Key figures

Karl Abraham

Born in 1877 in Germany, Abraham encountered psychoanalysis while training as a psychiatrist with Jung at the Burghölzli Mental Hospital in Zurich. He went on to become one of the pioneers of psychoanalysis, along with Freud, Jung, Jones and Ferenczi. Abraham’s most important and influential contributions to psychoanalysis are his theory of the pregenital phases of development, his concept of melancholia and obsessional neurosis, and his understanding of narcissism as an obstacle to analytic treatment. All of these ideas, in particular those around pregenital development and sadism, were to deeply influence Klein’s thinking, and to help her formulate her own brilliant picture of the child’s psychical experience.

Abraham founded the German Psychoanalytical Society in 1910, and analysed Klein for about 18 months from early 1924. He died in 1925, a year after being elected president of the International Psychoanalytical Association. He was only 48.

Sándor Ferenczi

Sándor Ferenczi was born in Miskolc, Austria-Hungary in 1873, one of twelve children. He trained as a psychiatrist and, after meeting Sigmund Freud in 1908, focused on psychoanalysis. Freud and Ferenczi became close friends and collaborators, and their relationship lasted for over twenty years, despite Ferenczi’s later radical departure from the classical Freudian model. He was Klein’s first psychoanalyst, and his ideas about object relations had a strong impact on Klein’s thinking about the child’s early experiences of the external world, above all its relationship to the mother and the mother’s body.

Ferenczi founded the Hungarian Psychoanalytic Society in 1913. He was president of the International Psychoanalytical Association from 1918 until 1919. He died in 1933 at the age of 60, from pernicious anaemia.

Anna Freud

Anna was the youngest of Sigmund and Martha Freud’s children, born in 1895. She seems to have had a difficult childhood, in constant rivalry with her older sister Sophie, and slow to build friendships. Her father psychoanalysed her when she was in her teens, and she was throughout her life a staunch adherent and promoter of his analytic ideas.

Anna Freud studied education in Vienna, before being analysed by her father from 1918 until 1922, when she was accepted as a member of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. She specialised in child analysis, and was later to set up the Hampstead War Nursery in London, providing children with psychotherapeutic treatment and stability amidst the emotional traumas of the Second World War.

Having come to England in 1938, in flight from Nazi-occupied Vienna, Freud became a thorn in the side of Klein and her followers. She accused Kleinian theory of departing from true psychoanalysis – that is, classical Freudian analysis –, to the point where it should no longer be considered analytic at all, but rather mere metapsychology. The two front-women of psychoanalysis disagreed over the age at which you could begin to analyse a child – Klein believed children well under five-years-old could be successfully analysed, Anna Freud did not – the role of transference and counter-transference, the highly controversial (yet originally Freudian) death instinct, the dating of the Oedipal conflict, and many other pivotal theoretical areas. Klein considered Anna Freud too conservative and narrow, failing to grasp the necessity of developing and innovating analysis beyond the origins of her father’s theory. Freud thought Klein wildly speculative, unscientific, arrogant, and extreme. The battle between these two pioneering child analysts came to a head in 1942 with the dawn of the Controversial Discussions.

Anna Freud died in London in 1982, at the age of 87.

Sigmund Freud

Freud was born Sigismund Schlomo Freud to Jewish parents on 6th May 1856, in Příbor, Moravia. His family moved to Vienna when he was still a baby, and it became Freud’s home until he was forced to flee the Nazis in 1938. He started his career as a neurologist, though he was always deeply interested in philosophy. As a medical student at the University of Vienna Freud studied philosophy, zoology and physiology.

When he was 29, Freud studied with neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot in Paris. Charcot was chiefly involved in investigating hysteria and the potential of hypnosis, and his work had a huge impact on Freud’s thinking and subsequent choice of career. On his return to Vienna, Freud decided he would establish himself as a psychologist specializing in pathological disorders, using hypnosis as his method of treatment. Over the next decade Freud, alongside his friend Josef Breuer, developed a new clinical technique that abandoned hypnosis in favour of something to be known as “free association”: this was the birth of psychoanalysis.

Klein met Freud several times, but he was never supportive of her ideas, perhaps because Klein was his daughter Anna’s direct rival and most threatening critic in the world of child analysis. Klein was often accused of failing to adhere to Freud’s theories, and therefore falling short of true psychoanalytic enquiry. However, Klein always maintained that Freud was her biggest influence and most revered precursor, and that all of her theory sprang from the original root that was the Freudian canon.

