Shall we tell the children?
- Melanie Klein: Her World and her Work by Phyllis Grosskurth
Hodder, 516 pp, £19.95, June 1986, ISBN 0 340 25751 2
- Bloomsbury/Freud: The Letters of James and Alix Strachey 1924-1925 edited by Perry Meisel and Walter Kendrick
Chatto, 360 pp, £14.95, February 1986, ISBN 0 7011 3051 2
When Alix Strachey, translator of Freud, went to Berlin in 1924 to seek psychoanalysis with Freud’s colleague, Karl Abraham, her most momentous acquisition, in an accumulation consisting inter alia of books, antique knick-knacks and (to a compulsive extent, on the evidence of her letters) of Apfeltorte under lashings of cream, was a then little-known child-analyst of Polish-Slovakian extraction named Melanie Klein. It was largely thanks to the efforts of Alix and her husband James in bringing Klein to the attention of the British Psycho-Analytical Society that she moved to London in 1926 after the death of Abraham. He had been Klein’s mentor and analyst, and without him she had little defence against the hostility that was surfacing in the Berlin Society and that she was to provoke in one form or another throughout her career. Klein was, by general consent, not an easy person, but Alix Strachey (no pushover herself) quickly came to a warm appreciation of her qualities of mind even while considering her a testimonial to the effects of psychoanalysis on the grounds that ‘she’d be almost intolerable if she had’nt [sic] been well basted by it.’ In personal matters Alix was intolerant: Klein, she said, ‘dances like an elephant’ – a severe handicap when the major preoccupation in Twenties Berlin was party-going. Alix clearly found vulgar Klein’s penchant for dressing up for these parties ‘as a kind of Cleopatra – terrifically décolletée – and covered in bangles and rouge’ and for being ‘frightfully excited and determined to have a thousand adventures’. But ‘my respect for her continues to grow. She’s got not only vast hoards of data, but a great many ideas, all rather formless and mixed, but clearly capable of crystallising in her mind.’ Alix sent a résumé of one of Klein’s papers for discussion in the British Society (fertile ground already since an interest in child analysis had been evinced by several of its members, including Nina Searl, Ella Sharpe, Susan Isaacs, Donald Winnicott and Barbara Low). Ernest Jones, the President and later Freud’s biographer, was enthusiastic (‘absolutely heart-and-soul whole-hogging pro-Melanie’, according to James Strachey). In July 1925 Klein visited London to give a course of lectures on child analysis, and her arrival for good in 1926 was a most natural consequence. Britain was to remain her home until she died in 1960, and the British Psycho-Analytical Society the vehicle for an extraordinarily creative and controversial career, a vehicle which was nevertheless driven almost to disintegration by the wrangles and bitterness that career provoked. That these animosities and the gossip on which they fed persisted for so long makes especially welcome Phyllis Grosskurth’s scholarly book, the first full biography of Klein.
Melanie Reizes was born in 1882 in Vienna. Her father was a doctor; her mother was forced by straitened financial circumstances to keep a shop selling plants and (bizarrely, since they were loathsome to her) reptiles. Melanie was the youngest of four children, of whom two were to die young, the third child Sidonie of scrofula at the age of eight and her adored brother Emmanuel at the age of 25, of heart failure brought about by tuberculosis and drug addiction. Emmanuel appears to have fantasised for some time about such an early death, thinking it would set a stamp of artistic merit on a life whose creative possibilities had been hinted but never achieved. Melanie at least believed that he ‘had a genius as a writer and as a musician’ and his influence on her was of a deep and ambivalent kind that may have been partly responsible for difficulties in her subsequent relations with men. Sidonie, too, was revered and loved by Melanie, who in turn was doted on by the family in general, though she believed herself to have been an unplanned child. Her eldest sister, Emilie, was by contrast a more distant figure. But it is here that difficulties of interpretation begin.
