Key psychoanalytic works

Studies on Hysteria (1895)

This text, co-written by Sigmund Freud and Josef Breuer, constitutes the foundation stone of psychoanalysis. Freud and Breuer describe five cases of hysteria that they have treated over the course of a decade – one by Breuer, four by Freud – out of which clinical observations they formulate the key concepts of resistance, symbolism, and transference. Freud also introduces his innovative ‘free association’, as a development from and improvement on hypnosis, which, by this stage, he has rejected as a therapeutic method.

Hysteria was an enigma to doctors and psychologists in the latter part of the 19th century, and, until the advent of psychoanalysis, the many sufferers of this strange condition remained an irresolvable problem. Studies on Hysteria is a revolutionary exposition of the illness, showing how, by allowing the patient to remember, re-live and, importantly, verbalise the emotional experience of a hidden neurotic trauma, the analyst could bring that trauma into the light of consciousness, thereby freeing the patient of its unconscious grip. One of the most famous and archetypal examples of this early psychoanalytic treatment of hysteria, Anna O., appears in this book, one of Breuer’s patients.

The Interpretation of Dreams (1900)

Sigmund Freud maintained throughout his life that The Interpretation of Dreams was his most important work. It formed the keystone of psychoanalytic thought and practice. From the starting point of understanding the psychical meaning and purpose of dreams, Freud developed a model of the mind as a whole.

Freud’s exploration of the realm of dreams sprang from his own self-observations. He kept a notebook in which he recorded his dreams, and one of these, known as ‘Irma’s Injection’ formed the focus of a detailed analysis in the Interpretation. Freud’s radical new account of dreaming posits that each dream is a representation (more or less disguised) of a wish fulfillment. To explain the strange, seemingly incoherent form dreams often take, Freud introduces the idea that the mind veils the latent content of the dream by actively distorting, condensing, displacing and symbolically representing that content to create an ostensibly mysterious manifest content.

In this work Freud also details the Unconscious, the Preconscious and the Conscious for the first time.

Mourning and Melancholia (1917)

One of Sigmund Freud’s ‘metapsychological’ papers, Mourning and Melancholia draws a distinction between normal mourning and pathological depression, or ‘melancholia.’ In normal mourning, following the loss of a loved person or idea, the world as experienced by the mourner is depleted and full of sadness, whilst in the pathological state of melancholia, the sufferer directs this sense of depletion and hopelessness onto his or her own ego. This is because, Freud explains, the pathological melancholic has introjected the lost object into his or her ego, so that any libidinal attachment, both loving and reproachful, is directed toward the self. Pathological depression is therefore in part a retreat to a narcissistic relationship to objects, a turning-away from the world.

This idea of the introjection of, and identification with, external objects is hugely influential on Klein, as she develops the concepts of introjection, projection, and the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions.

Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920)

In the pivotal work, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Sigmund Freud builds upon and moves beyond his theory of the single-minded search for pleasure and avoidance of unpleasure. Recognising that his previous theory could not account for all behaviours – for example, a patient who resists cure and holds tight to his or her damaging neurotic fixations – Freud introduces the controversial concept of the ‘death instinct.’

The death instinct, in conflict with the life instinct, or Eros, allows Freud to explain apparently perverse neurotic tendencies, such as a patient’s constant return to a traumatic experience, and this repetitive behaviour’s consequent obstruction of analytic treatment. In this seminal work, Freud delineates the meaning behind repetition compulsion and its relationship to the pleasure principle, explained in the light of the organism’s desire to return to an inorganic state. This work is to be immensely inspiring to Klein, who is one of the few followers of Freud to adopt and develop his idea of the death instinct.

The Ego and the Id (1923)

In this major work, Sigmund Freud lays out his second structural theory of the mind, comprised of the Id, the Ego, and the Superego. In doing so he did not so much supplant his first map of the mind, as build upon and revise it. Freud goes on to describe the Oedipus conflict in more detail than he has done hitherto, revealing the bisexuality inherent in all psyches. The work also reasserts the importance of the death instinct, underlining the centrality of the struggle between the life and death drives in pathological individuals, especially depressive patients.

Mourning and Its Relation to Manic-Depressive States (1939)

Klein details her concept of the depressive position in this paper (published 1940). Building on Freud‘s formulation of mourning as a process of reality-testing, Klein describes the infant’s slow integration of external and internalised objects as an analogous process of constant cross-checking between phantasy and reality. The depressive, guilty anxieties of the depressive position evolve from the persecutory, paranoid anxieties of the paranoid-schizoid position (though Klein only describes this earlier position later in her career). As the infant comes to understand that its mother and father are real, separate, whole people, it acknowledges both the co-existence of good and bad in them, and the ambivalence of its feelings toward them. Ambivalence gives rise to guilt and anxiety, but also to the desire to make reparation. Although rooted in Freud and Abraham’s theories, this is a radical, inspired new model of thinking about early mental life, and it will remain one of Klein’s most brilliant ideas.

Published in Love, Guilt and Reparation and Other Works: 1921-1945 (The Writings of Melanie Klein: Volume 1) (1940)

The Controversial Discussions: 1942-1944

The Controversial Discussions raged through the British Society for four years, and for a while it seemed the Society might fall to pieces. Following the arrival in England of Sigmund Freud, Anna Freud and some of their Viennese colleagues in 1938, and the death of Freud in 1939, Klein’s radical theories were the subject of fierce debate within the British Psychoanalytical Society. In the midst of the personal animosities and political manoeuvrings, important intellectual contributions were made and practical decisions taken, which were to affect the development of psychoanalysis down to the present day.

In The Freud-Klein Controversies, Pearl King and Riccardo Steiner offer the first complete record of the turbulent, years-long debate, including all relevant papers and correspondence, based on previously closed archive material.

Cf. King, P. and Steiner, R. (Eds.), The Freud-Klein Controversies 1941-45. (New Library of Psychoanalysis, Routledge, 1992).