of the first academics to apply that theory systematically to the study of literature, Crews gradually came to regard psychoanalysis as a pseudoscience.[3] This convinced him that his loyalty should not belong to any theory but rather to empirical standards and the skeptical point of view. Throughout his career, Crews has brought his concern for rational discourse to the study of various issues, from the controversy over recovered memory, the credibility of the Rorschach test, and belief in alien abductions to Theosophy and "intelligent design." He has also advocated for clear writing based on standards of sound argument and rhetorical effectiveness rather than adherence to rigid school-book rules.[3][7] "What interests me is general rationality," said Crews in an interview:

General rationality requires us to observe the world carefully, to consider alternative hypotheses to our own hypotheses, to gather evidence in a responsible way, to answer objections. These are habits of mind that science shares with good history, good sociology, good political science, good economics, what have you. And I summarize all this in what I call the "empirical attitude." It's a combination of feeling responsible to the evidence that is available, feeling responsible to go out and find that evidence, including the evidence that is contrary to one's presumptions, and responsibility to be logical with one's self and others. And this is an ideal that is not so much individual as social. The rational attitude doesn't really work when simply applied to one's self. It is something that we owe to each other.[4]



In 1963, Crews published his first bestseller The Pooh Perplex: A Student Casebook that satirized the type of casebooks then assigned to first-year university students in introductory literature and composition courses. The book featured a fictitious set of English professors writing essays on A. A. Milne's classic character Winnie-the-Pooh, parodying Marxist, Freudian, Christian, Leavisite and Fiedlerian approaches to analyzing literary texts. Though urged by readers to publish a follow-up volume, Crews delayed writing one until after his retirement in 1994, producing Postmodern Pooh in 2001. While The Pooh Perplex parodies earlier trends in literary criticism, Postmodern Pooh parodies later trends in literary theory.[8] In it, Crews extends the satire of the original, covering more recent critical approaches such as deconstruction, feminism, queer theory, and recovered memory therapy, in part basing the essay authors and their approaches on actual academics and their work.[5]

In The Patch Commission (1968), Crews satirized the activities of Presidential Commissions, displaying his disapproval of American involvement in the then-ongoing Vietnam War.[9][10] The book is a transcription of the work of the fictional Patch Commission, a discussion among three government commissioners attempting to save the nation from disaster caused by pediatrician Benjamin Spock's overly permissive child-rearing guidelines.[11]

Literary criticism

Much of Crews's career has been dedicated to literary criticism. Crews's first book, The Tragedy of Manners: Moral Drama in the Later Novels of Henry James (1957), was based on a prize-winning essay written by Crews while an undergraduate student at Yale University, initially published as part of a series.[12][13] In the book, Crews discussed three late novels by Henry James: The Ambassadors (1903), The Wings of the Dove (1902), and The Golden Bowl (1904), analyzing how, in those novels, adherence to social conventions serves to keep hidden relationships from coming to light.[12][14]

In 1962, Crews's doctoral dissertation from Princeton University was published as E. M. Forster: The Perils of Humanism.[15] In 1966, he published a study of Hawthorne, The Sins of the Fathers: Hawthorne's Psychological Themes, in which he examined Hawthorne's entire literary career including unfinished novels; it was re-issued in 1989 with Crews's reassessment of his initial position and an analysis of how literary criticism has dealt with Hawthorne since 1966.[16][17] In 1970, Crews edited Psychoanalysis and Literary Process, a collection of essays by his students that analyzed a variety of authors from a psychoanalytic perspective; a review credited the book with important accomplishments, including being "an achievement in the teaching and learning of psychoanalysis in a department of literature", which the reviewer noted was a rare occurrence.[18][19] The collection included an essay, "Anaesthetic Criticism," in which Crews disparaged contemporary schools of literary criticism, especially that of Northrop Frye and his followers.[20]

In 1986, Crews published The Critics Bear It Away, which was wholly devoted to literary criticism.[21] It was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award for nonfiction[22] and won the Spielvogel-Diamonstein Award for the Art of the Essay.[23]

