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Translate this Darkness: The Life of Christiana Morgan


Christiana Morgan is an unlikely person to have such an impact on psychology.  The path that she took was neither short nor straightforward, as Translate this Darkness: The Life of Christiana Morgan shows.  This isn’t the first time that I’ve encountered Christiana Morgan’s life.  Love’s Story Told focuses on the life of Henry Murray, and their lives cannot be separated.  Their love affair was not a secret to their spouses nor to many around them.  Christina’s path until she met Murray was separate and different and substantially converged after their meeting.


It’s important to share that my initial interest in Murray and Morgan’s work was driven by the challenges of the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT).  It’s a test that was (and is, in some places) widely used as a personality test.  The problem with the test is that it’s not reliable.  It falls below the federal standards of evidence but was used in a custody evaluation with my family.  (See The Cult of Personality Testing for more.)

More than that, Edward Shneidman, the father of suicidology, was a student of Murray’s.  In one of his books, he mentioned that suicide darkened Murray’s door – and I began to get curious about what insights might lie behind Shneidman’s interest in suicide.

During my research, I learned more about the pair and their work – and lives – together.  It led me to wonder what became of the “tower” that Morgan built, which was the location of many meetings.  I stumbled across the Tower of Dreams documentary created by Christiana’s granddaughter, Hilary.  After watching it, I reached out to Hilary.  She’s been a kind and compassionate human who has answered my strange questions as I juggled thoughts of how to prevent suicide with curiosity about a relationship that I didn’t understand.

I would have given up on my exploration of Christiana’s work much sooner if I hadn’t seen a special light in her granddaughter, who had done so much to honor her.


The recount of Christiana’s early life includes her mother’s disappointment that she wasn’t a son, a frustration with her fretfulness and colic.  Punishment was described as occasional spanking and, more frequently, being locked as a baby in a dark closet.  Later, Christiana would “spend hours punishing her various dolls by putting them in the closet one after another.”

Her parents, William and Isabella Councilman, were reportedly in relatively constant disharmony.  It created a gap between the life at home and that of the couple living opposite them, who seemed to Christiana to be romantic.  Torn between allegiances to her mother and her father, she clearly wanted peace.

Though the Councilmans were less well off than their peers, the family helped them in small ways, including purchasing party dresses for Christiana and her sisters.

Attachment Styles and Patterns

In hindsight, Christiana’s first serious relationship with Billy Stearns became the template for her other romantic relationships.  Described in today’s terms, she’d likely be described as having an avoidant attachment style.  (See Attached.)  If Billy got too close, they’d fight and grow distant before Christiana would begin to pursue him again.

Women of that time were taught to not allow boys to know that they liked them.  The result was a dance that was complicated by more than individual attachment styles but also by the social conventions of the time.  (See How Good People Make Tough Choices for more.)

The Dances

At the time, the expectation was that girls in their social circles would go out to dance parties.  It bored Christiana.  She didn’t want to say the same things to the same people night after night.  She longed for deeper conversations and a more intellectual peer who could help her grow her knowledge, intellect, and wisdom.

Lucia Howard

Lucia was Christiana’s older friend who was probably lesbian.  Her relationship with Christiana deteriorated substantially when she became seriously involved with and married Bill Morgan.  Still, Lucia showed that women could be intellectual.  Lucia would say the two real forces of human nature are religion and sex.

Christiana, under Lucia’s tutelage, would read 35 books in 1916.  What today are important classics were the subject of intense study.  Though she married Bill Morgan, her diary entries imply that she didn’t find him the intellectual companion that she had hoped for.  She’d known him for less than five months, but she said yes to his proposal delivered less than a week after arriving in Maine, where Christiana’s family was vacationing.  Maybe it was seeing him in his uniform as he was about to head off to war.  They’d delay their marriage, but they’d be betrothed.  Christiana’s father was not supportive of the arrangement.

Bill Morgan

During the war, he’d see trauma.  In addition to the traumas at the death of Bill’s entire platoon, he and Christiana’s small social circle would mourn the loss of twenty-five close friends, including Christiana’s first boyfriend, Billy Stearns.  War had cost the sensitive Morgan.  He’d struggle with the traumas of war for the remainder of his life.

Christiana had served as his lay-therapist, giving him a way to organize his thoughts and share his pains to a willing and supportive ear.

In addition to his mental scars, he’d carry tuberculosis, contracted through the war, and die fifteen years after the war ended.


Reports of Bill and Christiana’s sex life are that Bill often left Christiana aroused but rarely fulfilled.  Bill and Christiana spent much of their lives in different cities, even after their marriage.  After a while Christiana’s curiosity had her begin to take lovers.  One of those was Mike Murray, Henry’s younger brother.  Mike was married himself but discovered that “he did not love his comradely student wife.”

Mike wasn’t the only love that Christiana had.  However, at the same time, and without knowledge of the lovers, letters from Bill insisted that Christiana’s passion was derived from and belonged to him.  Instead, Christiana began to take ownership of her own sexuality.  She recognized it as uniquely hers.

It was at this time that Henry Murray would come into Christiana’s life through Mike.  It was a confusing time, as Christiana would continue to invite Mike as a lover despite her relationship with Mike’s wife and her interest in Henry.

Henry and Jo

Josephine Murray was told by her husband to travel the south alone, see other men, and write Henry about her imagined adventures as a way of curing the couple’s inability to conceive.  Perhaps this would increase Henry’s desire for his wife.

During this time, Jo and Christiana became friends.  The couples were in England together, and it didn’t seem prudent to create discord when they were all they knew across the pond.


Christiana had been enamored with Jung’s writing and even asked Henry about it during their introduction.  The opportunity to be seen by him was a welcome opportunity.  Henry was also grateful for the opportunity to the point where he began to discuss his feelings for Christiana.

Jung himself kept a mistress, Toni Wolff.  She was a former patient and was known by Emma Jung.  The two would accept – or yield – to Jung’s desires to have both in his life in different roles.  Henry was encouraged to pursue a similar set of relationships.

Jo was not amused.  She blamed Jung for the future that would have her sharing her husband with Christiana.  To be fair, Christiana didn’t seem enamored with the prospects at first, either.  However, in the fullness of time, Henry and Christiana would be lovers – prior to and after the deaths of their spouses.

Other Loves

Both Christiana and Henry took other lovers as well.  Christiana even continued her occasional affairs with Mike.  However, for Christiana’s part, they were secondary to Henry.  Henry pursued others as well, though it’s not clear how entangled he might have become in these relationships.

One of Christiana’s lovers, Ralph Eaton, provided the second thread that connected me to her and Murray’s work.  Eaton wanted to become central in Morgan’s life; realizing this wasn’t possible, he put his life to an end in the woods.  This was one of the suicides in the life of Henry and Christiana – but was one of the most impactful, as Christiana felt responsible.

Coherent Life

While there was an interest in the work at the clinic and her professional contributions they got very little coverage.  Even her relationship with Henry Murray and the productive output of it in terms of art and writing received some but not extensive coverage.  (Oddly, the coverage in Love’s Story Told is more extensive.)  In pondering the book’s title and the life of Christiana Morgan I’m struck by the work with Jung and the trances that Christiana used to try to better understand herself and the world.  It seems like she spent the second half of her life trying to Translate this Darkness.