He died in London on 23rd September 1939, aged 83.

Edward Glover

Edward Glover was born in 1888, the third of three sons. He studied medicine at Glasgow University, and after graduation worked in Glasgow and London in paediatrics, surgery and pulmonary medicine. Glover went to Berlin to be analysed by Karl Abraham, and in 1921 he became a member of the British Psychoanalytical Society.

Throughout the 1930s and early 1940s, Glover showed intense antagonism toward Melanie Klein and her theories. He was allied with Klein’s daughter, Melitta Schmideberg (who he had analysed), and together with Anna Freud they sought to dismantle Klein’s influence and regard in the British Society. Glover and Shmideberg were the most vituperative of Klein’s attackers, and the turmoil within the Society only began to fade when Glover eventually resigned from the British Society in 1944. This was finally the end of the Controversial Discussions, but in parting Glover claimed that the Society was no longer Freudian (i.e. no longer properly analytic).

Glover was long interested, like Melitta Schmideberg, in delinquency and criminology, founding or co-founding: the Portman Clinic, the Institute for the Study and Treatment of Delinquency, the British Journal of Criminology, and the British Society of Criminology. He died in 1972, at the age of 84.

Paula Heimann

Heimann was born in Danzig, Germany in 1899, and went on to train as a psychoanalyst in Berlin. Soon after coming to London in 1933 she became Klein’s secretary – the two had previously met in Berlin – and was subsequently analysed by her. Heimann played a central role in the Controversial Discussions between 1942 and 1944, and contributed two important papers expounding Kleinian theory to the debate.

The two women were very close and mutually supportive until the early 1950s, when Heimann’s theoretical ideas, particularly around the role of countertransference, caused significant disagreement between them. This seemingly irreconcilable rift eventually led to her leaving the Kleinian group. From this point Heimann became part of the Independent, or ‘Middle’ Group. She was made training secretary of the British Society’s Training Committee in 1954. Heimann died in London in 1982, aged 83.

Susan Isaacs

Susan Isaacs (née Fairhurst) was born in 1885, in Turton, Lancashire.

Isaacs’ childhood was very difficult, her mother dying when she was very young and her father intolerant of his daughter’s strong, enquiring mind. She worked as a governess for a while, then trained as a teacher of young children. She gained a degree in philosophy and won a scholarship to Cambridge. Her subsequent career was equally focused on psychoanalysis – Isaacs became a member of the British Psychoanalytic Society in 1923 – and child educational psychology. She became a faithful adherent of Klein’s theory until her premature death from cancer in 1948.

Read more about Isaacs’ contributions to Kleinian psychoanalysis.

Ernest Jones

Jones was born in 1879 in Gowerton, a village just outside Swansea in southern Wales. He studied medicine and obstetrics at Cardiff University and University College London, and went on to specialize in neurology. He first encountered the work of Freud in 1905, and was deeply impressed by his attention to and understanding of the patient’s inner reality. Jones and Freud met for the first time in 1908, and became colleagues.

Finding British society resistant to Freudian ideas and practice, Jones spent several years in Canada and the US, among other things co-founding the American Psychoanalytic Association. Returning to London in 1913, by the end of 1919 Jones had founded the British Psychoanalytical Society, which seemed to attest to a huge shift in attitudes toward the study and treatment of both the “normal” and pathological mind. He was president of the British Society from its inception until 1944, a reign of 25 years. Jones was president of the International Psychoanalytic Association twice, and he set up the International Journal of Psychoanalysis. He was also, famously, Freud’s first official biographer.

As such an inestimably important figure in British and international psychoanalysis, Jones’ personal and professional support of Melanie Klein was invaluable. He played a crucial role in Klein’s initial acceptance by the British Society, and she was to acknowledge repeatedly the importance of his support of her career.

Jones died in 1958, at the age of 79.

Joan Riviere

Born Joan Hodgson Verrall in Brighton in 1883. In her late teens Riviere spent a year in Germany, becoming fluent in the language. She spent some time as a court dressmaker, before discovering and become fascinated by psychoanalysis. She married Evelyn Riviere in 1906, and gave birth to their only child, Diana, in 1908. Riviere went into analysis with Ernest Jones in 1916, then with Freud in 1922. She was a founding member of the British Psychoanalytical Society in 1919. Riviere became a training analyst in 1930, analysing Susan Isaacs, Donald Winnicott and John Bowlby, and later supervising Hanna Segal and Herbert Rosenfeld.