Parts of Crews's 1975 collection Out of My System,[24] the 1986 collection Skeptical Engagements,[25] and the 2006 Follies of the Wise[26] were also dedicated to literary criticism. Crews's repeated message to literary critics is to be critical of their own interpretation when making statements about the meaning of a work.[4] Regarding Crews's position on literary criticism, C. A. Runcie notes, "What Frederick Crews says about psychoanalysis is true for all criticism and its theorizing: 'A critic's sense of limits, like Freud's own, must come from … his awe at how little he can explain.'"[27] Crews has been identified by the literary theorist Joseph Carroll as one of "the very few scholars who have consistently and effectively opposed poststructuralism."[28]

Criticism of Freud and psychoanalysis

Crews began his career using psychoanalytic literary criticism but gradually rejected this approach and psychoanalysis in general. In his article "Reductionism and Its Discontents", published in Out of My System in 1975, Crews stated his belief that psychoanalysis can be usefully applied to literary criticism but expressed growing doubts about its use as a therapeutic approach, suggesting that it had a weak, sometimes comical tradition of criticism.[24] In 1977, Crews read the draft of a work by the philosopher Adolf Grünbaum that later became The Foundations of Psychoanalysis, and helped Grünbaum to obtain a publication offer from the University of California Press.[29] Crews rejected psychoanalysis entirely in his article "Analysis Terminable" (first published in Commentary in July 1980 and reprinted in his collection Skeptical Engagements in 1986), citing what he considered its faulty methodology, its ineffectiveness as therapy, and the harm it caused to patients.[25] In 1985, Crews reviewed The Foundations of Psychoanalysis in The New Republic.[30]

In 1996, Crews credited the psychiatrist Henri F. Ellenberger's The Discovery of the Unconscious (1970) with beginning a twenty-five-year-long reevaluation of the position of psychoanalysis within the history of medicine, and acknowledged other book-length critical analyses of Freud and psychotherapy, including Frank Sulloway's Freud, Biologist of the Mind (1979), Grünbaum's The Foundations of Psychoanalysis (1984), and Malcolm Macmillan's Freud Evaluated: The Completed Arc (1991).[31] Crews wrote the foreword to the revised 1997 edition of Freud Evaluated, suggesting that its republication "advanced the long debate over psychoanalysis to what may well be its decisive moment".[32]

Crews, who describes himself as "a one-time Freudian who had decided to help others resist the fallacies to which I had succumbed in the 1960s",[33] sees his criticisms of Freud as two-pronged – one aimed at Freud's ethical and scientific standards, and the other aimed at showing that psychoanalysis is a pseudoscience.[34][35] Two of his essays, "Analysis Terminable" and "The Unknown Freud," published in 1993, have been described as shots fired at the beginning of the "Freud Wars," a long-running debate over Freud's reputation, work and impact.[36][37] "The Unknown Freud" prompted an unprecedented number of letters to The New York Review of Books for several issues.[33]

Crews went on to criticize Freud and psychoanalysis extensively, becoming a major figure in the discussions and criticisms of Freud that occurred during the 1980s and 1990s. Crews was one of almost fifty signatories of a petition submitted by Freud historian Peter Swales to the Library of Congress requesting that a Freud exhibition the Library had planned be rendered less one-sided; the protests evidently delayed the exhibit's opening by two years.[38][39][40] Eli Zaretsky, who identifies Crews as one of Freud's most prominent critics, writes that Crews's challenges to Freud and psychoanalysis have gone largely unanswered.[41][42] Crews's Freud: The Making of an Illusion was published in August, 2017.[43] Crews's research into letters that Freud wrote to Martha Bernays revealed that Freud's use of cocaine "was more severe and far longer-lasting than previously known. It significantly affected his writing, marriage, moods, and treatment assessments." The letters also revealed that Freud's daughter Anna and his biographer Ernest Jones covered up treatments that were ineffective.[44] Crews traces the steps by which Freud was constrained to pursue a medical career, reveals how he overrode therapeutic failures by advancing dubious theoretical claims, and ends by exploring the authoritarian means by which he guided a movement lacking an empirical foundation. The psychiatrist E. Fuller Torrey concluded: “The culmination of more than 40 years of research ... [, it] is doubtful whether it will be surpassed as a scholarly work on Freud as a person or on the origin of his ideas."[45]

