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Int J Psychoanal 2003; 84:15871603

Erna and Melanie Klein


ELIZABETH TABAK DE BIANCHEDI, bR. HORACIO ETCHEGOYEN,1
VIRGINIA UNGAR DE MORENO, dCLARA NEMAS DE URMAN and eSAMUEL ZYSMAN
a
Uriarte 2112, C1425FND, Buenos Aires, Argentina bianchedi@ssdnet.com.ar
b
Posadas 1580, 13, C1112ADB, Buenos Aires, Argentina rhetche@arnet.com.ar
c
Billinghurst 2533, 3, C1425DTY, Buenos Aires, Argentina virungar@ bertel.com.ar
d
French 3027, C1425AWK, Buenos Aires, Argentina cnmeas@api.org.ar
e
Santa Fe 3389, 8 52, C1425, Buenos Aires, Argentina zysman@satlink.com
(Final version accepted 17 April 2003)
a

Erna was one of the child patients treated by Melanie Klein in Berlin, employing
her recently discovered play technique. Since Erna died in Chile, the authors
considered the IPA Congress in Santiago an opportunity to present a paper as
a homage both to Erna and, especially, to Klein. She learned much from that
very disturbed child, which she later used to sustain the ongoing development
of her theories. The paper explores biographic data relevant to understanding
both the case and the theories. It analyses the case material to follow Klein in the
discovery and the handling of the childs transference and the harsh expressions
of hate, jealousy and envy, which are brought in, with sad consequences, by
strong persecutory feelings. Kleins comparison of this case with that of Freuds
Wolf-man is also considered, mostly to show that the similarities were less than
originally claimed, and that Klein, perhaps, was introducing a theoretic shift
which led her technique to gradually change from Nachtrglichkeit to the
signi cationresigni cation pair, akin to Stracheys concept of the mutative
interpretation. Lastly, the comprehension of Ernas strong psychotic traits and the
links with later developments of the theory on psychosis are studied.
Keywords: Melanie Klein, Erna, envy, primal scene, Nachtrglichkeit, transference,
learning disturbances, psychotic behaviour in children, unconscious phantasy,
genetic continuity principle

Introduction2
The analysis of a 6-year-old girl known as Erna, which Klein carried out in Berlin, had
without doubt a decisive in uence on her theories. We consider Ernas case as a main part
of the context of discovering her theories on such important issues as transference, envy,
psychotic mechanisms, unconscious phantasy and the genetic continuity principle. It was
a markedly intense analysis, in which the two protagonists worked deeply and seriously.
Erna recognised her dif culties and collaborated in trying to resolve them.
Corresponding author.
This paper was presented at the 41st IPAC (Santiago de Chile, 1999), in which the panel included Claudia Frank and
Robert Caper.
1
2

