Richard Webster (author)

Richard Webster (author)

Ask a question about 'Richard Webster (author)'
Start a new discussion about 'Richard Webster (author)'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
Richard Webster was a British cultural historian
Cultural history
The term cultural history refers both to an academic discipline and to its subject matter.Cultural history, as a discipline, at least in its common definition since the 1970s, often combines the approaches of anthropology and history to look at popular cultural traditions and cultural...

, and the author of five published books, dealing with subjects such as the controversy over Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses
The Satanic Verses
The Satanic Verses is Salman Rushdie's fourth novel, first published in 1988 and inspired in part by the life of Prophet Muhammad. As with his previous books, Rushdie used magical realism and relied on contemporary events and people to create his characters...

, Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud , born Sigismund Schlomo Freud , was an Austrian neurologist who founded the discipline of psychoanalysis...

 and psychoanalysis, and the investigation of sexual abuse in Britain. Webster's A Brief History of Blasphemy tries to understand the Muslim response to The Satanic Verses and argues against unrestricted freedom of speech
Freedom of speech
Freedom of speech is the freedom to speak freely without censorship. The term freedom of expression is sometimes used synonymously, but includes any act of seeking, receiving and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used...

. Webster may be best remembered for his subsequent book Why Freud Was Wrong, which argues that Freud became a kind of Messiah and that psychoanalysis is a disguised continuation of the Judaeo-Christian tradition. His The Secret of Bryn Estyn: The Making of a Modern Witch Hunt, which tells the story of a care home for adolescent boys that became the focus of press revelations and a police investigation for child abuse that spread across a number of residential homes in North Wales, was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize
Orwell Prize
The Orwell Prize used to be regarded as the pre-eminent British prize for political writing.Three prizes are awarded each year: one for a book, one for journalism and another for blogging...

. Webster studied English literature
English literature
English literature is the literature written in the English language, including literature composed in English by writers not necessarily from England; for example, Robert Burns was Scottish, James Joyce was Irish, Joseph Conrad was Polish, Dylan Thomas was Welsh, Edgar Allan Poe was American, J....

 at the University of East Anglia
University of East Anglia
The University of East Anglia is a public research university based in Norwich, United Kingdom. It was established in 1963, and is a founder-member of the 1994 Group of research-intensive universities.-History:...

 and lived in Oxford, England.

Personal life

Webster, the son of a subpostmaster, was born in 1950, in Newington, Kent
Kent is a county in southeast England, and is one of the home counties. It borders East Sussex, Surrey and Greater London and has a defined boundary with Essex in the middle of the Thames Estuary. The ceremonial county boundaries of Kent include the shire county of Kent and the unitary borough of...

, and raised in a strict Methodist
Methodism is a movement of Protestant Christianity represented by a number of denominations and organizations, claiming a total of approximately seventy million adherents worldwide. The movement traces its roots to John Wesley's evangelistic revival movement within Anglicanism. His younger brother...

 family; according to Bob Woffinden
Bob Woffinden
Bob Woffinden is a British investigative journalist. Formerly a reporter with the New Musical Express, Woffinden has specialized since the 1980s in investigating miscarriages of justice. He has written about a number of high-profile cases in the UK, including James Hanratty, Philip English, Sion...

, "His parents' work ethic meant he had much time to himself, leading to independence of thought and intellectual rebellion." He attended Sir Roger Manwood's School
Sir Roger Manwood's School
Sir Roger Manwood's School is a grammar foundation school located in Sandwich, Kent, England, the 96th oldest school in the UK.-Admissions:The school has language college and computing status, meaning that it specialises in teaching modern foreign languages and ICT. In order to gain entry into the...

 in Sandwich, Kent and graduated in English and American studies from the University of East Anglia. Webster returned to the University to teach in 1974 and 1975 and started a PhD, which he did not complete. When his father became ill, Webster ran the family post office, which had been shifted to Cambridge. Webster married in 1977, and with his wife started The Orwell Bookshop in Southwold in 1985. The shop was extremely successful, but was sold because Webster's other interests demanded too much of his time. Webster moved to Oxford after the breakup of his marriage.