Criticism of recovered memory therapy

In 1993 and 1994, Crews wrote a series of critical essays and reviews of books relating to repressed and recovered memories,[46] which also provoked heated debate and letters to the editors of The New York Review of Books.[33] The essays, along with critical and supporting letters and his responses, were published as The Memory Wars (1995).[47] Crews believes the "memories" of childhood seduction Freud reported were not real memories but constructs that Freud created and forced upon his patients. According to Crews, the seduction theory that Freud abandoned in the late 1890s acted as a precedent and contributing factor to the wave of false allegations of childhood sexual abuse in the 1980s and 1990s.[48]

Crews was a member of the now-disbanded False Memory Syndrome Foundation's advisory board[49] and has been described as "leading a backlash against recovered memory therapy."[50]

Other interests

Writing handbooks

In 1974, Crews published The Random House Handbook, a best-selling college composition textbook that offered extensive rhetorical advice for writing academic essays as well as reference information on correct and effective use of the English language. The book brought together two aspects of writing instruction not generally covered in a single text. It was widely praised for being highly readable and helpful and was written in a clear, often elegant style, with occasional flashes of humor, something rare in college writing handbooks then or now.[51] It was also highly successful,[52] running to six editions. Crews also co-authored three editions of The Borzoi Handbook for Writers for McGraw-Hill.[53]

The New York Review of Books

In his capacity as a reviewer for The New York Review of Books, Crews has written on various topics including:


Crews has served on the editorial board of Cybereditions,[60] a print on demand publishing company founded by Denis Dutton in 2000.[61]