2003 Institute of Psychoanalysis

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There is a certain amount of contradictory data on the course of this analysis. The
Spanish edition of The psycho-analysis of children (1987) states that Ernas treatment
took 575 hours, and developed over 30 months; the English edition says the same (1975,
pp. 512); the German edition (1932), meanwhile, shortens the duration of the analysis
to 27 months. It is worthwhile mentioning that, according to Frank (1998), the analysis
took place on a six-days-a-week basis.
Later, in her work on play technique, Klein (1953)3 con rms this information, adding
that she analysed Erna between 1924 and 1926. This all leads us to assume, then, that the
analysis began in the early months of 1924, speci cally in January according to Frank and
Weiss (1996), and that the two and a half years were completed in mid-1926 when it was
interrupted, according to Klein, for external reasons. It would be feasible to presume that
Kleins move to London in September 1926 was the cause of the interruption, but there is
no con rmation of this. The documentation consulted by Frank and Weiss indicates that
Erna stopped appearing in her analysts clinical register in April, which is ve months
before Kleins move.
When she took charge of Erna, Klein had already mastered her play technique, which
had been created in Hungary and initiated with Rita in Berlin in the spring of 1923. Shortly
after this she applied it to Inge, Trude, Ruth and Peter. Petot (1982, 1991) rightly points at
Rita as Kleins star case; but Erna is not far behind. The two cases complement one another;
in the former she discovers early neurosis, in the latter infantile psychosis. We believe that
her experience with Erna was crucial for Klein, not only because she says so herself in her
1953 essay, but also because of the place this case occupies in her work.
Klein presented this case for the rst time at the First Congress of German
Psychoanalysts, which took place in Wrzburg in October 1924. She extended and
modi ed it to include it in the papers she wrote in London in 1925 on child psychoanalytic
technique, and used it as her main example in her excellent essay Personi cation in the
play of children (1929). Later, in 1932, she incorporated this into The psycho-analysis of
children as chapter 3: An obsessional neurosis in a six-year-old girl. It is worth stating that
Erna rst appears in Kleins written work in The psychological principles of early analysis
(1926), and shortly after this in the British Psychoanalytic Societys Symposium on childanalysis (Klein, 1927). References to Erna can also be found in other writings.
At the end of the Wrzburg presentation, entitled From the analysis of an obsessional
neurosis in a six-year-old girl (Klein, 1932) the usually temperate Abraham could not
contain his enthusiasm and exclaimed that the future of psychoanalysis depended on play
technique, a comment which had a huge effect on his disciple and analysand.
In November 1925, some months after the London presentation, when the analysis
was reaching the two-year mark, Klein summarised the treatment on a handwritten sheet,
which Frank and Weiss (1996) dug out of the archives. Klein found that her patient had
improved, with most of the symptoms clearing up. The analysis continued ve months
after she wrote this summary. Based on this information, the analysis lasted two years
and four months in total (January 1924April 1926).
The psycho-analytic play technique:Its history and signi cance was read on 12 February 1953, at the Royal MedicoPsychological Association, and later headed New directions in psycho-analysis, a book written by Melanie Klein, Paula
Heimann and Roger Money-Kyrle, published in London by Tavistock Publications Ltd. in 1955, and in New York two
years later. Ten years after its rst appearance it was translated into Spanish, in Buenos Aires (1965).
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We know a little more about Erna from the writings of Nelly Wolffheim (1930,
1974), the director of the kindergarten she attended in Berlin who was also Kleins
friend and secretary. When Wolffheim came to London as a refugee in 1939, eeing from
persecution by the Nazis, she was helped by Klein who also arranged for her to meet
Erna. By that time Erna was about 21 and was preparing for her crossing of the Atlantic
towards Australia with her anc, according to Grosskurths (1986) well-informed book.
From Australia or New Zealand, Erna moved to Chile where she married a talented
painter who eventually committed suicide. According to certain sources, for instance
Ganzaran (1999), Erna was also a painter and made some exhibits in Europe, but was
never appreciated in Chile. On the other hand, Eleonora Casaula, a distinguished Chilean
psychoanalyst who researched Ernas life in Chile at our request, says that she was no
painter at all, but devoted her entire life to accompanying and admiring her husband
(Casaula de Coloma, 1999, personal communication).
According to data obtained by Eleonora, Erna died suddenly in unclear circumstances,
which made many psychoanalysts of that time suspect a suicide. What we know for sure,
following the same source, is that her husband committed suicide two or three days later.
The dramatic story that Eleonora collected from a friend of the family was that, in the
midst of a family gathering, Ernas husband left the room on a conventional pretext and
a moment later the shot was heard that put an end to his life.
We do not know the precise date when Erna arrived in Chile, but we do know
that she did it in search of her mothers comfort because she felt very depressed.
We also know that Erna sought analysis in Santiago in 1966 with a very competent
psychoanalyst. The treatment lasted only for a short time and Erna tried again with
another prominent psychoanalyst, but with a similar outcome. To help gain a better
depiction of Erna and her family in Chile, it is worth noting that Ernas aunt was also
a painter and a refugee from the Nazis. She had analysis in Berlin with Karl Abraham
and, when in Chile, psychoanalytic psychotherapy with Ganzaran between 1965 and
1969, with good results. At the end of it she presented her doctor with a painting by
herself (Ganzaran, 1999).
Klein became very involved in the analysis of this child who pleaded that Theres
something about life I dont like, and had high levels of con ict with oedipal parents,
sphincter-training and her mothers breast. Klein analysed all these subjects in the
transference, with genetic references to development and originary con icts. At the same
time she noticed that Ernas contact with her parents and the surrounding world was
extremely distorted. A more objective appraisal could only be achieved after a strenuous
and persistent analysis of her anxiety- lled extravagant phantasies.
Writing about her, Klein says that this girl, who was very ill, had con rmed what
she had observed with Rita and Trude: the internalisation of an attacked and therefore
frightening motherthe harsh superego (1953, p. 135); this had taught her much
about the speci c details of such internalisation and about the phantasies and impulses
underlying paranoid and manic-depressive anxieties; that is, what would later become
the theory of the schizoid-paranoid and depressive positions. Erna made Klein also
understand the oral and anal nature of the processes of introjection and projection and,
consequently, the way in which internal persecution is set up, which in turn in uences
relations with objects in the external world. The material of the ea shows clearly that