Webster described himself in his A Brief History of Blasphemy, about The Satanic Verses controversy, as "an atheist who was brought up as a Methodist." This work lead Margareta Petersson to describe him as being one of the few Western writers who have "tried to view the Rushdie affair from a Muslim perspective", one who views the controversy over The Satanic Verses not as a single case of confrontation between Islam
Islam . The most common are and .   : Arabic pronunciation varies regionally. The first vowel ranges from ~~. The second vowel ranges from ~~~...

 and the West, but the most recent of a series of hostile encounters, which started as soon as Muhammad
Muhammad |ligature]] at U+FDF4 ;Arabic pronunciation varies regionally; the first vowel ranges from ~~; the second and the last vowel: ~~~. There are dialects which have no stress. In Egypt, it is pronounced not in religious contexts...

's movement had grown strong. On his website Webster wrote that: " the heart of almost everything I have written over the last twenty years or so is the view that, in our modern, proudly rationalist attempts to break the links which tie us to our superstitious, essentially religious past, we have become profoundly muddled about our own cultural history." He noted that his investigations into police 'trawling operations', which occupied him for a number of years, were not a diversion from his theory of cultural history but an attempt to apply it in practice.

With Bob Woffinden, Webster helped find lawyers for Dawn Reed and Christopher Lillie, former Newcastle
Newcastle upon Tyne
Newcastle upon Tyne is a city and metropolitan borough of Tyne and Wear, in North East England. Historically a part of Northumberland, it is situated on the north bank of the River Tyne...

 nurses who were falsely accused of sexually abusing children in their care. Reed and Lillie, who were first accused of child abuse in 1993 and only found not guilty in 2002, say that they would probably be dead, through suicide or murder, without Webster and Woffinden's intervention. Reed told The Observer
The Observer
The Observer is a British newspaper, published on Sundays. In the same place on the political spectrum as its daily sister paper The Guardian, which acquired it in 1993, it takes a liberal or social democratic line on most issues. It is the world's oldest Sunday newspaper.-Origins:The first issue,...

 that, "After all that had happened, to find people who wanted to help us just out of the goodness of their hearts was amazing".

Webster explained his interest in the problem of false allegations in his The Secret of Bryn Estyn:
In 2005, BBC News reported that, following legal advice, Wrexham council
Wrexham County Borough Council
Wrexham County Borough Council is the governing body for Wrexham , one of the administrative subdivisions of Wales.- Governance and political composition :...

 decided to refuse permission for FACT North Wales, a support group for carers and teachers, to hold its conference 'False Allegations – Truthful Answers' at the Erlas Centre, one of its venues, after it learned the purpose of the event. Webster, who was to have been a key speaker at the conference, had been going to discuss The Secret of Bryn Estyn. Wrexham councillor Malcolm King was quoted saying that he was "very pleased" that the council had prevented something that "would have been very hurtful to many people who have already been hurt enough". Webster stated in reply that he was "flabbergasted" by the council's action, and that Mr King "entirely missed the point", since the evidence showed that there never was a paedophile
As a medical diagnosis, pedophilia is defined as a psychiatric disorder in adults or late adolescents typically characterized by a primary or exclusive sexual interest in prepubescent children...

 ring based at Bryn Estyn and that dozens of staff had been wrongly accused.

Webster died of natural causes in 2011; he had undergone heart surgery a decade before his death. Julie Summers, who knew Webster through the Writers in Oxford group, said of him: "What was so special about him was he had this very gentle, but very, very clear view on things. You could always rely on him to cut through the mud and see exactly the point of an issue. He had a very clear mind." Webster had spent much of the year assisting Portuguese contacts to expose what he considered the most significant paedophile-ring scare in Europe, and had been due to publish a history of the affair, Casa Pia. Webster also left behind an unfinished magnum opus, The Natural History of Human Beings.

A Brief History of Blasphemy

A Brief History of Blasphemy: Liberalism, Censorship and the Satanic Verses (1990) discusses the controversy over Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses. While condemning the Ayatollah Khomeini's threats against Rushdie, Webster also tries to explain the hurt The Satanic Verses caused Muslims and argues that we should not arbitrarily defend the liberty to publish books that may cause distress to minorities or increase racial tension. Webster notes that he named the book after the fourth section of The Crime of Blasphemy, a pamphlet issued by the International Committee for the Defence of Salman Rushdie and his Publishers, and that his work is influenced by Karen Armstrong
Karen Armstrong
Karen Armstrong FRSL , is a British author and commentator who is the author of twelve books on comparative religion. A former Roman Catholic nun, she went from a conservative to a more liberal and mystical faith...

