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Spillius, E.B. (1993). Varieties of Envious Experience. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 74:1199-1212.

(1993). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 74:1199-1212

Varieties of Envious Experience

Elizabeth Bott Spillius

Envy is disturbing—both as a feeling and as a concept in psychoanalysis. Freud's idea of penis envy has aroused anger in many women, especially feminists; and Klein's idea that envy has a constitutional basis evoked a storm of protest from many analysts. Envy has the special distinction of being listed as one of the seven deadly sins, but at the same time it is not frequently the subject of philosophical or social debate. It is as if it were recognised on the one hand, while rapidly dismissed on the other.

Freud, of course, was the first analyst to use the concept of envy, both in the idea of penis envy and in the idea that the members of a group can forgo their envious rivalry with one another in a common idealisation of the group leader (Freud, 1921). Abraham (1919) uses the idea of envy to explain a destructive attack that certain patients make on psychoanalytic work. Eisler (1922) notes that envy derives from the oral instinct. In her 1932 paper, 'Jealousy as a mechanism of defence', Joan Riviere regards pathological jealousy as a defence against unconscious oral envy of the parents in intercourse. Karen Horney (1936) points to the role of envy in the negative therapeutic reaction. Melanie Klein, however, was the first analyst to make the concept of envy central to her psychoanalytic theory.

Klein used the idea of envy in much of her earlier work (Klein, 1929), (1932), (1945), (1952), (1955), but towards the end of her life she wrote about it much more systematically, in Envy and Gratitude(1957).

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