As a close member of the Kleinian circle, Riviere was a staunch supporter of her ideas throughout the Controversial Discussions (1942-44). Her papers expounding Kleinian theory were beautifully written and, as well as attesting to Riviere’s astute grasp of highly complex psychoanalytical ideas, acted as an important clarification of Klein’s thought, so often obfuscated by her dense, difficult writing style. By the mid-1950s Riviere drifted away somewhat from pure Kleinian theory, focusing on her own ideas beyond the constraints of such a tight-knit group such as Klein’s.

As well as supervising the translation of Freud’s Complete Works, Riviere translated Civilization and Its Discontents, and, The Ego and the Id. She wrote her famous work, Womanliness as a Masquerade, in 1929. Riviere died in 1962, aged 78.

Read more about Riviere’s contributions to Kleinian psychoanalysis.

Alix and James Strachey

James Beaumont Strachey was born in 1887. He was the brother of Lytton Strachey, the biographer, writer and critic, and both brothers were at the heart of the famous Bloomsbury set. Alix Sargent Florence was born to an American father and British mother in New Jersey, in 1892. After meeting at a Bloomsbury gathering, the couple married in 1920.

In 1921 the Stracheys moved to Vienna where James went into analysis with Freud, whom he had long admired. Both fluent in German, Alix and James went on to translate Freud’s works as, the Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, which remains the definitive English translation of Freud. While in Berlin Alix met and became friends with Klein, and she was subsequently instrumental in Klein’s visit and eventual move to London. Both Alix and James trained as psychoanalysts, and by the mid-1920s they were both full members of the British Psychoanalytical Society. Despite their initial and continued interest in Kleinian theory, the Stracheys remained independent of both the ‘A’ and ‘B’ groups in the Society, demurring from partisan allegiance to either the Anna Freudians or the Kleinians.

James died in 1967, followed six years later by Alix in 1973.

Donald Winnicott

Donald Woods Winnicott was born in Plymouth in 1896. He studied medicine, and went on to become a paediatrician. A few years after qualifying as a doctor, Winnicott started work at the Paddington Green Children’s Hospital, where he would continue to work for the best part of his career.

Already deeply interested in child psychology, Winnicott decided to go into analysis with James Strachey, an analysis which lasted 10 years. He was later analysed by Joan Riviere, and started his analytic training in 1927. From the beginning impressed by Melanie Klein’s ideas, Winnicott at first seemed likely to become part of the Kleinian group. However, he could not agree with some of Klein’s key concepts, such as her formulation of the death instinct and the role of envy in psychical development. As hard as he tried to persuade her to reconsider certain elements in her theories, she was equally stubborn to budge an inch, and equally unconvinced of Winnicott’s own theoretic innovations. Instead he became a prominent member of the Independent, or Middle Group, and introduced many very important psychoanalytic ideas, such as transitional objects – objects situated liminally between the child’s imagination and the external world – and the ‘good enough,’ rather than the ideal, mother. Winnicott died in 1971, at the age of 74.

Virginia and Leonard Woolf

Adeline Virginia Woolf was born in 1882, a year before Melanie Klein. Her future husband, Leonard Woolf, was born in 1880. Virginia was brilliant, immensely imaginative and ambitious, and went on to become one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. Leonard was an intelligent, talented essayist, theorist and civil servant.

The Woolfs were at the heart of the Bloomsbury Group in the first three decades of the 20th century. Leonard became very interested in psychoanalysis, and reviewed a translation of Sigmund Freud’s Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901) before its publication in the New Weekly. Under their Hogarth Press, the Woolfs also published Freud’s work, as translated by James Strachey, a close friend of theirs.

Although Viriginia was somewhat ambivalent about psychoanalysis, her experiments in literary form and the expression of inner human experience – embodied most famously in her stream-of-consciousness style – have often been seen as sharing important connections with psychoanalytic theory. Virginia met Freud once, at his London home in Maresfield Gardens, not long before his death. However, it was Adrian and Karin Stephen, Virginia’s brother and sister-in-law, who hosted Klein’s first lectures in London in the summer of 1926.

The Woolfs met Melanie Klein at least once, and Virginia described Klein in a letter in the following terms:

“…a woman of character & force some submerged – how shall I say? – not craft, but subtlety; something working underground. A pull, a twist, like an undertow: menacing. A bluff grey haired lady, with large bright imaginative eyes.”

Virginia Woolf drowned herself in 1941, aged 59, sensing the onset of the last of several extremely distressing mental breakdowns in her life. Leonard lived until 1969, when he died at the age of 88.