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the persecutor in paranoia is the faecal penis, as Abraham says in his 1924 paper, in
agreement with the ideas of Dutch writers Strcke (1919) and van Ophuijsen (1920).
Ernas very overt and intense feelings of envy allowed Klein to realise that there
was a close link between oral sadism and the mothers breast, which anticipates the
theory of primary envy of 1957. It also con rmed her idea that pre-genital impulses
intermingle with the beginning of the Oedipus complex, as she later described during
the 1927 Innsbruck Congress (1928). Another nding derived from Ernas analysis is the
presence of psychotic anxieties masked by the infantile neurosis: with the progress of
treatment it could be seen that the obsessive neurosis was a true paranoia at the nucleus
of her pathology, linked to the negative Oedipus complex and homosexuality.
In Ernas case, therefore, we can see the seeds of the main ideas of Kleins
revolutionary psychoanalytic contribution.
The transference in Ernas analysis
Klein wrote only one article dealing speci cally with the transference in all her work,
which is The origins of transference (1952), presented at the 1951 Amsterdam
Congress and published in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis the following
year. However, her clinical-theoretical work on the transference rst appears early in her
work, so that by 1952 it had already covered more than thirty years.
In that article Klein attaches universal value to transference phenomena, stating that
they occur in all kinds of human relations and throughout life. She does, however, make
it clear that she is going to focus speci cally on the transference in psychoanalysis.
When the analytic process begins to open paths into the unconscious, the analysands
need to transfer experiences, object relations and primitive emotions increases. This all tends
to be concentrated in the person of the analyst. In this way the patient deals with his con icts
and anxieties using the same mechanisms he used originally. The transference originates
in the processes that determine object relations in the rst stages of developmentearly
transference(Etchegoyen, 1981). Processes of introjection establish a basis for relations
with the internal object, just as those of projection are the link to external ones, in a constant
interplay between these true architects of mental life, as Heimann called them in her famous
article on introjection and projection in early infancy (1943).4
In 1952, Klein mentions the mechanism of personi cation, a process that is based
on dissociation and projection, during which the ego manages to mitigate the anxiety
provoked by the internal con ict between the impulses of the id and the ego, placing
these anxiety-provoking internal images in the analyst. Here then, we see the realisation
of something postulated by Klein in 1929 when she stated that, just as this mechanism
operates in childrens play, so it is also the basis for the phenomenon of transference, by
externalising con ict in the person of the analyst.
We are convinced that the Kleinian idea of transference is centred on the relation with
the internal object. This is why a child arrives at his analysis in a transference relationship
Some aspects of the role of introjection and projection in early development was read at the British Society on
23 June 1943. It was the second piece of work presented in the Controversial discussions (King and Steiner, 1991)
and discussion of it included a number of meetings until November 1943. With a slightly modi ed title (Certain
functions of introjection and projection in early infancy) this article appeared in Developments in psychoanalysis
(1952); however, Heimann decided not to include it in her collected works (1989).
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even with real objects in daily life. The childs attitude and behaviour are determined not
only by the behaviour of the parents, but also by an internal imago, a gure Klein de nes
as being halfway between the representation of the parents distorted by projection, and their
external image. The transference is therefore the application to a new object (the analyst)
of the model of relationship established with introjected objects.
When she presented the case at Wrzburg (1924) Klein was already in possession of
those elements that, in 1952, made up her conception of the transference. This would shape
Kleins nal theoretical structure, supported by notions of the relation with internal objects,
the externalisation of intrapsychic con ict, the theory of positions, the constant action of
unconscious phantasy and, of course, the key notion of projective identi cation.
The enthusiasm produced by a rereading of the case of Erna is striking when we try
to follow Klein in her work with such a dif cult, ill patient, with such a high level of
suffering and simultaneously so clearly disposed to the transference relationship. Erna
certainly found a receptive analyst, one with an exceptional capacity for observation
and improvisation. It is possible to follow this in Kleins contact with the patient, which
helped her with the theoretical ideas she already had and, at the same time, faced her with
new enquiries. It is exciting to accompany her through her reasoning about a technique
she had just created, trying to remain faithful to Freudian doctrine and, at the same time,
creating new technical devices at every step.
In Ernas analysis the transference is overwhelmingly forceful and present. It could
be said that the experience of the transference relationship imposed itself so vividly that
the theory arose naturally from it. If does not seem far-fetched to assume that the whole
Kleinian construct was built up from her experience in the transference with her young
patients around the nineteen twenties.
It is interesting to look more carefully at the aspect of personi cation, in the girls
play as well as in the transference relation. We only need to mention Ernas playing at
being the mother of a baby, with whom she was affectionate while it was small, looking
after it, cleaning it and forgiving it for being dirty. Klein assumes that the patient is
using play to express her phantasy that she was only loved when she was small. In this
same game, older children were ill treated by demons that then killed them. In another
passage, Erna plays at being a girl who has got herself dirty and Klein has to tell her off,
after which Erna becomes rude, dirties herself and vomits the bad food the analyst has
given her. The personi cation is evident in this game in which Erna makes the analyst
play the part of a reprimanding superego gure. It is also possible that the vomiting was
a response to the way in which Erna received the analysts interpretive activity, although
this does not appear explicitly in the article.
Another passage that lends itself to a consideration of the effect on Erna of
interpretation is the above-mentioned material of the ea that was black and yellow
mixed. Klein interprets that dangerous and poisonous faeces are coming out of her
own anus and are opening up a path inside Erna and hurting her. In the same way as the
vomit may be understood as a way of rejecting the interpretation, there seems to be in
this material a highly persecutory phantasy of the transference interpretation as entering
her anus in a rapelike manner. Frank (1998) makes an interesting contribution on the way
Ernas intense con icts play an important part in the countertransference. This seems to
be in agreement with our points of view. Comparing Kleins notes with her published

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papers, Frank shows us that the analyst could not always account for her dif cult patients
material. This was especially so when Ernas epistemophylic drive came to the fore, that
is, when Erna demands interpretations from Klein while, at the same time, she attacks
Kleins knowledge and tries to put herself in the analysts place. Even though Klein did
not write on countertransference as a technical instrument, this concept was eventually
developed by Heimann in London (1950) and Racker in Buenos Aires (1948, 1960).
In the rst game in her analysis, Erna takes a little toy car and pushes it towards her
analyst, saying that she has come to fetch her. She immediately puts a toy woman in the
car and adds a toy man. She makes them kiss, drags them all over the place and places
another toy man in another car, which crashes into the rst, killing its occupants, which
she then roasts and eats. In this rst game it is easy to see Ernas closeness to the analyst
and the immediate display of an unconscious phantasy of a violent primal scene, with
different con gurations. Erna encounters an analyst capable of interested attention and
containment, thus providing an adequate framework to deal with the girls violence.
There is an extremely regressive moment where Erna sucks the engine; Klein
interprets this as a concrete incorporation of the combined object, the parents in
intercourse. Klein also describes another moment of a session invaded by early sadistic
phantasies. This can be seen when the girl cuts out paper, saying that it is mince-meat
and that there is blood coming out of the paper, adding immediately afterwards that she
feels physically unwell. This scene, like the one of the eye-salad or that in which she said
that she cut fringes in Kleins nose, can be seen as displays of the primitive phantasies
expressed by Erna at all possible levels, in a range which runs from playing to being
physically unwell, as a way of showing the dif culty in mentalising her experiences.
It was not by chance that Klein said that her work with Erna taught her very much
about the structure of infantile psychosis. It is with this experience in the background
that we can see her working with her patient Dick (Klein, 1930).
The discovery of envy
From Freud onwards, numerous authors have referred to the matter of envy, but Klein
was the rst to locate this concept at the centre of her psychoanalytic theory.
As we suggested in the introduction, the overt and intense envy displayed by Erna
in her analysis was the empirical basis for the concept of envy that was to be theorised
de nitively in 1957. The rst reference made by Klein to envy is in her paper presented
in 1924, some ten months into Ernas analysis, which anticipates chapter 3 of The
psycho-analysis of children (1932). In this work Klein describes the profound effect
of envy on Ernas development, both in her psychopathology and in the formation of
her character. She even states that this envy proved to be the central point of Ernas
neurosis (p. 56, my italics).
Klein ventures that Ernas compulsive greedas she observes it in the consulting
roomgoes back to the oral envy that the girl had felt towards the primal scene.
However, although she does refer explicitly to the primal scene, she nds that the childs
most acute anxiety is linked to sadistic impulses and phantasies relating to her mother.
The course of the game in which she takes cream voraciously from the tap, which is
transformed into torn bits of paper, sh for sale, representing the fathers penis, and in

