Melitta Klein, the daughter of Melanie Klein and Arthur Klein was born in 1904. Melanie had hoped to go to university but after the death of her father she agreed to marry her second cousin, the son of Jacob Klein, a successful businessman. They married in 1903. Klein, an engineer, worked for a number of companies in different parts of Europe and was rarely at home. (1)
Melanie's marriage was unhappy from the beginning. "I threw myself as much as I could into motherhood and interest in my child. I knew all the time that I was not happy but saw no way out." She told a friend many years later that he was having affairs from the first years of her marriage. Melanie Klein gave birth to her daughter, Melitta Klein in 1904. This was followed by two sons, Hans in 1907 and Erich in 1914. She was forced to stay with her husband because she had no means of supporting them on her own. (2)
In 1914 Melanie Klein went into analysis with Sandor Ferenczi, an eminent Hungarian doctor, who was a member of a group of doctors who were followers of a group led by Sigmund Freud. Another member of the group was Hanns Sachs who said he was "the apostle of Freud who was my Christ". Another member said "there was an atmosphere of the foundation of a religion in that room. Freud himself was its new prophet... Freud's pupils - all inspired and convinced - were his apostles." Another member remarked that the original group was "a small and daring group, persecuted now but bound to conquer the world". (3)
Melanie Klein began to make observations on her youngest son, Erich, and she was encouraged to carry on when Sandor Ferenczi told her she had a gift for psychoanalytical understanding. She was determined to allow her young son's mind "freedom from unnecessary prohibitions and distortions of the truth". An atheist, Klein decided she did not want to teach him that there was a God. She also was straightforward and truthful with him about sex. This at the time was extremely radical. The results of her experiment was described in a paper she gave to the Budapest Psychoanalytical Society in 1919, entitled The Development of a Child: The Influence of Sexual Enlightenment and Relaxation of Authority on the Intellectual Development of Children. It was published as an article two years later. (4)
Although her son, Erich, was only five-years-old at the time, she found ways of talking to him about sex. At first he did not want to know, but after she told him stories about the sex life of animals he began to show interest. He responded by telling his mother stories where he made symbolic use of the objects around him. He ran his toys over her body, saying they were climbing mountains. He talked of what babies are made of and said he wanted to make babies with his mother. Erich told another story "in which the womb figured as a completely furnished house, the stomach particularly was very fully equipped and was even possessed of a bath-tub and a soap-dish." (5)
Melanie Klein argued that this form of education changed him from being somewhat backward to "almost precocious". His attitude towards his parents changed: "His games as well as his phantasies showed an extraordinary aggressiveness towards his father and also of course his already clearly indicated passion for his mother. At the same time he became talkative, cheerful, could play for hours with other children, and latterly showed such a progressive desire for every branch of knowledge and learning that in a very brief space of time and with very little assistance, he learnt to read." (6)
Klein also analysed her older children, including Melitta. Hans was forced to stop seeing a girl older than himself because of the "identification he was making with the phantasy of his mother as a prostitute". In her article, A Contribution to the Psychogenesis of Tics she argued that "the turning away from the originally loved but forbidden mother had participated in the strengthening of the homosexual attitude and the phantasies about the dreaded castrating mother." (7)
Klein now forced Hans to break off a homosexual relationship with a school friend. "It must have seemed to the boy that he had no area of privacy from his mother, who knew the innermost secrets of his soul. His tic and related homosexual problems she repeatedly links to his sense of inferiority to his father. Arthur Klein was deeply suspicious of psychoanalysis, which he saw as driving a wedge between him and his son, and his wife's obsession with it as a disruptive intrusion in the family." (8)
Melanie now left her children with her in-laws in Rosenberg in Slovakia and moved to Germany and became a member of Berlin Psychoanalytical Society in 1922. Along with Anna Freud she was now seen as one of the pioneers of child psychology. Klein by this time had become dissatisfied with the results of her analysis with Sandor Ferenczi and asked Karl Abraham to take her into analysis. She said later that it was her brief analysis with Abraham which really taught her about the practice and theory of analysis. (9)
