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Grosskurth, Phyllis.

Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, c1986. 515pp, cloth, $35.00, ISBN 0-771-3638-8. CIP

Reviewed by John D. Crawford

Volume 14 Number 5
1986 September

Melanie Klein was an Austrian psychoanalyst who moved to London in 1926 and became a tremendously influential figure in the British Psycho-Analytical Society until her death in 1960. She was the first person to analyze pre-school children and she developed a "play technique" for that purpose. She made a substantial contribution to Freudian psychoanalytical theory, even though criticized by Freud, his daughter Anna, and classical Freudians as a deviationist. Her influence on psychoanalysis derived not only from her many papers delivered to the society, but also through her ability to attract and retain disciples.

The early chapters of the book are very interesting and bring out those factors that influenced the growth of Klein as an individual. The picture emerges of a Central Europe that provided little security for such minority groups as Jews, who were subject to periodic outbreaks of anti-semitism. The relationship of Klein to her mother, her siblings, and to her young children are of importance in considering her later life and work. However, it is when Klein moves to London that the story ceases to become merely interesting and exerts a growing fascination upon the reader.

Melanie Klein was a very complex individual, who clearly exercised a charismatic effect upon many of her associates. It was as a member of a group that she brought her personality and considerable talent into full play. After she joined the British Psycho-Analytical Society that society was never the same again. Groups of intellectuals have provided excellent material for biographers; Bloomsbury comes immediately to mind, with the "Inklings" of Oxford and many others having provided material for biographies. Klein was one of those people who blossomed within an amenable group, and indeed, in a group in which she encountered opposition. It is the description of this in-fighting that is the most compelling section of the biography. The subject matter of the disputes was the theoretical bases of psychoanalysis, but in fact the arguments provided a clinic in political infighting, as the adherents of Klein were set against the classical Freudians, whose flag-bearer was Anna Freud. A feature of this biography is the skill with which Phyllis Grosskurth enables the reader to enjoy, which I think is a suitable word, the politics, while explaining the theoretical differences between the protagonists. A further strength is the inclusion of several mini-biographies within the text, providing background information about some of the principal characters.

The activities of these pioneers of psychoanalysis seem at times almost bizarre. There seems to be a constant analyst-analysand relationship among them, which creates an atmosphere almost incestuous at times. Indeed my reaction at times was to paraphrase St. Luke in suggesting "Psychoanalyst, heal thyself." This stricture applies not least to Klein herself, whose relationships with her children were of mixed success. One son was to die at an early age, the other gave her grandchildren and the joy associated with them, while her daughter was to become not merely estranged from her mother, but seemed to actively hate her most of her adult life.

Grosskurth has written a detailed biography that combines the personal details with an adequate explanation of the psychoanalytic theory that played such an important part in the life of her subject. It is difficult to imagine this fine work being improved upon. It possesses the simple benefits of starting at the beginning and ending at the end with most of the intervening material being in order. It is attractively illustrated with a number of photographs and contains extensive references, a bibliography, and an index. Anyone interested in the history of psychoanalysis must read this exceptional work.

John D. Crawford, Marigold School, Victoria, B.C.
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