It is fair to say that one of the two main weaknesses of Professor Grosskurth’s book is its handling of Klein’s early life. There is simply very little evidence about it: the principal sources are a fragmentary Autobiography dictated in snatches near the end of Klein’s life, and a bundle of family letters, many of them from Klein’s mother Libussa. Grosskurth describes the Autobiography as ‘brief’, but she does not say how brief, and from the repeated attention drawn to ‘significant’ omissions one would never guess that it runs to a mere 22 pages of typescript, says little about the years after 1930, and is rambling enough for it to be of limited value as a source. The letters, too, need to be handled with care, especially since – as Grosskurth herself deftly uses them to show – Libussa was a dominant and self-dramatising person whose own accounts of people and events were often highly coloured. One particular episode is important. In 1908, Libussa informed Melanie that her sister Emilie had been conducting an adulterous affair as well as ruining her husband by extravagant living. For three years Emilie was treated with contempt in the family until Libussa discovered that the slander was unfounded. On the strength of a letter by Libussa informing Melanie of this development and saying, ‘you will be beside yourself because I have changed my opinion of Emilie,’ Grosskurth writes the following:
Why did Melanie adopt such an intransigently judgmental attitude toward her sister, unless she envied Emilie for seeming to have the fulfilled emotional life that she herself craved, as well as – in the face of all her troubles – a certain serenity? More fundamentally, she still retained the envy of a powerless baby sister. Melanie Klein was an embodiment of her own later theories: the world is not an objective reality, but a phantasmagoria peopled with our own fears and desires.
Given the importance of the concept of envy in Klein’s later theories, one can see the temptation to engage in such speculation, but the evidence will not warrant it. We have only Libussa’s word for it that Melanie was ‘intransigently judgmental’ – and posing as the lone defender of a misunderstood daughter is just the sort of role that would have appealed to Libussa. Melanie’s letters from this period have not survived, and the Autobiography reveals no trace of envy towards Emilie, unless one counts a remark that Libussa had some ‘cause for complaint’ about her, a remark no stronger than a similar comment made about her brother Emmanuel. In fact, since Klein’s later notion of envy is deeply bound up with ambivalence of feeling (the breast is envied precisely because it is also the source of all good) it might make more sense to search for the roots of Kleinian envy in her feelings towards her mother or brother. But that’s another story.
Nor does Grosskurth get all the details of her evidence right. She later treats as highly significant that there is no ‘reference to [Klein’s son] Hans’s death’ in the Autobiography: in fact the death is mentioned on page 9 of the typescript. Grosskurth also maintains that Klein wanted to hide the fact that her father was visited by patients at their home, but gave this away when she writes that at the age of 13 ‘she overheard him boast to a patient that his youngest daughter would go to the gymnasium’: in fact the Autobiography has him boasting to ‘someone’ and makes no reference to any patient. These are details that would be trivial if they were not used as the foundation for major psychoanalytic speculation. But it would be a mistake to see these faults, which are faults principally of the opening chapters, as typical of the entire book. Fortunately as the evidence becomes more plentiful Professor Grosskurth moves away from the sands of psychobiography onto comparative terra firma. By this time Melanie has married Arthur Klein (in 1903); discovered their sexual and emotional incompatibilities; suffered intense boredom in the succession of dreary provincial towns to which he is posted; had three children and a long series of depressive illnesses. By the outbreak of the First World War the marriage is clearly doomed, but Melanie has found a more lasting solace in the new science of psychoanalysis.