's Holy War and Norman Cohn's The Pursuit of the Millennium, Warrant for Genocide, and Europe's Inner Demons. He described it as "an attempt to show, without ever aspiring to completeness or comprehensiveness, that the picture of blasphemy which is presented by the authors of International Committee's document is incomplete, and in some respects, seriously misleading."

A Brief History of Blasphemy was widely praised. Some reviewers suggesting that it shows that liberal support for unrestricted freedom of speech is inconsistent with other liberal values, and demonstrates the religious origins of belief in freedom of expression. Described as "thoughtful" and "closely argued" by Tim Radford, and "energetic and ingenious" by Lorna Sage
Lorna Sage
Lorna Sage was a Welsh-born academic, as well as an award-winning literary critic and author, known widely for her contribution to the consideration of women's writing.-Biography:...

, it has been credited with explaining how "we have internalised puritan iconoclasm
Iconoclasm is the deliberate destruction of religious icons and other symbols or monuments, usually with religious or political motives. It is a frequent component of major political or religious changes...

 to the point where we mistake it for a secular universal truth", and with showing that the western liberal concept of "inner conscience" upon which the secularist arguments of The Crime of Blasphemy were founded is a secular transformation of Puritanism. Commentators have interpreted it as a broadly liberal critique of liberalism, or an attempt to criticize the liberal establishment on its own terms. It shows, in Petersson's view, that Rushdie combines a potentially violent and offensive code with the holiest Islamic traditions, and that the language in The Satanic Verses has a charge that he was too careless with. According to Ruvani Ranashina, it shows that a civilized society should have constraints on the freedom to act in ways that have adverse effects on others, and that freedom without responsibility is dangerous, especially if offensive and damaging to a community. She believes its critique of the freedom to blaspheme implicitly supports the group of Muslims who unsuccessfully sought to invoke British blasphemy laws that applied only to Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 against The Satanic Verses in 1989. The book has been credited by J. M. Coetzee with showing that "Rushdie has been made to stand for an entire intellectual establishment" that compounded the outrage The Satanic Verses caused to Muslims by celebrating it. Its criticism of The Crime of Blasphemy (which advocated the abolition of Britain's blasphemy laws "without replacement") has been called convincing by academic Jim McGuigan.

Rowan Williams
Rowan Williams
Rowan Douglas Williams FRSL, FBA, FLSW is an Anglican bishop, poet and theologian. He is the 104th and current Archbishop of Canterbury, Metropolitan of the Province of Canterbury and Primate of All England, offices he has held since early 2003.Williams was previously Bishop of Monmouth and...

, the Archbishop of Canterbury
Archbishop of Canterbury
The Archbishop of Canterbury is the senior bishop and principal leader of the Church of England, the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and the diocesan bishop of the Diocese of Canterbury. In his role as head of the Anglican Communion, the archbishop leads the third largest group...

, in the James Callaghan Memorial lecture "Religious Hatred and Religious Offence" delivered in January 2008, called A Brief History of Blasphemy, "immensely intelligent", stating that Webster shows that absolute freedom of speech is neither desirable nor possible. Williams said that Webster's book "offers some extraordinary examples of 'liberal' aggression and ignorant bigotry" during the controversy over The Satanic Verses in 1989 and 1990, and that he approved of its argument that writers and dramatists who defend the right to offend religion show a lack of imagination, in that they fail to understand the possibility that offending religion may cause real mental suffering.