Melanie Klein's daughter, Melitta, trained at the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute, before marrying Walter Schmideberg in 1924, another psychoanalyst, who was fourteen years her senior. At the time Schmideberg was a friend of Sigmund Freud and Klein's biographer, Phyllis Grosskurth, claims she had "encouraged the marriage for the reflected prestige it would give her". However, it was not long before Klein turned against Melitta's new husband. These family rows, mainly concerning Schmideberg's drinking problems. The following year he was treated for drug addiction at Sanatorium Schloss Tegel. (10)
Members of the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute became increasingly critical of Melanie Klein's theories. They accused her of being "feeble-minded about theory" and her "nursery talk embarrassing and ridiculous". Some of the members suggested that "child analysis was positively dangerous". In May 1925, Karl Abraham became seriously ill and was no longer able to have her as his patient. After his death in December, she began to consider the possibility of leaving Germany. (11)
In September, 1926, Melanie Klein, at the age of 38, accepted the invitation of Ernest Jones, to analyse his children in London. She lived in a maisonette near the Institute of Psychoanalysis in Gloucester Place. Her practice soon included not only Jones's children and wife but also six other patients. She now decided to settle permanently in England, a place that she described as "her second motherland". (12)
Melitta Schmideberg, also came to live in England. She gave several lectures on child psychology. This included Criminal Tendencies in Normal Children (1927), Personification in the Play of Children (1929) and The Importance of Symbol-Formation in the Development of the Ego (1930). Phyllis Grosskurth claims that these papers contain "a medley of diverse ideas, a reflection of the creative thinking that had been released in her with a congenial atmosphere". (13)
Supporters of Sigmund Freud became hostile towards Melanie Klein. This included Ernest Jones and Edward Glover, both senior figures in the British Psycho-Analytical Society. In 1933, Melitta Schmideberg decided to enter analysis with Glover. This resulted in her deciding that she "had been in a state of neurotic dependence on her mother" and that if a "state of amicability was to be maintained, it could exist only if Klein recognized her not as an appendage but as a colleague on an equal footing". (14) In late 1933 it was apparent to other members of the Society that Glover and Schmideberg, had joined forces in a campaign to embarrass and discredit Melanie Klein. Schmideberg, later wrote: "Edward Glover and I agreed to ally to fight". (15)
In a letter she wrote to her mother at this time explaining her thoughts on their relationship. "You do not take it enough into consideration that I am very different from you. I already told you years ago that nothing causes a worse reaction in me than trying to force feelings into me - it is the surest way to kill all feelings. Unfortunately, you have a strong tendency towards trying to enforce your way of viewing, of feeling, your interests, your friends, etc. onto me. I am now grown up and must be independent; I have my own life, my husband; I must be allowed to have interests, friends, feelings and thoughts which are different or even contrary to yours. I do not think that the relationship with her mother, however good, should be the centre of her life for an adult woman. I hope you do not expect from my analysis that I shall again take an attitude towards you which is similar to the one I had until a few years ago. This was one of neurotic dependence. I certainly can, with your help, retain a good and friendly relationship with you, if you allow me enough freedom, independence, and dissimilarity, and if you try to be less sensitive about several things." (16)
Members of the British Psycho-Analytical Society tended to take the side of Melanie Klein against the attacks of her daughter. Melitta believed that this undermined her own status in the organisation: "I always felt that the main objection was that I had ceased to toe the Kleinian line (Freud by now was regarded as rather out-dated). Mrs. Klein had postulated psychotic phases and mechanisms in the first months of life, and maintained that the analysis of these phases was the essence of analytic theory and therapy. Her claims were becoming increasingly extravagant, she demanded unquestioning loyalty and tolerated no disagreement." (17)