The Kleins’ move to Budapest in 1910 was a key factor in the change, for it was in Budapest that Melanie was to meet Freud’s disciple and colleague, Sandor Ferenczi. In about 1914, she read Freud’s paper on dreams (‘Uber den Traum’), realised that ‘that was what I was aiming at,’ and entered into analysis with Ferenczi. She attended the Fifth Congress of the International Psycho-Analytic Association in Budapest in 1918, and in 1919 presented her first paper to the Hungarian Society. The identity of the patient analysed was suppressed in published versions of the paper, but in fact it was her own son Erich, then five years old. It is still very little known that Klein began her career with analyses of her own children, a practice that her circumstances perhaps made it difficult to avoid but which would be unacceptable today. As Grosskurth is right to stress, it was particularly extraordinary given the views Klein professed, as recorded by Alix Strachey in 1925 after a conversation with Lou Andreas-Salome:
When she [Andreas-Salome] said that the parents were the only proper people to analyse the child a shudder ran down my spine. It seems to me to be the last stronghold of the desire of adults to have power over others. And my belief is strengthened by reading Hug-Hellmuth’s outpourings on the subject: a mass of sentimentality covering the old intention of dominating at least one human being – one’s own child ... Thank God Melanie is absolutely firm on this subject. She absolutely insists on keeping parental & educative influence apart from analysis & on reducing the former to its minimum, because the most she thinks it can do is to keep the child from actually poisoning itself on mushrooms, to keep it reasonably clean, & teach it its lessons.
With the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the subsequent revolution and invasion by Rumania, life became dangerous in Budapest, particularly for Jews. After a year’s exile in Slovakia, Klein moved to Berlin. Her husband Arthur had moved to Sweden, and this separation marked the acknowledged end of the marriage, though they were to meet again and divorce was not finalised until 1925. In Berlin, Klein made further analyses of children, including a pseudonymous analysis of her elder son Hans. In 1924 she entered analysis herself with Karl Abraham, and at the end of that year travelled to Vienna to address the Viennese Psycho-Analytic Society. This occasion constituted a portentous opening skirmish in the long war that was to break out between the armies of Klein and of Anna Freud, Sigmund’s daughter and herself a child-analyst. News of Klein’s work had given rise to murmurs of discontent among the orthodox, in Berlin and especially in Vienna. The grounds were partly doctrinal: Freud himself was not to reverse his view that anxiety was the result of repression until 1926, but Klein was already in effect discussing anxiety as prior to repression. She was also, and relatedly, emphasising aggressive and sadistic impulses as independent of libidinal ones, and locating the psychic conflicts they engendered in pre-Oedipal phases of the child’s development. Anxiety was the result of the projection of intrinsically aggressive impulses onto other individuals (leading the child to fear aggression on their part). It was not necessarily the eruption of repressed libidinal impulses or – to take a more specific Freudian mechanism – the fear of castration as the outcome of the Oedipus complex. Klein was also attributing to children a sophisticated knowledge of the mechanics of sexuality, including an appreciation of the distinctive sexuality of girls. Most fundamentally, she attributed to children’s instincts an intrinsic relation to objects and persons in their environment which was very different from the entirely detached instincts that for Freud characterised the infant’s inner world.
Yet these doctrinal differences were still at this stage overshadowed by more practical objections. Shortly before Klein visited Vienna, the child-analyst Hermine von Hug-Hellmuth had been murdered by her 18-year-old nephew, whom she had brought up. The case, which attracted much newspaper attention, brought to the fore many reservations among the public about the effects of psychoanalysis, and among analysts themselves about the dangers of using analysis on children. Klein’s methods aroused misgivings on two counts: the general one that she interpreted quite frankly to children the psychoanalytic meaning of their play; and more specifically, that she gave open expression to the aggressive and sadistic elements in that interpretation. Alix Strachey described the opposition to Klein in Vienna as likely to consist of ‘Bernfeldt & Eichom, those hopeless pedagogues, and ... Anna Freud, that open or secret sentimentalist’. Anna Freud herself was in favour of using analysis as part of an overall education programme in which the strengthening of the child’s ego-ideal was a significant part of the analyst’s task. Though Alix Strachey dismissed this as sentimentality, it must be stressed that Anna Freud’s difference in approach depended upon a fundamental difference from Klein about what was possible in young children: she thought the child’s psyche to be much less developed and structured than did Klein, so that, for example, using a child’s feelings of hostility to the analyst (the negative transference) could serve no therapeutic purpose.