Why Freud Was Wrong

Why Freud Was Wrong: Sin, Science and Psychoanalysis (1995) is a critique of Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud , born Sigismund Schlomo Freud , was an Austrian neurologist who founded the discipline of psychoanalysis...

 and psychoanalysis
Psychoanalysis is a psychological theory developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud. Psychoanalysis has expanded, been criticized and developed in different directions, mostly by some of Freud's former students, such as Alfred Adler and Carl Gustav...

 and the book for which Webster may be best remembered; it argues that Freud became a kind of Messiah
A messiah is a redeemer figure expected or foretold in one form or another by a religion. Slightly more widely, a messiah is any redeemer figure. Messianic beliefs or theories generally relate to eschatological improvement of the state of humanity or the world, in other words the World to...

 and that psychoanalysis is a disguised continuation of the Judaeo-Christian tradition. Webster explains its title by writing that his goal was, " interpret [Freud's] beliefs and his personality in order that we may better understand our own culture, our own history, and indeed, our own psychology. It is to this constructive attempt to analyse the nature and sources of Freud's mistakes that my title primarily refers." Anthony Storr
Anthony Storr
Anthony Storr was an English psychiatrist and author. Born in London, he was a child who was to endure the typical trauma of early 20th century boarding schools. He was educated at Winchester College, Christ's College , and Westminster Hospital. He qualified as a doctor in 1944, and subsequently...

 calls the book "controversial, brilliant, original, and learned" and "an indispensible modern critique of psychoanalysis." Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy
Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy
Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy is a British author, known for biographies, including one of Alfred Kinsey, and books of social history on the British nanny and public school system. For his autobiography, Half an Arch, he received the J. R. Ackerley Prize for Autobiography in 2005...

 also calls it "brilliant" and credits Webster with exposing the weakness of Freud's science, writing that thanks to him Freud's "disguised carrying forward of the sins of the Judaeo-Christian
Judeo-Christian is a term used in the United States since the 1940s to refer to standards of ethics said to be held in common by Judaism and Christianity, for example the Ten Commandments...

 tradition, especially as it affects sex, have been more comprehensively and more devastatingly exposed than ever before."

According to Todd Dufresne, Webster argues that Freud dressed "cryptotheological" fictions in the popular positivistic language of his time, and that Freud's work is partly a legacy of German psychologist Gustav Theodor Fechner
Gustav Fechner
Gustav Theodor Fechner , was a German experimental psychologist. An early pioneer in experimental psychology and founder of psychophysics, he inspired many 20th century scientists and philosophers...

. (Dufresne adds that Webster shows that Freud used Josef Breuer
Josef Breuer
Josef Breuer was an Austrian physician whose works laid the foundation of psychoanalysis.Born in Vienna, his father, Leopold Breuer, taught religion in Vienna's Jewish community. Breuer's mother died when he was quite young, and he was raised by his maternal grandmother and educated by his father...

's authority to help establish his own authority and then undermined this early attachment to Breuer to help establish his own originality, leaving "a rather unflattering portrait of one man's drive to succeed at almost any price, including friendship.")

Lewis Wolpert
Lewis Wolpert
Lewis Wolpert CBE FRS FRSL is a developmental biologist, author, and broadcaster.-Career:Wolpert was educated at the University of Witwatersrand , at Imperial College London, and at King's College London...

 writes that Why Freud Was Wrong "destroys the foundations of Freud's work and longs for a true understanding of human nature – based on Darwin", but sees it as "weak on science and psychoanalysis." He sees a "delicious unconscious irony" in the way Webster analyses Freud's development of a theory of the mind in terms of unconscious motives such as the need for love and success. He criticizes Why Freud Was Wrong for making little reference to psychoanalytic studies made since Freud's time. Wolpert considers Webster's call for a new Darwinian approach to human nature inconsistent with the holism
Holism is the idea that all the properties of a given system cannot be determined or explained by its component parts alone...

 which he also espouses.

Peter Swales
Peter Swales (historian)
Peter J. Swales is a Welsh "guerilla historian of psychoanalysis", and former assistant to the Rolling Stones, who has written essays and letters about Sigmund Freud...

 calls Why Freud Was Wrong "a relentless polemic that, if at times flawed in its simplifications, is nevertheless lethal in its total impact." Swales notes that Webster argues that Freud made medical mistakes, misdiagnosing mysterious somatic symptoms as psychogenic when they were indicative of underlying organic pathology. Swales criticizes Webster for "failing to give due consideration to alternative explanations, such as the real possibility that Freud's early patients were simply casualties of life, whose somatic symptoms he then managed to vanquish with words only because they were produces of make-believe in the first place." Swales comments that Webster's view that psychoanalysis is a disguised continuation of Judaeo-Christianity, "begins to ring hollow, for, in truth, his interpretation is merely a substitute for a closer appreciation of Freud's wide-ranging sources." Swales holds that appreciation of the history of ideas in nineteenth century Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 and Austria
Austria , officially the Republic of Austria , is a landlocked country of roughly 8.4 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the...

 is crucial to understanding Freud, and criticizes Webster's frame of reference as Anglo-centric.