Melanie Klein built up a group of loyal followers but like Sigmund Freud, she could be ruthless in casting off those who expressed doubts about her theories. Hanna Segal pointed out: "Although she was tolerant, and could accept with an open mind the criticisms of her friends and ex-pupils, whom she often consulted, this was so only so long as one accepted the fundamental tenets of her work. If she felt this to be under attack she could be very fierce in its defence. And if she did not get sufficient support from those she considered her friends, she could grow very bitter, sometimes in an unjust way." (18)
In May 1936, Ernest Jones attacked Melanie Klein in a paper delivered to the Vienna Society. He claimed that Freud had provided the "scaffolding" and that they might see "considerable changes in the course of the next twenty years ago". However, he warned of those, who like Klein, who had succumbed to "the temptation to a one-sided exaggeration of whatever elements may have seized her interest". (19)
On 17th February, 1937, Melitta Schmideberg continued her strident campaign against her mother when she delivered the paper, After the Analysis - Some Phantasies of Patients, that was delivered to the British Society. (20) Joan Riviere wrote to James Strachey: "Melitta read a really shocking paper on Wednesday personally attacking Mrs. Klein and her followers and simply saying we were all bad analysts - indescribable." (21)
Sigmund Freud and most of his family, including Anna Freud, arrived in London on 6th July, 1938, after the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany. (22) Melanie Klein sent him a letter expressing the wish to call on him as soon as he was settled. He replied with a brief note saying that he hoped to see her in the near future. An invitation failed to materialize, although Melitta Schmideberg was a frequent visitor. (23)
Edward Glover, the scientific secretary of the British Psycho-Analytical Society, found himself increasingly opposed to the innovations and influence of Melanie Klein. For several years he tried to oust the Kleinians as a group within the Society. (24) The problem increased with Klein's supporters who arrived in England from Austria and Germany, fleeing from Adolf Hitler. This included people such as Hanna Segal, Paula Heimann, Herbert Rosenfeld, Nelly Wollfheim and Eva Rosenfeld. By 1938 one-third of its members were from the continent. She also had the support of British members such as Susan Sutherland Isaacs, Joan Riviere, John Rickman, Donald Winnicott and Clifford M. Scott. (25)
However, Ernest Jones, protected Klein from Glover. In March 1939 she wrote to Jones thanking him for his help. "You have created the movement in England and carried it through innumerable difficulties and hardships to its present position... Now, I want to thank you for your personal friendship, and for your help and encouragement in what is of infinitely greater importance to us both than personal feelings - namely our work. I shall never forget that it was you who brought me to England and made it possible for me to carry out, and develop, my work in spite of all opposition." (26)
Anna Freud joined with Glover in the attacks on Klein arguing at a meeting of the British Psycho-Analytical Society Training Committee meeting that "Mrs. Klein's work is not psycho-analysis but a substitution for it. The reason she gave for this opinion was that Mrs. Klein's work differs so greatly in theoretical conclusions and in practice from what they know to be psychoanalysis... Dr. Glover said that her work may either turn out to be a development of psycho-analysis or a deviation from it... Regarding the body of knowledge which should be taught to candidates, he said that controversial contributions should be excluded, referring to Mrs. Klein's work." (27)
Melitta Schmideberg was also highly critical of the Kleinian group. At one meeting, on 13th May 1942: "Melitta's shrill accusations, based on innuendo and gossip, had been distressing and embarrassing; but Glover's thundering rhetoric in leveling the gravest of charges against the Kleinian group left everyone at the meeting shaken. Glover essentially accused one group of trying to insinuate its way into power through the training of candidates; and if the situation were allowed to continue, within a very few years the British Society would be entirely dominated by the Kleinians." Melanie Klein commented that her supporters were made to look like "a forbidden sect doing some harmful work, which should be prevented from spreading." (28)
Ernest Jones condemned the behaviour of Schmideberg and Glover and that Klein had good cause to bring a libel action against them. Anna Freud agreed and Klein reported to Susan Sutherland Isaac that: "She (Anna) is inclined to regard Melitta's attacks more in the way of a naughty child, and certainly underrates the disruptive effect on the Society which was - and here she is quite right - only so bad because the Society did not know how to deal with it." (29)