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turn babies and faeces, could already be understood as a degradation of milk into faeces
by the setting off of an envious attack. Behind the enormous admiration Erna felt for
her mother, Klein also discovered a component of envy. She establishes an interesting
relationship between admiration and envy, which has not been developed theoretically
in her later work. Admiration connected with envy produces feelings of distress, as from
this point of view all the admirable characteristics of the mother have no purpose for
the girl except to provoke her envy and hurt her feelings. This can be seen clearly in the
games in which Erna, identifying with her mother, is the admired queen.
Although Klein emphasises the malevolent meanings Erna attributes to her mothers
behaviour, she also stresses the type of link fantasised in the primal scene. She suggests that
the envy is oral because coitus is conceived as being oral: Erna fantasised that in coitus her
mother incorporated the fathers penis and semen, and that her father in turn incorporated
her mothers breasts and milk. Klein maintains that this phantasy forms the basis for the
hatred5 Erna feels for her parents who gratify each other, both genitally and orally.
There are some parts of this paper in which oral envy, found in the framework of
the early Oedipus complex, is not distinguished from jealousy and rivalry. Oral envy is
directed towards the oral and genital grati cation, which the girl assumes her parents
experience during coitus from which she feels excluded. Every sign of her mothers
feelings for her father are, for Erna, intended to make her feel jealous and to set the father
against his daughter as a way of stealing him from her. Thus, the father is merely a tool
for coitus and has importance only related to the motherdaughter relationship.6 The
value that Ernas father begins to have for her relates to her desire to be avenged on her
mother, to steal her contents (penis, babies, valuable faeces) and hurt her feelings. With
the progress of the analysis, and the changes that it produced in the girls instinctive life
and unconscious phantasy, love begins to play a part in this scene and also in Kleins
theory. Positive feelings towards her father become more genuine, and through these she
establishes a direct oedipal relationship.
In chapter 3, Klein again asserts the theory put forward in 1926, according to which
the process of weaning together with the childs wish to incorporate its fathers
penis and its feelings of envy and hatred towards its mother, sets the Oedipus complex
in motion (1932, p. 55, my italics). However, she adds, This envy is founded on the
childs early sexual theory that in copulation with the father the mother incorporates
and retains his penis (p. 55).
The feeling described by Klein referring to Erna seems predominantly to be one of
hatred; envy is inferred and conforms the basis of hostile feelings and attacks. Other
feelings are also described: admiration, rage, jealousy and love, although to the extent that
the latter is aimed at the father it is mentioned by Klein only temperately as feelings of a
positive nature. What is the content of the unconscious phantasy, which seems to sustain
the hostile feelings? (We all have our reasons, as a 14-year-old patient said, another
Erna perhaps.) The original phantasy would take the form of oral coitus excluding the
baby, but in the internal world the baby always participates in the primal scene, precisely
Hatred appears to be the predominant feeling, and the article details a number of sources.
When she was treating Erna, between 1924 and 1926, Klein had not yet developed the concept of the feminine
phase, but she had described it before 1932 in the article on early Oedipus (Klein, 1928). However, she does not refer
explicitly to this model in the book.
5
6

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through its feeling of exclusion. In Ernas play, the baby is forced to watch the primal
scene. But if, as Klein also says, the envy of the mother is based on the early theory
that, in intercourse, the mother takes in and retains the fathers penis, we can see that the
basic representation of this phantasy becomes a theory about the mother. The premise of
this theory is of a mother who contains everything, these contents including faeces and
babies as well as the fathers penis. Circular reasoning suggests that these contents are
desirable because the mother possesses them, they are valuable and are thus desirable to
the baby. This mother who is so complete seems to be a precursor of the inexhaustible
breast which has its origins not in hunger but in voraciousness, as stated in the theory of
envy formulated in 1957. A mother thus conceived is the premise for a fallacy that, in
attributing the completeness to a theft, provides a reason for the hatred and attack. This
theory may be the root of an ideology in human relations based on envythe blessing
of weaponswhich Klein had already begun to describe in her above-mentioned article
of 1929, when she detailed links between the ego and the superego.
Erna and the Wolf-Man
In one of the notes which accompany the account of this case, Klein underlines what she
calls an interesting analogy with the famous one of the Wolf-Man (Freud, 1918). As for
the important theoretical and technical problems that arise on this matter, some of which
are still being debated now, and mark divergences between different psychoanalytic
currents, we will have a brief look at the similarities and the differences, to see what
conclusions can be drawn from both. We might list the outstanding issues in those
debates quickly as follows: the primal scene, primal phantasy, unconscious phantasy,
phantasy and reality, castration, aprs-coup (Nachtrglichkeit or deferred action), the
principle of genetic continuity, early Oedipus, the transference etc. Aprs-coup and the
principle of genetic continuity will concern us particularly, as one of the most notorious
characteristics of the Kleinian approach manifested in this clinical account, is the fact
that at that time Klein was already dedicating herself actively to detecting the phantasies
present when things happened and to con rm their reconstruction through analysis of
the transference during therapy. As it is our wish to establish what role Erna and her
treatment played in the development of Kleinian theory, we will only discuss here those
aspects of Freuds case study that we deem important to this purpose.
The treatment of the Wolf-Man stretched from 1910 to 1914, at which point Freud
decided to interrupt it. The case study was written up shortly after this, but was not
published until 1918. In the meantime its contents had become especially relevant in
view of the controversies with Adler and, especially, with Jung. Freud (1918) maintains
not only that infantile sexuality exists, but also its effectiveness in generating neurosis
at an early age. Meanwhile, as we know from On the history of the psycho-analytic
movement (Freud, 1914), for Jung neurosis entails an escaping of current con icts and
a refuge in infantile phantasies, which therefore attain their importance retroactively
and, in addition, lack any sexual signi cance. On this matter, which really questions
the theory of the libido, there is no doubt that all Freuds followers closed ranks behind
him, notwithstanding the numerous variations in the ways of conceiving the vicissitudes
of sexuality and its importance for the generating of neurotic symptoms. However,