Sarah Boxer writes that according to Webster, "all of Freud's basic concepts are tainted not only because he bent the facts but because he colored them with his secret Judeo-Christian predilections. Though Freud presented the idea of infantile sexuality as revolutionary, it was nothing more than the idea of original sin, with the infant as fallen Adam."

Raymond Tallis
Raymond Tallis
Raymond Tallis F.Med.Sci., F.R.C.P., F.R.S.A. is a British philosopher, humanist, poet, novelist, cultural critic and retired medical doctor.-Medical career:...

 calls Why Freud Was Wrong "...a definitive critique from which it seems unlikely that Freud's reputation and that of the pseudoscience he invented will ever recover." Tallis writes that Webster builds on E. M. Thornton's "portrait of a ruthlessly ambitious man, a brutally insensitive and unscrupulous clinician, quite unrepentant about those of his terrible diagnostic blunders of which he was aware, and a supreme manipulator of friends and colleagues in his endless quest for self-promotion." He credits Why Freud Was Wrong with showing that the abuses of the recovered memory movement have provided a cover under which those guilty of sexual abuse can escape justice.

Elaine Showalter
Elaine Showalter
Elaine Showalter is an American literary critic, feminist, and writer on cultural and social issues. She is one of the founders of feminist literary criticism in United States academia, developing the concept and practice of gynocritics.She is well known and respected in both academic and popular...

 sees Webster as one of several recent critics of Freud (others include Allen Esterson, Morton Schatzman, and Frederick Crews) who have persuasively argued that he pressured his patients to produce narratives congruent with his theories. In their view, rather than being molested by their parents or fantasizing about them, Freud's patients fabricated stories along the lines of his hysterical hypotheses. (More accurately, the writers in question quoted passages from Freud's 1896 papers that indicated that he analytically reconstructed unconscious memories of supposed early childhood sexual molestation that he claimed to have uncovered during the seduction theory period 1895-97.) Showalter criticizes Webster and other critics of Freud for offering little to replace his insights, predicting that "artists and writers will continue to cherish Freudian insights." She adds that Webster considers Freud responsible for the recovered memory movement, which he deplores and compares to "Puritan revivalism." Showalter criticizes Webster for in her view maintaining that "virtually all psychological symptoms are organic, and that every case of hysteria
Hysteria, in its colloquial use, describes unmanageable emotional excesses. People who are "hysterical" often lose self-control due to an overwhelming fear that may be caused by multiple events in one's past that involved some sort of severe conflict; the fear can be centered on a body part, or,...

 has been misdiagnosed".

Jeffrey Masson
Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson
Dr. Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson is an American author, residing in New Zealand. Masson is best known for his conclusions about Sigmund Freud and psychoanalysis...

 criticizes Webster for in his view wrongly blaming him for the current interest in recovered memories, and for suggesting that there is no evidence that any of Freud’s patients were sexually abused. (In fact what Webster actually wrote was that there is no evidence that any of the seduction theory patients who came to Freud "without memories of sexual abuse" had ever suffered from such abuse.)

Joyce Crick calls Why Freud Was Wrong "the most comprehensive negative critique" of Freud, noting that it incorporates numerous earlier critiques of Freud.

Why Freud Was Wrong has been translated into French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

, Spanish
Spanish language
Spanish , also known as Castilian , is a Romance language in the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several languages and dialects in central-northern Iberia around the 9th century and gradually spread with the expansion of the Kingdom of Castile into central and southern Iberia during the...

, Portuguese
Portuguese language
Portuguese is a Romance language that arose in the medieval Kingdom of Galicia, nowadays Galicia and Northern Portugal. The southern part of the Kingdom of Galicia became independent as the County of Portugal in 1095...

 and Hungarian
Hungarian language
Hungarian is a Uralic language, part of the Ugric group. With some 14 million speakers, it is one of the most widely spoken non-Indo-European languages in Europe....