Even in Berlin, there was opposition to Klein in terms that roused Alix’s fury: ‘The words were, of course, psychoanalytical: danger of weakening the Ich-ideal etc. But the sense was, I thought, purely anti-analysis: we mustn’t tell children the terrible truth about their repressed tendencies etc. And this, although die Klein demonstrated absolutely clearly that these children (from 2¾ upwards) were already wrecked by the repression of their desires.’ There was some support for Klein in Berlin, particularly from Karen Horney, who was later to become a major figure in psychoanalysis in the United States. And Karl Abraham was a powerful chairman who could ensure that her views were always given fair hearing. But after his death in 1925 London was obviously a more hospitable place, and an invitation by Ernest Jones for her to come and analyse his children was all the encouragement she needed.
Klein’s move to London did not reduce the opposition to her ideas. In fact, the publication of Anna Freud’s Einführung in die Technik der Kinderanalyse in 1927 directed a full broadside against Klein’s methods and views. But London shielded her very effectively from the force of the onslaught. This was partly a matter of insularity: Anna Freud’s book was not published in England until 1946 (an American edition appeared in 1929). But principally it was because many members of the British Psycho-Analytical Society were impressed by Klein and vigorous in her defence. There were some exceptions, such as Barbara Low and Marjorie Brierley, but others, including Joan Riviere, Ernest Jones and even Edward Glover (who was later to be a fierce opponent), expressed their support for Klein under Anna Freud’s attack. Jones even stoutly resisted objections by Freud père to a published symposium in which Klein was given a chance to respond. This supportive environment gave Klein the opportunity to systematise and develop her ideas without the need for constant defence. During the next decade many of the most fundamental of these ideas were published, especially in her book The Psycho-Analysis of Children (1932), and her remarkable 1935 paper ‘A Contribution to the Psychogenesis of Manic-Depressive States’.
What had struck observers as interesting about Klein’s work was originally very much a matter of technique: in particular, her use of play as the natural equivalent in children of the free-association methods developed by Freud to supersede the use of hypnosis. In points of theory she was at first strongly influenced by Karl Abraham, who had subdivided the first two of Freud’s four phases of child development (the oral, anal, phallic and genital phases) into two sub-phases each. Klein focused particularly on the two oral phases, the oral sucking and the oral sadistic stages, in the first of which the mouth is the location of all pleasure and the breast the unquestioned source of all comfort. This ‘pre-ambivalent’ stage was succeeded, once the infant discovered that the breast was not always available and could be a source of frustration too, by a sadistic stage in which violent and aggressive impulses were directed against the breast. Klein dated the onset of the sadistic phase earlier than Abraham, and later in her life denied that there was any pre-ambivalent stage, for her concept of envy implied an inherently ambivalent attitude to any source of pleasure. She described in detail the mechanisms with which the infant coped with the psychic conflicts this aggression provoked. First there was ‘splitting’, the imagined division of the ambivalent object into two contrasted objects (‘the good and the bad breast’ for which Klein is still popularly known). There was ‘projection’, in which the aggressive impulses were disowned and attributed to external objects or persons. ‘Introjection’ was the opposite of projection: the functions of an external object such as the breast were taken over by an internal representation of it, which was felt to be a part of the infant by a primitive phantasy of ingestion. ‘Identification’, which could be projective or introjective, involved the fusion of the individual’s identity with the object. None of these concepts was original to Klein: what was original was her emphasis on their use as constitutive of the normal processes of development. Their effective deployment led to progress by the child in establishing relations with whole objects (such as the mother) rather than part objects (such as the breast).
What came to be distinctive about Kleinian Theory was, first, its emphasis on primary aggression, a matter on which Klein was ironically more faithful to Freud’s later espousal of the death instinct than so-called orthodox Freudians are even today. Secondly, she ascribed to the infant (in its unconscious world of phantasy) a far more colourful and violent inner mental life than did Freud. It was an inner life representing relations to objects rather than a sea of free-floating instincts. Klein came to abandon the Freudian view of fixed stages of development in favour of a view in which development consisted of a continual and gradually refined process of projection and introjection of objects. This meant that she claimed to recognise elements of, for example, Oedipal conflict much earlier than the age of three to five postulated by Freud – they could be present, she said, even in the first year of life. It also meant that the origins of neurosis lay very early in life, and were due not to a fixation at one of the earlier stages of development, but rather to a failure to reach a certain level of mastery of the complex world of object relations. Two crucial levels of mastery could be distinguished – what she was in later years to call the ‘paranoid-schizoid position’, and the ‘depressive position’ (elaborated in her paper of 1935). Although she thought the paranoid-schizoid position preceded the depressive position in a normal child’s development, the purpose of calling them ‘positions’ rather than ‘stages’ was to deny that there was any necessary temporal progression from one to the other.