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concerning the problem of the age at which one can account for the existence of a psyche
capable of processingalthough in a rudimentary waythe awareness of the sexual
facts, aprs-coup somehow found a place in psychoanalytic theory.
It was surely Klein who introduced quite a different vision, a product of the
deepening of the analysis of young patients. Reading the case of Erna and other
examples in The psycho-analysis of children (1932), one is left in no doubt that, for
her, the theoretical recourse to aprs-coup, which had been the cornerstone of the
thought of other writers, was not necessary.
We consider that Kleinian theory, with its emphasis in phantasy life and early object
relations, can dispense with the concept of deferred action.
In the chapter of the case study dealing with the dream about the wolves and the
primal scene, we can follow Freuds going backwards and forwards on this subject. In
effect he says that a child aged 1 could have woken up to see his parents genitals and
understand what he was witnessing (intercourse) and its meaning, as well as the opposite,
that is, that understanding was deferred until the age of 4, to the time of the dream. It
was then that it became possible owing to his development, his sexual excitations,
and his sexual researches (1918, p. 37). Later on (pp. 445 and passim), when Freud
writes about the fragmentation of his patients sexual life and refers to the activation
of the scene (deliberately avoiding the use of the word recollection) he maintains that
this scene had lost nothing of its freshness between the ages of 1 and 4. We might ask
ourselves what qualities this scene must have had to retain its freshness, and also what
the relation is between deferred action and the acquisition of meaning as a function of
later developments. To complicate things further, Freud adds, We shall perhaps nd in
what follows reason to suppose that it produced certain effects even at the time of its
perception, that is, from the age of one and a half onwards (pp. 445). We also should
not forget that the child interrupted his parents sexual activity by defecating, which Freud
interprets as excitement linked to a conception of intercourse as an anal act. Together with
identi cation with the mother and a desire to be penetrated by the father, this would be
a clear expression of the above-mentioned fragmentation of the patients sexual life. If
this were the case, we could assume the presence of infantile sexual theories, which are
so effective that the effects they produce are immediate and not deferred. We should also
bear in mind that a notion akin to that of deferred action had already been examined in
Studies on hysteria (Breuer and Freud, 1895), but then the action was deferred in some
cases precisely as a function of the sexual meanings that were being repressed.
Freud de nitely seems to be trapped in a dilemma about the age at which a child
is capable of understanding the process and its signi cance, that is, the moment at
which knowledge acquires its pathogenic capacity. This question was not resolved
as it would have been had Freud opted for one of the two alternatives, and this only
serves to acknowledge the theoretical and practical obstacles which come with the
extending of the concept of sexuality to infancy and the dif culties resulting from
the recognition of early psychic life. Reading the case study, we can see how Freud
repeatedly mentions Nachtrglichkeit, while slipping in hints about the possibility of
the childs immediate understanding.
In the debate with Jung, Freud does mention primal phantasies, but does not put
them to suf ciently good use: on the one hand, he concedes to Jung that they are a

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phylogenic patrimony of humanity, but immediately maintains that he considers it a


methodological error to seize on a phylogenetic explanation before the ontogenetic
possibilities have been exhausted (1918, p. 97). Freud comes close to recognising
the presence of primal phantasies in the infantile mind, but fails to reach a different
solution to the problem by his interest in showing that, in the case studied, a scene
lived out in reality is what matters. This fact becomes striking if we remember that
around 1910 Freud was concerned with phantasy in a number of his works, and did
not only insist on their importance in psychic life but also on their explanatory value
faced with the real behaviour of the subject. Thus, we see that at other points in the
case study the difference between phantasy and reality is made relative, and it seems
an obvious thing to say that it is precisely by putting into a more precise perspective
the reality of the watched scene, in favour of admitting the presence of phantasies, that
the possibility to think somehow about an active infantile psyche at ages earlier than
usually assumed might nd a way.
Kleins descriptions of Erna show that, besides the similarities between the two cases,
there are crucial differences. This marks the beginning of a path that would lead Klein
far from some Freudian formulations, and this would cause her no small troubles.
Besides making explicit mention of the importance of constitutional factors, Klein
mentions two of them which are crucial to the eruption of the illness: a) not having
overcome weaning; and b) evident sexual pleasure arising from the cleaning of the
genitals and anus, between the ages of 6 and 9 months. The discreet way in which the
mother proceeded when she noticed this situation was experienced by Erna as a pattern
of seduction and frustration. This is where we nd the beginnings of a feeling of being
unwell, which would accompany her for the rest of her life, expressed as much in her
desire to be seduced as in her complaints whenever this happened. What is striking about
this description is not only the extremely early appearance of phantasy, but also the fact
that its consequences in later life could be traced through the analysis of the transference.
Here we can see the importance given by Klein to real facts, thus showing the relevance
that both facts and phantasy had in her work.
We will now see how the experience of the primal scene was combined with
constitutional factors to produce the complete development of the obsessional neurosis.
At the age of 2, and again at 3, Erna shared her parents room during summer holidays
and had occasion to witness intercourse. The effects of these experiences were not only
observable in analysis, but were also established directly by external evidence, in the
unfavourable change which was noticeable:
Analysis showed that the observation of intercourse had brought on her neurosis in its full
force. The sight of her parents copulating had enormously intensi ed her sense of frustration
and envy in relation to her parents and had raised to an extreme pitch her sadistic phantasies
and impulses against the sexual grati cation they were obtaining (1932, pp. 4950).