, while a Russian
Russian language
Russian is a Slavic language used primarily in Russia, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. It is an unofficial but widely spoken language in Ukraine, Moldova, Latvia, Turkmenistan and Estonia and, to a lesser extent, the other countries that were once constituent republics...

 translation is in preparation. Webster has indicated that he would be interested in seeing a German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 translation produced.

The Great Children's Home Panic

The Great Children's Home Panic (1998) discusses police
The police is a personification of the state designated to put in practice the enforced law, protect property and reduce civil disorder in civilian matters. Their powers include the legitimized use of force...

 investigation of sexual abuse
Sexual abuse
Sexual abuse, also referred to as molestation, is the forcing of undesired sexual behavior by one person upon another. When that force is immediate, of short duration, or infrequent, it is called sexual assault. The offender is referred to as a sexual abuser or molester...

 in Britain. Christian Wolmar
Christian Wolmar
Christian Wolmar is a British journalist, author, and railway historian of Swedish and Russian descent. He is best known for his books and commentary on transport, especially as a pundit on Britain's railway network, and was named Transport Journalist of the Year in the National Transport Awards in...

 writes that in Webster's view "there is a grave risk of injustice
Injustice is the lack of or opposition to justice, either in reference to a particular event or act, or as a larger status quo. The term generally refers to misuse, abuse, neglect, or malfeasance that is uncorrected or else sanctioned by a legal system. Misuse and abuse with regard to a particular...

 against care workers because there are financial incentives for people to make false claims", and that police have encouraged alleged victims to come forward by suggesting that they may obtain damages. Wolmar states that while the police initially referred people to lawyers, they are now reluctant to do this, as it has enabled defence lawyers to undermine the credibility of witnesses, and that many of those who make successful claims through Cica lose much of the award. According to Wolmar, while Webster sees claims to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority
Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority
The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority is a non-departmental public body in the United Kingdom. The Authority administers a compensation scheme for injuries caused to victims of violent crime in Great Britain and is funded by the Ministry of Justice in England and Wales and the devolved...

 (Cica) as vulnerable to abuse because of its low standards of proof, lawyers acting on behalf of victims observe that even making claims to Cica is painful. He cites solicitor Bilhar Singh Uppal as arguing that while Webster is right to open debate, it is wrong to suggest that there has been wholesale fabrication of evidence.

Damian Thompson
Damian Thompson
Damian Thompson is a British journalist, author and blogger.Thompson was educated at Presentation College, Reading, and read history at Mansfield College, Oxford University. He received his Ph.D in the sociology of religion from the London School of Economics for a thesis on the management of...

 writes that in Webster's view "investigations into child abuse in care homes in the early 1990s were disfigured by the zealotry associated with the Ritual Satanic Abuse affair".

Chris Beckett
Chris Beckett
Chris Beckett is a British social worker, university lecturer, and science fiction author. He has written several textbooks, dozens of short stories, and two novels.- Background :...

 writes that while Webster accepts that abuse occurs, he considers many convictions against former residential workerers miscarriages of justice and sees them as similar to witch-hunts. Beckett sees Webster's case against the widespread belief that the residential care system was infiltrated by paedophile
As a medical diagnosis, pedophilia is defined as a psychiatric disorder in adults or late adolescents typically characterized by a primary or exclusive sexual interest in prepubescent children...

 rings as well-argued. According to Beckett, Webster argues that police procedures in North Wales dangerously reverse normal police methods, by starting with suspects and then interviewing large numbers of people to find out whether a crime was committed; this process is flawed since former residents of residential homes may have motives to make false accusations.


Freud (2003) is a short critical discussion of Freud written for The Great Philosophers series edited by Ray Monk
Ray Monk
Ray Monk is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Southampton, where he has taught since 1992.He won the Mail on Sunday/John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and the 1991 Duff Cooper Prize for Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius. His interests lie in the philosophy of mathematics, the history of...

 and Frederic Raphael. Steven Poole
Steven Poole
-Biography:Poole studied English at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and has subsequently written for publications including The Independent, The Guardian, The Times Literary Supplement, The Sunday Times, and the New Statesman...

 calls Freud "rather an entertaining demolition job", noting that it discusses Anna O.
Anna O.
Anna O. was the pseudonym of a patient of Josef Breuer, who published her case study in his book Studies on Hysteria, written in collaboration with Sigmund Freud. Her real name was Bertha Pappenheim , an Austrian-Jewish feminist and the founder of the Jüdischer Frauenbund .Anna O...