As its name suggests, the paranoid-schizoid position was characterised by the co-existence of splitting with persecutory anxiety, in which the infant’s first attempts to come to terms with its death instinct led to the projection of its sadistic impulses onto an external bad object (the ‘bad breast’) by which it felt persecuted. The depressive position represented a realisation that the good and bad objects were really aspects of the same mother, against whom an essentially ambivalent alternation between love and hate had been directed. This acceptance of the ambivalence of emotions was accompanied by feelings of guilt at the damage felt to have been inflicted on the mother by the aggressive impulses, and a desire to make reparation. Klein considered the desire to re-create an internal object that had been destroyed in phantasy the foundation of all creation and artistic activity, and the mastery of contained ambivalence in the depressive position the cornerstone of mental health.
After a few years of comparative cool, the temperature of the debate between Klein and her opponents rose sharply when, in about 1933, her own daughter Melitta was elected to full membership of the British Psycho-Analytical Association. Relations between the two had been strained for some years, but now an open war erupted. Melitta (backed by Edward Glover, her analyst, who had become increasingly resentful of Klein’s domineering manner) accused her mother of unscientific attitudes, of self-aggrandisement by overemphasising the mother in her work, of manipulating her supporters and lying about her own case-material. She also ostentatiously interpreted abnormalities in her own cases as due to failures in understanding on the part of the mother. Klein responded, less vitriolically but in a similar debased coin, by ascribing Melitta’s criticisms to her being insufficiently analysed, and by using case-material to illustrate the weaknesses of daughters who fail to form mature conceptions of their own mothers. Relations deteriorated further when Klein’s son Hans died in 1934, in a mountaineering accident which Melitta maintained was suicide. In addition, there were further onslaughts from Vienna, both from Freud himself and from Anna, who in 1935 published Das Ich und die Abwehrmechanismen. It was translated in 1937 as The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence, and was warmly received even by some sympathisers of Klein, such as Ernest Jones.
The German annexation of Austria in 1938 made life in Vienna impossible for Jews, and in June of that year Freud and Anna arrived to settle in London at the invitation of Ernest Jones. Freud himself died the following year. Klein was to regard with great suspicion the warmth of Jones’s welcome to Anna, which she considered an encouragement to the undermining of everything Klein felt she had achieved so far. With the outbreak of war, Klein moved to Cambridge and then to Pitlochry in Scotland, and meetings of the British Society came to be dominated by Viennese refugees, who as aliens were not allowed to move out of London. Divisions between them and Klein’s supporters became so marked (divisions concerning not just doctrine and analytic method but the entire organisation of the British Society and the training of young analysts) that in late 1941 Klein returned to London, and in early 1942 the crisis in the Society came to a head. At a series of Extraordinary Meetings it was realised that constitutional changes in the Society could not be agreed until some fundamental theoretical differences had been thrashed out. Over the course of the next two years the so-called Controversial Discussions were held, in which representatives of the Klein and the Anna Freud groups attempted to pinpoint and evaluate the precise differences between them, with a few independents such as James Strachey trying in some desperation to maintain a conciliatory role.
