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Young, R.M. (1989). Two Views of Mrs Klein. Free Associations, 1R(17):146-149.

(1989). Free Associations, 1R(17):146-149

Two Views of Mrs Klein Related Papers

Review by:
Robert M. Young

There were many moving moments and many distressing ones in Mrs Klein. For me there was one which was almost unbearable. There had been a reparative phase in the intense and often violent dialogue between Mrs Klein and her daughter, Melitta Schmideberg, and it seemed almost safe to draw breath. Then Mrs Klein spoke tenderly to her daughter, as daughter, but went on cruelly to distinguish her from her role as Dr Schmideberg, the psychoanalyst who fought her mother bitterly in public. But I am Dr Schmideberg, her daughter retorted with bitterness and defiance. And I am Melanie Klein, her mother roared. I felt nearly blown away—all the power and originality of that formidable psychoanalyst at the height of her powers was being used to crush her daughter.

What was so powerful and frightening about that moment was the simultaneity of roles: mother/daughter, great woman/insolent junior colleague. Each was trapped in roles which shifted from line to line and moment to moment; each used psychoanalytic insight to rise above her worst self—or appeared to do so, since this often turned out to be a rationalization for new defensiveness and cruelty towards the other. Each desperately needed the other but would attack any good moment as soon as it was clearly there. It is, then, a very Kleinian play, operating simultaneously at many levels, with powerful emotions coming thick and fast. I cannot say what someone with no experience of psychoanalysis would make of it, but for me it rang perfectly true.

As the play begins, we find Mrs Klein with her back to us, and Paula Heimann being told things about the contents of a box. Then Mrs Klein finds a poem, sobs, holds out her hand for comfort. Paula Heimann comes to her, kneeling. Mrs Klein goes on in this vein and then says brightly, That's enough for today and produces tea. We learn minutes later that they have never met before and that Mrs Klein has bestowed on the younger woman (Klein is fifty-two, Heimann thirty-four) the role of house-sitter, editor, secretary, general factotum.

There are many moments like that when we discover just how odd, presumptuous, mean (Klein locks everything up, including the liquor cabinet, when she goes away) and spiteful the three characters can be. Melitta Schmideberg is horrid but desperate.

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