's hysteria, Freud's abandoned seduction theory, reconstructed memories, the Oedipus complex
Oedipus complex
In psychoanalytic theory, the term Oedipus complex denotes the emotions and ideas that the mind keeps in the unconscious, via dynamic repression, that concentrate upon a boy’s desire to sexually possess his mother, and kill his father...

, and the influence of Wilhelm Fliess
Wilhelm Fliess
Wilhelm Fliess was a German Jewish otolaryngologist who practised in Berlin. On Josef Breuer's suggestion, Fliess attended several "conferences" with Sigmund Freud beginning in 1887 in Vienna, and the two soon formed a strong friendship...


The Secret of Bryn Estyn

The Secret of Bryn Estyn: The Making of a Modern Witch Hunt (2005) discusses the case of Bryn Estyn, a care home for adolescent boys which, in the 1990s, became the focus of press revelations and a police investigation for child abuse
Child abuse
Child abuse is the physical, sexual, emotional mistreatment, or neglect of a child. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Children And Families define child maltreatment as any act or series of acts of commission or omission by a parent or...

 that spread across a number of residential homes in North Wales
North Wales
North Wales is the northernmost unofficial region of Wales. It is bordered to the south by the counties of Ceredigion and Powys in Mid Wales and to the east by the counties of Shropshire in the West Midlands and Cheshire in North West England...

. The work, which argued that abuse scandals could be phenomena created by public hysteria, received praise from British journalists. Peter Wilby calls The Secret of Bryn Estyn "exhaustively researched", noting that while it was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize
Orwell Prize
The Orwell Prize used to be regarded as the pre-eminent British prize for political writing.Three prizes are awarded each year: one for a book, one for journalism and another for blogging...

, it went largely unnoticed by the British press. Wilby writes that Webster compares modern scandals of mass abuse to the witch-hunt
A witch-hunt is a search for witches or evidence of witchcraft, often involving moral panic, mass hysteria and lynching, but in historical instances also legally sanctioned and involving official witchcraft trials...

s of the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

. Catherine Bennett
Catherine Bennett (journalist)
Catherine Dorothea Bennett is a British journalist, educated at Hertford College, Oxford.Bennett began her career in journalism at Honey magazine. Subsequently she worked at the Sunday Telegraph, Mail on Sunday, The Sunday Times, The Times and the short-lived Sunday Correspondent newspaper before...

 credits Webster with exposing "the hysteria and false accusations generated by the Bryn Estyn children's home investigations", and writes that in his view the uncritical press reports about the issue demonstrate "the insatiable human appetite for narratives of evil". The rights to the book were bought by Tony Garnett
Tony Garnett
Tony Garnett is a film producer who has worked in feature films and on British television. He was born in Birmingham, England, and studied psychology at the University of London....

, a producer of television dramas. Garnett planned a three hour drama based on The Secret of Bryn Estyn for Britain's Channel 4, but the project was cancelled due to budget cuts.


Webster published articles in Critical Quarterly, Quarto, The Literary Review
The Literary Review
The Literary Review is an American literary magazine founded in 1957. The quarterly magazine is published internationally by Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, New Jersey...

, The Observer
The Observer
The Observer is a British newspaper, published on Sundays. In the same place on the political spectrum as its daily sister paper The Guardian, which acquired it in 1993, it takes a liberal or social democratic line on most issues. It is the world's oldest Sunday newspaper.-Origins:The first issue,...

, The Bookseller
The Bookseller
The Bookseller is a British magazine reporting news on the publishing industry. Neill Denny is editor-in-chief of the weekly print edition of the magazine, while Philip Jones is deputy editor, having recently been promoted from the position of managing editor of the

, The Guardian
The Guardian
The Guardian, formerly known as The Manchester Guardian , is a British national daily newspaper in the Berliner format...

, The Times Literary Supplement
The Times Literary Supplement
The Times Literary Supplement is a weekly literary review published in London by News International, a subsidiary of News Corporation.-History:...

, The New Statesman
The New Statesman
The New Statesman is an award-winning British sitcom of the late 1980s and early 1990s satirising the Conservative government of the time...

