Klein-Reizes, Melanie (1882-1960)

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Melanie Klein, British psychoanalyst, was born in Vienna on March 30, 1882, and died on September 20, 1960, in London.

Klein came from a traditional, though not orthodox, Jewish background in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Her school-age ambition to become a doctor was never realized, due to her complicated relationship with her dominant and intrusive mother, who, Klein felt, favored her brother. She therefore had no university education, but read widely and independently in subjects that interested her.

Her older sister died when Klein was four years old. She lost her brother Emmanuel when she was twenty, one year before her marriage to Arthur Klein, a chemical engineer.

Klein was close to her mother in an ambivalent relationship which caused her periods of considerable depression. Her experience of death and bereavement continued when her mother died in 1914, a few months after Klein's third child was born. These events coincided also with her husband being conscripted into the army. Klein's three children were born in 1904, 1907, and 1914.

She had become acquainted with psychoanalysis the year before, and shortly after the traumatic events of 1914, she sought analysis with Sándor Ferenczi, who worked with her until 1917. He was away from Budapest at times on military duty, and her analysis was probably interrupted. Ferenczi encouraged her to take an interest in the psychoanalytic understanding of children, as he was interested in following up Freud's "Little Hans" case. Klein began an investigation of her own children. She presented a paper in 1919 detailing these preliminary studies to the Hungarian Psycho-Analytical Society, and was made a member. However, later that year she left Hungary because of anti-Semitism and the post-war political turmoil. She traveled with her children to Berlin, while her husband worked in Sweden. They were essentially divorced from this point. In Berlin she developed her observational technique and a rigorous interpretive psychoanalysis with child patients. She went into analysis with Karl Abraham, who left an enduring mark on the development of her psychoanalytic ideas.

Klein then met Alix Strachey, who was also in analysis with Abraham. Strachey was very impressed by the presentations that Klein made to the Berlin Society (Strachey, 1986) and they became friends. Alix Strachey reported her impressions to her husband James and through this link Melanie Klein arranged to come to London to give a series of lectures in 1925. Her work was greatly appreciated in the British Psycho-Analytical Society. This was the first time her efforts had met with such acclaim; when she was invited to come permanently to London, she agreed with little hesitation. She arrived in 1926, and her children came soon after. She was very happy in the first years. She found strong support from most of her colleagues in London before Anna Freud developed a different form of child analysis (1927) and criticized Klein's (Grosskurth, 1986).

Klein's clinical skill had a profound effect on the quality of the work of the whole Society. She was very much a teacher and innovator. Something of a backlash began however, shortly before she read her paper on the depressive position in 1935. Edward Glover, who also been analyzed by Abraham and who was at the time analyzing Klein's daughter Melitta, began controversial debate, disputing her work and her conclusions and suggesting that she was no longer practicing psychoanalysis.

When Anna Freud moved to London with her father in 1938 after Germany had annexed Austria, Klein became very worried that her own work would be jeopardized. She was resolute in standing by her ideas, and the Society arranged a series of lectures in 1943 to debate the nature and value of Melanie Klein's discoveries and ideas. The outcome of these "Controversial Discussions" was a stalemate, which allowed both Klein and Anna Freud to develop separate schools of psychoanalysis within the British Society. The majority of the British psychoanalysts formed a middle or independent group aligned to neither Freud nor Klein.

Klein's first major contribution was to create a method of child analysis which extended the tentative attempts of Hermine Hug-Hellmuth (1921). Her new technique was characterized by her astute and detailed clinical observation, and by her view that an analysis of a child demanded as rigorous an interpretative method as an adult analysis. This produced material which partly confirmed the theoretical notions that Freud had inferred in the development of children. But she described them in much greater detail and could point to significant modifications.

She found evidence to disagree with Freud on some points: firstly, she was forced to conclude that the libidinal phases were not conveniently separated in time, but instead there was much overlap; secondly, the Oedipus complex was active in a very primitive form from the earliest phases, and was colored by oral and anal impulses as well as genital ones; and thirdly, the super-ego did not supersede the Oedipus complex but probably preceded it also in a very primitive and harsh form. These conclusions remain contentious (Hinshel-wood, 1991).

Her later descriptions of the depressive position and paranoid-schizoid positions were entirely original, and have long provoked intense debate. The patterns of anxiety, defenses, and relationships which these positions represent are now quite widely accepted. And certain elements of them, notably "projective identification," is of great importance in the teaching of many institutes and schools of psychoanalysis.

Klein always gave her allegiance to Freud's theory of the death instinct, and the early observations she made of the aggression and fear that children suffer promoted the view, against Freud, that this instinct is not clinically silent. Her last major contribution, the notion of "primary envy," brought the death instinct clearly under clinical observation.

All of Melanie Klein's conclusions, as well as her technique, have been and remain hotly debated. However, her views have been increasingly discussedand understood. There are large and growing groups of psychoanalysts in many countries who would now regard her work as standard psychoanalysis.

Robert D. Hinshelwood

Work discussed: Envy and Gratitude; Psychoanalysis of Children, The

Notions developed: Breast, good/bad object; Combined parent figure; Depressive position; Envy; Oedipus complex, early; Paranoid position; Paranoid-schizoid position; Projective identification; Reparation; Richard, case of; Splitting of the object; Unconscious fantasy.

See also: Abandonment; Aggressiveness/aggression; Ambivalence; Anality; Anorexia nervosa; Anxiety; Archaic; Archaic mother; Argentina; Bick, Esther; Bion, Wilfred Ruprecht; Breastfeeding; Brierly, Marjorie Flowers; British Psycho-Analytical Society; Child analysis; Childhood; Children's play; Controversial Discussions; Creativity; Cruelty; Death instinct (Thanatos); Defense; Depression; Disintegration, feelings of, (anxieties); Feminism and psychoanalsysis; Fornari, Franco; France; Freud, Anna; Frustration; Gift; Great Britain; Guilt, feeling of; Heimann, Paula; Imago; Infans; Infant development; Infantile omnipotence; Infantile psychosis; Infantile sexual curiosity; Internal object; Isaacs-Sutherland, Susan; Italy; Jones, Ernest; Love-Hate-Knowledge (L/H/K links); Money-Kyrle, Roger Earle; Object; Oedipus complex; Oral stage; Phobias in children; Primal scene; Primal, the; Primary object; Privation; Psychoanalytical Treatment of Children; Psychotic defenses; Quota of affect; Riviere-Hodgson Verrall, Joan; Rosenfeld, Herbert Alexander; Schmideberg-Klein, Melitta; Self; Splitting; Strachey-Sargent, Alix; Sublimation; Superego; Technique with children, psychoanalytic; Thoughts; Tics; Transference in children; Winnicott, Donald Woods.


Freud, Anna. (1927). Introduction to the technic of child analysis. (L. Pierce Clark, Trans.). New York: Arno Press, 1975.

Grosskurth, Phyllis. (1986). Melanie Klein. Her world and work. London, Hodder & Stoughton, 501 p.

Hinshelwood, Robert. (1994). Clinical Klein. London, Free Association Books.

Hug-Hellmuth, Hermine. (1921). On the technique of child analysis. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 2, p. 287-305.

Klein, Melanie. (1975). The writings of Melanie Klein. London, Hogarth, 4 vol.

Segal, Hanna. (1964). Introduction to the work of Melanie Klein. London, Heinemann; republ. 1973, London, Hogarth; repr. 1988, London, Karnac Books.

Spillius, Elisabeth. (1988). Melanie Klein today. London, Routledge.

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Klein-Reizes, Melanie (1882-1960)

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