At the same point (p. 49), Klein describes how eighteen months after the nal
observation, that is, at the age of 5, Erna again shared her room with her parents during a
visit to her grandmothers, although on this occasion she did not witness any intercourse.
However, one morning she shocked her grandmother by saying, Daddy got into bed
with Mummy and wiggle-woggled with her. Klein continues stating that the analysis

ERNA AND MELANIE KLEIN

1597

showed that the girl retained (though forgotten) what she had seen and heard at 2 and
again at 3, and, nally, eighteen months later,
a similar situation had excited in her an unconscious expectation of seeing the same events
and had stirred up her earlier experiences. In Ernas case, as in that of the Wolf-Man, the
primal scene had been completely repressed, but had been subsequently re-activated and
brought for a moment into consciousness (p. 49).

Besides some similarities, there are striking differences. For the point of view that
predominates in the Freudian case study, the scene acquires meaning retroactively, as a
function of development, of feelings of excitement and sexual enquiries, which arise later,
or more precisely at the time of the dream, coinciding with the Oedipus complex. Klein,
on the other hand, has no doubt that the facts observed already have a sexual signi cance
at the time of witnessing, and that no retrospective action is needed for this. On this matter
it becomes clear that Kleins theory attains in her book a high level of solidity and rigour,
and that Erna takes on an importance similar to that which Little Hans (Freud, 1909)
had for the Three essays on the theory of sexuality (Freud, 1905). Kleins understanding
and clinical handling of Ernas pathology are consistent with the hypothesis of object
relations existing from the very beginning of life, the enlargement of infantile sexuality
to include the early stages of Oedipus complex and the joint action of the instincts of
life and death. Klein also talks about a reactivation, but it is clear that it is a matter of
reactivating something already in existence, to the point that Erna imagines intercourse
when there was none, as a function of the unconscious hope of seeing it. Both cases
involve the recovery of a fact from the past, but the concepts of what remained in the
mind are different, as it is the understanding of the psyche in which this happens.
In her 1929 work, Klein establishes the correlation between personi cation and the
transference in Ernas play, both of which are founded in mechanisms of dissociation,
introjection and projection:
With a remarkably keen faculty of observation, Erna took in all the details of the actions
and motives of those around her, but in an unreal way she worked all these into her system
of being persecuted and spied on. For instance, she believed that intercourse between her
parents (which she imagined as invariably taking place whenever her parents were alone)
and all tokens of their mutual affection were mainly prompted by her mothers wish to
excite jealousy in her (Erna). She assumed the same motive in all her mothers pleasures,
and indeed in everybodys enjoyment, especially in the case of women They wore pretty
clothes to cause her chagrin, and so on. She was conscious that there was something peculiar
in these ideas of hers and took great care to keep them secret (p. 206).

If we recall that a little earlier Klein had referred to the displacement of psychic
con ict to the external world, we may nd an explanation for the episode that took
place at the age of 5 and shocked her grandmother. The vulnerable Erna had introjected
the primal scene and its (unreal) meaning in absolute detail, and through projection she
later converted her parents into the detested couple who are always seeking their own
grati cation in order to upset her. Here we can see how Klein, with a single masterstroke,
establishes, on the one hand, the universality of the transference phenomenon, precisely
as Freud always proposed it, while, on the other, she provides the necessary tools

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ELIZABETH TABAK DE BIANCHEDI , R. HORACIO ETCHEGOYEN ET AL.

to solve the riddle. It is important to point out that this marks the beginning of the
theoretical path, which would lead to her 1952 work (cf. section 2). Klein dealt not
only with constitutional factors and the real, experienced scene, but also with the reality
of phantasy and its consequences. We know that at times this was misunderstood to
be an exaltation of internal reality as being the ultimate psychic truth, undervaluing
external reality, a point of view that, in fact, can be discarded just by reading the clinical
material. Besides, her con dence in the possibility of analysing infantile psychoses,
and the value of doing so, is impressive.
Just as The psycho-analysis of children marks a stage in the consolidation of Kleins
theories, the Controversial discussions in London (King and Steiner, 1991) are an
extremely important milestone, inasmuch as the theoretical terms discussed so heatedly
in them were the building-blocks Klein used with strong determination to construct
what we may consider the core of her contributions to psychoanalysis. Her conception
of the positions was developed almost entirely between these two events, and it is
worth noting that what was discussed there sprang mainly from the cases of Erna and
other children Klein treated at the same time. We should mention here unconscious
phantasy, the functions of the mechanisms of introjection and projection, the genesis
of psychic con ict in early infancy and the principle of genetic continuity. The latter is
a theoretical concept, which is developed from the empirical material of sessions and
which provides a valid alternative to the problem of Nachtrglichkeit, which is none
other than the signifyingresignifying pair. This means to assume that both operate
continuously in the framework of the simultaneous processes of introjection and
projection and, therefore, that resigni cation will always fall upon something already
signi ed by virtue of its belonging to one or another aspect of psychic con ict. If this
is linked to Kleins vision of the transference, we can see that it opens up a particular
new path in analytic therapy. This is precisely the path Strachey (1969) followed
when describing the two moments of mutative interpretation, which can be considered
successive resigni cations.
Let us remember that Strachey de nes the rst moment of the mutative interpretation
as the one that shows the patient the current drive in the transference. The second
moment, which is the truly mutative one, points out, ostensively, the difference between
the projected archaic object and the analyst. This is what we understand as a part of the
dialectics of signi cationresigni cation.
Another interesting development that derived from this point of view is that promoted
many years later by Money-Kyrle (1968), who linked cognitive development with a
substitution of distorted images of the primal scene for others more in tune with reality.
Thus, and like Klein, we have seen the similarities between the two cases; but we have
given much importance to showing the differences, and their theoretical and technical
consequences. Though both patients suffered a lot and ended their lives unhappily, the
development of their clinical cases is different. What made Klein express herself in the
way she did? Did she perhaps face the same kind of dif culty with Freud as he did in
his discussions with Jung? He and she both gave rise to new and fascinating advances
in psychoanalysis. But it seems that the greatest dif culty lies in overcoming obstacles
to thought, especially when they incarnate in the persons of such formidable opponents,
and even more so when they are linked by such strong affective bonds. In any case,