Honors and awards


As author

As editor

As contributor


  1. ^ Profile of Frederick Campbell Crews
  2. ^ "Frederick C. Crews, Emeritus - Staff page at UC, Berkeley". University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved 2009-02-19.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Fuchs, Jake (28 Mar. 2006). "Books: Crews Skewers Follies of the Wise in New Collection" The Berkeley Daily Planet.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Kreisler, H. (Interviewer) & Crews, F. (Interviewee). (1999). "Criticism and the Empirical Attitude: Conversation with Frederick Crews" [Interview transcript]. Retrieved from Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, University of California, Berkeley Web site.
  5. ^ a b c Marcus, D (2002-01-30). "Lit crit Frederick Crews *58, author of The Pooh Perplex, pokes the Academy once more with his new book, Postmodern Pooh". Princeton Alumni Weekly. Retrieved 2009-04-28.
  6. ^ "Details for: Frederick C. Crews". University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved 2009-04-27.
  7. ^ Crews, FC (2005). Follies of the Wise: Dissenting Essays. Shoemaker & Hoard. p. 220. ISBN 1-59376-101-5.
  8. ^ Giffin, M. (2012). "Literary academics are full of pooh." Quadrant, LVI(1-2), 25-29.
  9. ^ Crews, FC (1968). The Patch Commission. E. P. Dutton. ASIN B001SUMQ08
  10. ^ Erickson, P (1993). "The Critics Bear It Away: American Fiction and the Academy - book reviews". Criticism. Retrieved 2009-04-27.
  11. ^ "Anti-Youth Movements". Time. 1968-08-02. Archived from the original on November 3, 2012. Retrieved 2009-04-28.
  12. ^ a b Carlson SJ (1985). Women of grace: James's plays and the comedy of manners. Ann Arbor, Mich: UMI Research Press. pp. 5. ISBN 0-8357-1617-1.
  13. ^ Crews, FC (1958). "The Tragedy of Manners: Moral Drama in the Later Novels of Henry James". Yale University. Undergraduate Prize Essays. Yale University Press. 10.
  14. ^ Simon L (2007). The Critical Reception of Henry James: Creating a Master (Literary Criticism in Perspective) (Literary Criticism in Perspective). Columbia, SC, USA: Camden House. pp. 78. ISBN 978-1-57113-319-9.
  15. ^ Crews, FC (1962). E. M. Forster: The Perils of Humanism. Princeton University Press. pp. vii. ISBN 0-7581-5768-1.
  16. ^ Crews, Frederick C. (1989). The Sins of the Fathers: Hawthorne's Psychological Themes. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-06817-3.
  17. ^ "Frederick Crews - The Sins of the Fathers". University of California Press. Retrieved 2009-04-29.
  18. ^ Tompkins, Jane P. (1980). Reader-response criticism: from formalism to post-structuralism. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-2401-X.
  19. ^ Barchilon, J (1973). "Book Review: Psychoanalysis and Literary Process: Edited by Frederick Crews". The Psychoanalytic Quarterly. 42: 644–51.
  20. ^ Stern, HR (1973). "Book Review: Psychoanalysis and Literary Process. Frederick Crews (Ed.)". The Psychoanalytic Review. 60: 304–5.
  21. ^ Crews, FC (1992). The Critics Bear It Away: American Fiction and the Academy. Random House. ISBN 0-679-40413-9.
  22. ^ a b "Critics nominate best books of '92". The Hartford Courant. 1993-01-19. pp. C.6. Retrieved 2009-04-29.
  23. ^ a b "Spielvogel-Diamonstein Award for the Art of the Essay Winners". Archived from the original on 2009-03-16. Retrieved 2009-02-19.
  24. ^ a b Crews, FC (1975). Out of My System: Psychoanalysis, Ideology, and Critical Method. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-501947-4.
  25. ^ a b Crews, FC (1986). Skeptical Engagements. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-503950-5.
  26. ^ Crews, FC (2005). Follies of the Wise: Dissenting Essays. Shoemaker & Hoard. ISBN 1-59376-101-5.
  27. ^ Runcie, C. A. (1990). "Dignifying Signifying: A Meditation on Interpretation." The Journal of the Sydney University Arts Association, 15, 71-86.
  28. ^ Carroll, Joseph (1995). Evolution and Literary Theory. Vol. 6. University of Missouri Press. pp. 119–34. doi:10.1007/BF02734174. ISBN 0-8262-0979-3. PMID 24202937. S2CID 206821344. ((cite book)): |journal= ignored (help)
  29. ^ Grünbaum, Adolf (1984). The Foundations of Psychoanalysis: A Philosophical Critique. University of California Press. pp. xi–xii. ISBN 0-520-05016-9.
  30. ^ Crews, Frederick (1985). "The Future of an Illusion". The New Republic. Vol. 92, no. 3. pp. 28–33.
  31. ^ Crews, FC (1996). "The Verdict on Freud". Psychological Science. 7 (2): 63–8. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.1996.tb00331.x. S2CID 143453699. Archived from the original on 2008-12-01.
  32. ^ Macmillan, Malcolm (1997). Freud Evaluated: The Completed Arc. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press. p. vii. ISBN 0-262-63171-7. (originally published in 1991).
