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Robinson, K. (2017). Karl Abraham: Life And Work, A Biography by Anna Bentinck van Schoonheten. Published by Karnac, London, 2016; xxiii + 432 pp, £35 hardback. Brit. J. Psychother., 33(2):264-267.

(2017). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 33(2):264-267

Book Reviews

Karl Abraham: Life And Work, A Biography by Anna Bentinck van Schoonheten. Published by Karnac, London, 2016; xxiii + 432 pp, £35 hardback

Review by:
Ken Robinson

Although Karl Abraham is a pivotal figure in psychoanalysis, his work is more referred to than read. Perhaps this is because he died prematurely, perhaps it is because he has tended, certainly in British psychoanalytic thinking, to be acknowledged as the second analyst of Melanie Klein at the expense of the distinctiveness of his own work. Whatever the case, he has found more recent commentators in, for example, Good (1995), May (2001, 2012) and Sanfeliu (2014); and now in Anna Bentinck van Schoonheten's biography. None is British, which might tell its own story. Abraham awaits a British interpreter who will situate him within the wider history of British psychoanalysis and tease out his enduring influence, transmitted initially through those whom he analysed and helped to form, not only Melanie Klein but in particular Edward Glover who was on his couch, and Ella Sharpe and Sylvia Payne who became intimate with his work when they were in analysis with Abraham's colleague, Hanns Sachs, in Berlin. All exercised a marked influence on the development of psychoanalysis in Britain as analysts and trainers. (Alix Strachey, another analysand, had a different influence as a translator.)

Abraham's death on Christmas day 1925 profoundly shocked his colleagues in the psychoanalytic movement. Freud took ill and remained unwell with various symptoms through to the Spring. In one of his Rundbriefe to the Secret Committee (20 January 1926) Freud described the loss as so crippling that he now found it difficult to turn his attention to other things: they seemed of no importance.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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