Phyllis Grosskurth’s handling of this immensely complex period in the Society’s history is magnificent. She brings out the theoretical differences with superb clarity, and is both judicious and to the point in discussing constitutional questions such as the training of analysts. The charges that were made of Kleinian monopoly of the training system are shown to be baseless, but similar charges made in later years were indeed justified. On personalities, there is no doubt that Grosskurth is sympathetic to Klein, so that Anna Freud never really emerges as a three-dimensional character, but Klein’s faults are prominently discussed. Grosskurth is also severe towards Jones, with whom I find it hard not to sympathise for his increasingly low profile in the midst of disputes that must have seemed full of futile hostility and mutual incomprehension, in which the division of the Society into the good clique and the bad clique was the worst kind of abuse of splitting and projection, concepts that had been developed for therapeutic and not factional ends.
It is also hard for the outsider not to be struck by the insularity and hermetic quality of the Society during these years. Grosskurth records that one meeting on hatred and aggression during the Controversial Discussions was conducted with such ferocity that it had to be interrupted by Donald Winnicott: ‘I should like to point out that there is an air raid going on.’ The meeting was resumed in the basement. Klein herself, though undoubtedly deeply disturbed by the momentous events in Europe, was nevertheless almost entirely absorbed in her battle with Anna Freud. She had written to Jones in 1939 of her anxiety that psychoanalysis might not survive. This referred to her fear that Anna Freud might be destroying it. It was not a fear of war, nor any anxiety about the ability of psychoanalysis to win acceptance in the wider intellectual community, about which she could not have cared less. In a letter to Winnicott in 1941 she wrote that ‘in 1927 Jones after his correspondence with Freud about my work told me, It will take you a long time to carry your work to people (obviously he meant analysts) – it might take you 15 years.’ Her indifference to the secondary meaning of the word ‘people’ as ‘human beings who happen not to be psychoanalysts’ may have been extreme among analysts but it was scarcely unique. It was certainly bizarre given the way in which accusations of unscientific practice were bandied about by all parties to the dispute within the Society. ‘Scientific practice’ was used to refer to criteria entirely internal to psychoanalysis.
The fact that all analysts had themselves been analysed, frequently by a colleague within the British Society, must have contributed to the personal and acrimonious nature of the disputes. It was an invitation to ad hominem argument, as when Klein herself said of a paper by Margaret Little: ‘All this paper shows is that Dr Little needs further analysis.’ It also added a further complicating set of liaisons to the rivalries and dependencies, professional and personal, that exist in any tight-knit organisation. And it provided a conduit for all kinds of information and innuendo. A strange footnote by Grosskurth speculates on some of the motives behind a correspondence between Sigmund Freud and Jones, in which Freud expressed resentment at the way his analysand Joan Riviere had become an adherent of Klein’s:
There was apparently more to it than this. In a letter to Jones, dated February 14, 1954, Anna Freud, in response to a comment by Jones that Riviere had been one of the women in Freud’s life, admits that she had been very jealous of her when she was in Vienna ... Jones was constantly undercutting Riviere to Freud in his anxiety to prove that she was a hysterical woman. Why? Because Riviere (in her analysis with Freud) had undoubtedly told him of her early relationship with Jones.
In such hostilities, analysis is but the continuation of war by other means, and careless talk costs wives.
After the Controversial Discussions in 1944, disagreements over a report by James Strachey on training led Edward Glover to resign from the British Psycho-Analytical Society and Anna Freud from its Training Committee. Many members thought it important that Anna Freud should be kept within the Society; more than anything else they feared a split. The eventual compromise, worked out in 1946 and persisting in essence to this day, divided candidates into two groups, the A group consisting of Kleinians and independents, and the B group of followers of Anna Freud. A more formal division between Kleinians and independents was recognised some years later. Many aspects of their training, especially those on technique, were conducted separately, with joint lectures and seminars on controversial topics. The feuding between the factions did not cease, and still has not ceased, but an institutional framework had been found within which it could be contained.