Glover argued that "in the six years up to 1940 every training analyst appointed (5 in all) was an adherent of Mrs. Klein". Sylvia Payne carried out research into these claims and wrote to Klein about what she found: "I have studied Glover's speech. He says that there are 8 or 9 of your adherents among training analysts. The following are the actual names. Klein, Riviere, Rickman, Isaacs, Winnicott, Scott (control of child analysis and lectures). To these names he must be adding Wilson and Sheehan-Dare (they accepted many Kleinian ideas, but refused to be described as adherents of anyone). I propose to say that his figures are open to argument." (30)
Edward Glover was outraged by a January 1944 suggestion that the teaching of the organization should cover Klein's controversial ideas. He now resigned, complaining that the Society was hopelessly "women ridden". (31) In a letter to Sylvia Payne he explained his decision: "I have now simply exercised the privilege of withdrawing from the Society (a) because its general tendency and training has become unscientific and (b) because it is becoming less and less Freudian and has therefore lapsed from its original aims." (32)
Glover attempted to persuade Anna Freud to leave the British Psycho-Analytical Society. Phyllis Grosskurth argued that "Glover lacked psychological insight and an understanding of the strength of Anna Freud's inflexibility. She would not allow herself, Freud's daughter, to be pushed out of the Society and branded as a schismatic. She sometimes said that she stayed in because she was grateful to Jones for bringing her family to England, but it is possible that she also felt that she could work things to her own advantage if she played her cards right." (33)
Negotiations continued for two years before an agreement was reached. On 5th November, 1946, a scheme of training was arranged which incorporated both the ideas of Sigmund Freud and Melanie Klein. (34) "It is disturbing to accept that highly intelligent, well-educated people could succumb to the hysteria that swept through the British Society for some years. But one must realize that all human beings, even psychoanalysts, are subject to the same pressures; when engulfed in groups, they exhibit envy, anger, and competitiveness, whether the group be a trade union or a synod of bishops. The fact that the British Society did not split is, in the view of many members, evidence both of British hypocrisy and of British determination to compromise." (35)
Melitta Schmideberg died in 1983.
I hope you will therefore also allow me to give you some advice. You do not take it enough into consideration that I am very different from you. I already told you years ago that nothing causes a worse reaction in me than trying to force feelings into me - it is the surest way to kill all feelings. Unfortunately, you have a strong tendency towards trying to enforce your way of viewing, of feeling, your interests, your friends, etc. onto me. I am now grown up and must be independent; I have my own life, my husband; I must be allowed to have interests, friends, feelings and thoughts which are different or even contrary to yours. I do not think that the relationship with her mother, however good, should be the centre of her life for an adult woman. I hope you do not expect from my analysis that I shall again take an attitude towards you which is similar to the one I had until a few years ago. This was one of neurotic dependence. I certainly can, with your help, retain a good and friendly relationship with you, if you allow me enough freedom, independence, and dissimilarity, and if you try to be less sensitive about several things.
Also, don't forget that through our shared profession a difficult situation is created; this could most certainly be solved if you treated me like another colleague and allowed me all the freedom of thinking and expression of opinion, as you do the others.
If Melitta's popularity declined, it was due largely to the embarrassment and anguish she caused her colleagues by the virulence of the vendetta she waged against her own mother. Melitta may have thought she was "rather popular," but members recall her as intense and humorless. While she looked unusually young for her age, she was tense and dogmatic. Diana, Joan Riviere's daughter, was delegated to show her around the colleges at the Oxford Congress in 1929.
But soon matters became uneasy. I was criticized because I paid more attention to the patients' actual environment and reality situation, and regarded reassurance and a measure of advice as legitimate parts of analytic therapy. But I always felt that the main objection was that I had ceased to toe the Kleinian line (Freud by now was regarded as rather out-dated). Mrs. Klein had postulated psychotic phases and mechanisms in the first months of life, and maintained that the analysis of these phases was the essence of analytic theory and therapy. Her claims were becoming increasingly extravagant, she demanded unquestioning loyalty and tolerated no disagreement.