Tough Morsels

Peter Rudnytsky

  • The Freud-Klein Controversies 1941-45 edited by Pearl King and Riccardo Steiner
    Routledge, 958 pp, £100.00, December 1990, ISBN 0 415 03170 2

There is a growing consensus among scholars and practitioners of psychoanalysis that the most important developments since Freud’s death have taken place in object relations theory. Both American ego psychology and the French school of Lacan provide alternatives, but these have proven less fecund than the British tradition of object relations, which comes in distinct Kleinian and Independent forms. The Freud-Klein Controversies makes it possible to understand why psychoanalysis in Britain should have achieved this preeminence.

The story in its broad outlines is by now familiar. In 1926 Melanie Klein, bereft of intellectual support in Berlin after the death of Karl Abraham, accepted Ernest Jones’s invitation (mediated by Alix Strachey) and settled in London, where her ideas gained a sympathetic hearing. When in 1927 Anna Freud published a book on child analysis, it was sharply criticised by Klein, whose doubts were shared by other London analysts. These aspersions appeared in the International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, antagonised Freud and led to a rift between the psychoanalytic societies in Vienna and London. In an effort at reconciliation, Jones and Paul Federn arranged a series of exchange lectures in 1935-36, those from London being given by Jones on ‘Early Female Sexuality’ and Joan Riviere, and those from Vienna by Robert Waelder. In June 1938, the Nazi annexation of Austria forced Freud and his family to flee to London, whither they had been preceded by a number of Berlin analysts. (Most of the Viennese analysts went on to America; only Willi and Hedwig Hoffer settled in London.) Freud died 15 months later, but London became Anna Freud’s permanent home, and she and Melanie Klein were forced into proximity. With the outbreak of the war, many analysts (including Klein and her followers) got out of London, and others were called to emergency medical or military service. Klein continued to elaborate her theories about early childhood, which centred on the depressive position – the sense of guilt experienced by the infant when it begins to recognise the mother as the object of its destructive fantasies – and which were rebuffed by the Viennese group. The British Psycho-Analytical Society became unofficially divided into three camps: those who supported Melanie Klein, those who supported Anna Freud, and those, mainly indigenous British members, who were not aligned with either faction. By the end of 1941, many analysts, including Klein, returned to London, and tensions came to a head. A series of Extraordinary Business Meetings was called early in 1942 to address the situation, and what became known as the Controversial Discussions began.

The battles in the British Society were fought on three distinct but inter-related fronts. In addition to the theoretical issues at stake, there were disputes over matters of administration and training. Since 1913, Jones had been the sole president of the British Society, and Edward Glover, an abrasive and unpopular man, loomed as his heir. If the main plot of this epic personal and intellectual struggle is the collision between Klein and Anna Freud, its leading subplot is the downfall of Glover. This was the outcome of a bitter secondary clash between, on the one hand, Klein and, on the other, both Glover and Melitta Schmideberg, Klein’s daughter, who had been Glover’s analysand and with him became Klein’s most implacable opponent.

Although Jones has been justly taken to task for his biased portrayals of Ferenczi and Rank in his Freud biography (he described both of them, unfairly, as mentally ill), he could be critical of Freud. In particular, he showed great independence by supporting Klein (as well as W.R.D. Fairbairn) and by taking the lead in the exchange lectures. He also made life difficult for Klein, however, by bringing Anna Freud to London and by making Glover his deputy. Jones’s attempts to placate both powerful women, each of whom had reason to feel injured by him, may be construed as either diplomacy or doubletalk. On 21 January 1942 he wrote to Klein that Anna Freud was ‘a tough and indigestible morsel’ who ‘has no pioneering originality’; on the same day he wrote to Freud that Klein ‘has neither a scientific nor an orderly mind’ and ‘is also in many ways neurotic’. Jones’s politic equivocations reflect the divided loyalties felt by all members of the Independent group.

The full text of this book review is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.

You are not logged in