Klein’s daughter Melitta left for the United States in 1945 with her husband Walter Schmideberg, and mother and daughter remained unreconciled to the end. The last fifteen years of Klein’s life saw her consolidate her command on psychoanalysis in England, a command achieved at the cost of alienating a number of her erstwhile supporters who could not indefinitely tolerate her authoritarianism. Her creative output remained prodigious with a large number of papers and two major books, Envy and Gratitude in 1957 and Narrative of a Child Analysis, published posthumously in 1961. The former discussed the emotion of envy as the source of primitive ambivalence in the infant’s feelings towards the breast, both a love based on gratification and a hostility based on the discovery that the gratification is situated outside the self. The Narrative was not a contribution to theory but a full account of the detailed analysis of a single case, so that for the first time it was possible to record Klein’s own technique.
Age in no way diminished her willingness to explore new ground. Her work on the paranoid-schizoid position (in particular a major paper of 1946) led her to look at schizophrenia and also at so-called borderline cases between neurosis and psychosis. The latter in particular had always been regarded by Freudians with extreme suspicion, it being considered not only impossible but dangerous to treat psychotic symptoms analytically. And the fertility of Klein’s ideas stimulated many others into advances both within psychoanalysis and in the interaction of psychoanalytic insights with those of other fields. Klein herself was not always appreciative of the uses to which her ideas were put, as was shown by her dismissal of Paula Heimann’s work on the counter-transference (the analyst’s emotional reaction to his patient). She was cool towards John Bowlby’s pioneering combination of psychoanalytic methods with those of ethology. Her attitude to the wider intellectual community remained as unconcerned as ever. It is perhaps in fidelity to Klein that Professor Grosskurth has made little attempt to locate her within the wider history of ideas, either in terms of influences upon her or of her influences elsewhere. Mention is made of Elliot Jaques, who carried Kleinian concepts into sociology, and of Adrian Stokes, who developed a full Kleinian theory of aesthetics, but the importance of neither is properly assessed. The significance of Kleinian aesthetics has been seriously and powerfully argued, by (for example) Richard Wollheim, and opponents like Roger Scruton have considered that it makes a worthy case to answer. Stokes himself used the depressive position to explain the importance of Humanist and Classical qualities in art, and indeed so closely identified the two that the achievement of the depressive position comes to be understood as a kind of Florentine Quattrocento in the history of the individual personality. This naturally raises the question how far the Kleinian concept is itself built upon a prior foundation of Humanist attitudes and sympathies – in short, which explains which? It is a pity that Grosskurth does not use her breadth and clarity of understanding of Klein to attempt a more ambitious assessment.
A number of Klein’s colleagues and friends were involved in other activities and milieux of which only fragmentary glimpses appear in this narrative. The Stracheys were much involved with the Bloomsbury group, and their letters reveal a fair quantity of Bloomsbury gossip. They are also attractively humorous even on the often deadening subject of psychoanalysis. Another of Klein’s colleagues, Susan Isaacs, was the first principal of the Malting House School in Cambridge, an experimental establishment for children between the ages of two and a half and seven. It had been founded by Geoffrey Pyke and was dedicated to the free expression of the child and the joyful living of the unexamined life. New movements in education are not discussed at all in Grosskurth’s book, but James Strachey had a few things to say about his visit to the Malting House School:
I must say I can’t make out the point of it. There seem to be about eight-ten children, of ages from three to five and a half. And all that appears to happen is that they’re ‘allowed to do whatever they like’. But as what they like doing is killing one another, Mrs Isaacs is obliged from time to time to intervene in a sweetly reasonable voice: ‘Timmy, please do not insert that stick in Stanley’s eye.’ There’s one particular boy (age five) who domineers, and bullies the whole set. His chief enjoyment is spitting. He spat one morning onto Mrs Isaacs’s face. So she said: ‘I shall not play with you, Philip,’ – for Philip is typically his name – ‘until you have wiped my face.’ As Philip didn’t want Mrs Isaacs to play with him, that lady was obliged to go about the whole morning with the crachat upon her. Immediately Tony appeared Philip spat at him, and in general cowed and terrified him as had never happened to him before. That may be a good thing; but it doesn’t precisely seem to be the absence of all repressive influences.
I am left with a strong, but unsatisfied curiosity as to how Melanie Klein would have coped in Susan Isaacs’s place.