  33. ^ a b c Miller, L (1995-12-02). "Freudian Flame Wars - The Memory Wars: Freud's Legacy in Dispute". Archived from the original on 2008-01-10. Retrieved 2009-04-29.
  34. ^ Wade, C., Tavris, C. (2011). Psychology (10th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. ISBN 978-0-205-71146-8
  35. ^ Crews, FC (1995-03-03). "Cheerful assassin defies analysis". Times Higher Education. Retrieved 2009-04-29.
  36. ^ Merkin, D (2003-07-13). "The Literary Freud". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-02-19. (subscription required)
  37. ^ Gellner, Ernest (2003). The Psychoanalytic Movement: The Cunning of Unreason. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Pub. pp. xxii. ISBN 0-631-23413-6.
  38. ^ Lehrer, Jim (1999-01-06). "A News Hour with Jim Lehrer - Sigmund Freud". Archived from the original on May 31, 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-29.
  39. ^ Talbot, Margaret, "The Museum Show Has An Ego Disorder," The New York Times, October 11, 1998
  40. ^ Library of Congress, "Major Freud Exhibition to Open October 15," April 20, 1998 (revised August 20, 1998)
  41. ^ Zaretsky, Eli (2004). Secrets of the Soul: A Social and Cultural History of Psychoanalysis. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. pp. 295, 339. ISBN 0-679-44654-0.
  42. ^ Crews, Frederick C.; Zaretsky, Eli. "Freud's Influence". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved 2017-07-20. ((cite magazine)): Cite magazine requires |magazine= (help)
  43. ^ Appignanesi, Lisa, "Freud's Clay Feet: Frederick Crews's biography 'Freud: The Making of an Illusion,'" The New York Review of Books (October 26, 2017)
  44. ^ Barglow, Peter (2018). "Jettisoning Freud's Spurious Contributions". Skeptical Inquirer. Committee for Skeptical Inquirer. 42 (1): 56–57.
  45. ^ "The Death of Freud," National Review (Sept. 11, 2017).
  46. ^ Crews, FC; Erdelyi M. "Freud and Memory: An Exchange". The New York Review of Books.
  47. ^ Crews, F. (1997). The Memory Wars. New York: The New York Review of Books. pp. 71. ISBN 0-940322-04-8.
  48. ^ Boxer, S (1997-08-10). "Floggin Freud". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-02-19. (subscription required)
  49. ^ "The FMSF Scientific and Professional Advisory Board - Profiles: FREDERICK C. CREWS, Ph.D." False Memory Syndrome Foundation. Retrieved 2017-02-09.
  50. ^ Goodman, W (1995-04-04). "Television Review; A Growth Industry: Helping Recall Sexual Abuse". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-02-19.
  51. ^ Douglas, GH (1974). "Book Review : The Random House Handbook". Journal of Business Communication. 11 (3): 57. doi:10.1177/002194367401100311. S2CID 144278563.
  52. ^ Trombley, W (1982-01-10). "College Text 'Dumbing' Aids Sales". Los Angeles Times. pp. A1.
  53. ^ Crews, FC; Schor S; Hennessy M (1993). The Borzoi Handbook for Writers (3rd ed.). McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07-911401-6.
  54. ^ Kramer, M. (2001). "Imagining Authorship in America: "Whose American Renaissance?" Revisited." American Literary History, 13 (1), 108-125.
  55. ^ Crews, FC (1998). "The Mindsnatchers". The New York Review of Books. 45 (11). Retrieved 2009-02-19.
  56. ^ Crews, FC; Dumm TL; Hopkins B; Jacobs DM; Maier DF (1998). "'When Words Collide': An Exchange". The New York Review of Books. 45 (15). Retrieved 2009-02-19.
  57. ^ Crews, FC (2001). "Saving us from Darwin". The New York Review of Books. 48 (15). Retrieved 2009-02-19.
  58. ^ Crews, FC; Gross C; Kissin B; Plantinga A; Shattuck R (2001). "'Saving us from Darwin': An Exchange". The New York Review of Books. 48 (19). Retrieved 2009-02-19.
  59. ^ Crews, FC (2007). "Talking Back to Prozac". The New York Review of Books. 54 (19). Retrieved 2009-02-19.
  60. ^ Riemer, Andrew (3 March 2001). "Reading between the dots". Sydney Morning Herald. p. 8.
  61. ^ Boynton, Robert S. (11 November 2000). "Hoping Web Success Strikes Twice". New York Times. New York.
  62. ^ "The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation list of All Fellows". John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Archived from the original on 2011-06-03. Retrieved 2009-02-19.
  63. ^ "Frederick Crews - Distinguished Teaching Award: 1985, English". 1985. Archived from the original on 2009-02-13. Retrieved 2009-02-19.
  64. ^ "Alphabetical Index of Active Members" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 2009-04-27.
  65. ^ "University of California, Berkeley Citation: Historical list of recipients as of 12/16/2008" (PDF). 2008-12-16. Retrieved 2009-02-19.
  66. ^ "The Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health: Coordinating Committee & Fellows". Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health. Archived from the original on 2010-09-25. Retrieved 2009-02-19.