ERNA AND MELANIE KLEIN

1599

there is no doubt left as to the greatness of the contributions both have given us, to their
intellectual and moral stature, and to the high esteem in which we hold them.
Reality, phantasy, hallucinations and learning disturbances
Every time she refers to Erna, Klein mentions that her serious neurosis concealed a
paranoia. In saying this, she is on the way to discovering what, in 1946, she will call
the paranoid-schizoid position, whose defensive mechanisms and anxieties are active
in the psychic life of small children, especially in the more severely disturbed ones
and, according to Frank and Weiss (1996), what Bion would later call the psychotic
part of the personality (1957).
In chapter 3 of The psycho-analysis of children, which is devoted almost entirely to
Ernas analysis, Klein tells us that the girlwho had just started schoolwas seriously
inhibited in learning and could be described as uneducable, as she did not t in with
the school or her classmates. She was, however, aware of her illness, that is, the nonpsychotic part of her personality in contact with internal and external reality was also
present and functioning.
In this section we would rst like to deal with Ernas contact with reality. Erna did
have this contact and, according to Klein, when it appeared it generated depressive
anxiety. (Klein does not call it thus, terming it depression, anger and guilt.) When
contact with internal and external reality became unbearable, Erna would transform it
into a day-dream situation, a pseudology of massive proportions, with megalomaniac
phantasies and masturbatory acts, which imply a huge detachment from reality (Klein,
1932). The analyst comments that, even after a long part of the analysis had taken
place, she had been unable to obtain any detailed information about her patients real
life: Ernas relations with reality were a faade for maintaining a ctional world which
shielded her from reality. 7
We will now try to discriminate between normality (contact with reality/realistic
judgement), neurosis (phantasy/play) and psychosis (hallucination/hallucinosis),
basically using Kleins case study, which Bion would later enrich.
Among the reasons for the initial consultation, Klein refers to symptoms that
included insomnia, obsessional activities, compulsive masturbation, phobia of thieves
and severe learning disturbances. Erna did, however, have enough contact with internal
and external reality to be able to recognise that she was ill and needed help. In this
sense, her pathology can be described as a severe neurosis and not a psychosis. From
the rst session of her analysis, Erna was able to use the play material to represent
her phantasies and could express herself verbally, usually in a comprehensible and
symbolic language, although at times also with neologisms. A psychotic or autistic
child would certainly not have been able to do this. On the other hand, at times her
play was transformed into concrete actings, such as biting her analyst or masturbating,
situations which are linked to action more than to thought, more to the symbolic
equation than to the real symbol (Klein, 1930; Segal, 1957).
Bion discusses this with reference to a psychotic patient; this patient talked about his real mother, but what he said
was so contradictory that I knew little more of his real mother than would be known by a person who had rid himself
of his ego in the way I have described as typical of the psychotic personality (1957, p. 55).
7

1600

ELIZABETH TABAK DE BIANCHEDI , R. HORACIO ETCHEGOYEN ET AL.