, and The Tablet
The Tablet
The Tablet is a Catholic international weekly review published in London. Contributors to its pages have included Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Paul VI ....

. In The Observer in February, 1981 Webster attacked structuralists
Structuralism originated in the structural linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure and the subsequent Prague and Moscow schools of linguistics. Just as structural linguistics was facing serious challenges from the likes of Noam Chomsky and thus fading in importance in linguistics, structuralism...

 for their "habit of reducing human nature to pseudo-mathematical formulae." "Structuralism and dry rot", Webster's article, was cited by Geoffrey Hartman
Geoffrey Hartman
Geoffrey H. Hartman is a German-born American literary theorist, sometimes identified with the Yale School of deconstruction, but also has written on a wide range of subjects, and cannot be categorized by a single school or method.-Biography:...

 as an example of how "literary theory
Literary theory
Literary theory in a strict sense is the systematic study of the nature of literature and of the methods for analyzing literature. However, literary scholarship since the 19th century often includes—in addition to, or even instead of literary theory in the strict sense—considerations of...

 has become the focus of heated public debate" in England.

Webster, in what James Fenton
James Fenton
James Martin Fenton is an English poet, journalist and literary critic. He is a former Oxford Professor of Poetry.-Life and career:...

 called an "interesting" article, suggested that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
Tony Blair
Anthony Charles Lynton Blair is a former British Labour Party politician who served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 2 May 1997 to 27 June 2007. He was the Member of Parliament for Sedgefield from 1983 to 2007 and Leader of the Labour Party from 1994 to 2007...

 offered a generous tribute to the deceased scientist David Kelly because he was worried that Kelly's widow might accuse him of being responsible for her husband's death, thereby endangering his political career.


  • A Brief History of Blasphemy: Liberalism, Censorship and 'The Satanic Verses, The Orwell Press, 1990. ISBN 0 9515922 0 3
  • Why Freud Was Wrong: Sin, Science and Psychoanalysis, Fontana Press, 1996. ISBN 0-0063-8428-5
  • The Great Children's Home Panic, The Orwell Press, 1998. ISBN 0 9515922 2 X
  • Freud, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2003. ISBN 0-2978-2985-8
  • The Secret of Bryn Estyn, The Orwell Press, 2005. ISBN 0 9515922 4 6

See also

  • Blasphemy law in the United Kingdom
    Blasphemy law in the United Kingdom
    This article describes the blasphemy law in the United Kingdom.-England and Wales:The common law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel were abolished by the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. See the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006....

  • Casa Pia
    Casa Pia
    The Casa Pia is a Portuguese institution founded by Mary I, known as "Pia" , and organized by Police Intendant Pina Manique in 1780, following the social disarray of the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. For almost three centuries, thousands of young boys and girls were raised by Casa Pia, including many...

  • Casa Pia child sexual abuse scandal
    Casa Pia child sexual abuse scandal
    The Casa Pia child sexual abuse scandal was a case of child sexual abuses involving a number of children and employees at Casa Pia, a Portuguese state-run institution for the education and support of poor children and under-age orphans...

  • Frank Beck
    Frank Beck (sex offender)
    Frank Beck was a convicted child sex offender in the United Kingdom. He was employed by the Leicestershire County Council as the officer-in-charge of several Children's Homes in Leicestershire, between 1973 and 1986...

    , child sex offender
  • Freud's seduction theory
    Freud's seduction theory
    Freud's seduction theory was a hypothesis posited in the mid-1890s by Sigmund Freud that he believed provided the solution to the problem of the origins of hysteria and obsessional neurosis...

  • Satanic ritual abuse
    Satanic ritual abuse
    Satanic ritual abuse refers to the abuse of a person or animal in a ritual setting or manner...

  • The Satanic Verses controversy
    The Satanic Verses controversy
    The Satanic Verses controversy was the heated and sometimes violent Muslim reaction to the publication of Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses. Many Muslims accused Rushdie of blasphemy or unbelief and in 1989 Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa ordering Muslims to kill Rushdie...

  • Unconscious mind
    Unconscious mind
    The unconscious mind is a term coined by the 18th century German romantic philosopher Friedrich Schelling and later introduced into English by the poet and essayist Samuel Taylor Coleridge...

External links