Erna often used projective identi cation,8 sometimes even excessively, and on these
occasions she received interpretations as reversed projective identi cations (Bion, 1957).
This can be seen in the example of the ea/piece of faeces which, according to Erna, opened
a path through her anus in a painful and rapelike mode, having come out of the anus of her
analyst. We can understand this phantasy as the violent return of what had been projected,
by the same method and along the same path (but now more violently) as that which she had
used in her own violent projective identi cations, anally expelled. As we know, this does
not allow for the reintrojection/working through of what has been projected, and therefore
interferes with or hinders learning through emotional experience.
From this perspective, we can say that Erna was a girl whose psychotic part of
the personality took charge of her functioning much of the time, both in her daily life
and during her analytic sessions. Her contact with reality was severely limited and,
when she did achieve it, it generated intense feelings of depression, bordering on
melancholia, and suicidal phantasies, as it precipitated a murderous superego. Her
phantasies, frequently represented in games, functioned more to keep her apart from
her internal and external reality than to symbolise them. When she was unable to do this
through playing, she acted it out in reality with her analyst. Her learning disturbances
are strongly linked with the dif culty/impossibility of symbolisation, which also
appeared in moments of excessive projective identi cation, close to hallucinosis;
creating her own world, which she felt was better than the real world or the one the
analyst showed her. Oral envy (later in Kleins work, primary envy) and greed, together
with the extreme anal sadism that Klein mentions many times in the case study, are
some of the factors that contribute to these dif culties.
From this point of view, Ernas future will be, to say the least, dif cult; the
acknowledgement of her psychotic functioning (with the attacks on objects and mental
functions it implies) could lead to the precipitation of a murderous superego, and thus to
extreme violence towards others (the psychoanalyst, if in treatment) or herself.
Undoubtedly, while she was treating Erna, Klein did not have suf cient theory to
understand these vicissitudesdetailed by Bion in his articles Differentiation of the
psychotic from the non-psychotic personalities (1957) and, especially, in On hallucination
(1958) and Chapter 10 of Transformations (1965). However, Kleins descriptions of this
analysis allow us today to interpret anew some of Ernas attitudes in her childhood and her
treatment, giving us a glimpse of the dif cult situations she might nd in the future.
Conclusions
The analysis of Erna, which Klein carried out in Berlin from 1924 to 1926, is a valuable
clinical document, and one which we do not hesitate to rank alongside the Wolf-Man
and others of Freuds great clinical case-histories.
Already mastering the play technique and with a number of extremely daring and
innovative ideas, Klein was in a position to approach Erna with impeccable style and
brilliant clinical technique. The young suffering patient, in turn, straight away understood
the help being offered her and made valuable contributions to the progress of her
This is another concept Klein had only just given this name in Notes on some schizoid mechanisms (1946), although
she had described it much earlier.
8

ERNA AND MELANIE KLEIN

1601

treatment. Erna offered Klein rich material for supporting her edgling theories and, at
the same time, for expanding them.
Our work has sought to show the ways in which this was a decisive experience, one
in which it is possible to trace the rich ideas that Klein would contribute crucially to the
progress of psychoanalysis.
Translations of summary
Erna und Melanie Klein. Erna war eines der Kinder, die von Melanie Klein mit Hilfe der erst kurz zuvor
von ihr selbst entwickelten Spieltechnik in Berlin behandelt wurden. Da Erna in Chile starb, hielten die
Autoren den IPV-Kongress in Santiago fr eine passende Gelegenheit, einen Beitrag zu Ehren Ernas und
vor allem Melanie Kleins zu prsentieren. Diese hat von dem sehr gestrten Kind viel gelernt, das ihr
spter als Grundlage ihrer sich entwickelnden Theorie diente. Der Beitrag untersucht biographische Daten,
die fr das Verstndnis des Falls wie auch der Theorien relevant sind, und analysiert im Anschlu daran
das Fallmaterial, um nachzuvollziehen, wie Klein die bertragung des Kindes entdeckte und handhabte,
sowie die unverblmten uerungen von Ha, Eifersucht und Neid mit ihren traurigen, auf starken
Verfolgungsgefhlen beruhenden Konsequenzen. Kleins Vergleich dieses Falles mit dem von Freud
behandelten Wolfsmann wird ebenfalls thematisiert, und zwar vor allem um zu zeigen, dass es weniger
hnlichkeiten gab, als Klein annahm, dass sie aber vielleicht eine theoretische Verlagerung einfhrte, die die
kleinianische Technik von einer Betonung der Nachtrglichkeit allmhlich zur vorrangigen Gewichtung
des Bedeutungs-Umdeutungs-Paares vernderte, das mit Stracheys Konzept der mutativen Deutung
vergleichbar ist. Abschlieend wird der Zusammenhang zwischen Kleins Verstndnis der stark psychotischen
Zge Ernas und der spteren Entwicklung ihrer Psychosentheorie untersucht.
Erna y Melanie Klein. Erna fue uno de los nios que trat Melanie Klein en Berln utilizando su recin
descubierta tcnica del juego. Dado que esta paciente de Klein muri exilada en Chile, los autores de este
trabajo consideraron oportuno presentarlo en el Congreso Internacional de la API en Santiago como homenaje
a Erna y, especialmente, a Melanie Klein. Klein aprendi mucho de esta criatura tan perturbada, aprendizaje
que le sera muy til ms tarde para sustentar el desarrollo de sus teoras. El trabajo explora algunos datos
biogr cos de relevancia para entender tanto el caso como el marco terico y analiza el material clnico para
seguir a Klein en el descubrimiento y el manejo de la transferencia de la nia, con sus fuertes manifestaciones
de odio, celos y envidia y las tristes consecuencias de fuertes sentimientos persecutorios. Se compara,
tambin, este caso de Klein con el de El hombre de los lobos, de Freud, para mostrar, sobre todo, que las
similitudes no son tantas como se suele creer, sealando un giro terico que guiara gradualmente la teora
y la tcnica de Klein desde la Nachtrglichkeit freudiana a la teora de la signi cacin-resigni cacion,
semejante al concepto de interpretacin mutativa de Strachey. El trabajo concluye que la comprensin de
los fuertes rasgos psicticos de Erna le permite a Klein sentar las bases de su teora de la psicosis y de las
posiciones esquizo-paranoide y depresiva.
Erna et Melanie Klein. Erma tait lune des enfants que Melanie Klein avait traits Berlin, en utilisant la
technique du jeu quelle venait de dcouvrir. Erna ayant ni ses jours au Chili, les auteurs ont considr que
le congrs de lIPA Santiago tait une occasion pour prsenter ce texte, la fois comme hommage Erna, et
plus particulirement Melanie Klein. Klein avait beaucoup appris de cette enfant trs perturbe, et avait utilis
cette connaissance plus tard pour tayer le dveloppement ultrieur de ses thories. Larticle explore quelques
donnes biographiques mme dclairer aussi bien le cas clinique que les thories, puis il poursuit lanalyse
du matriel clinique dans le but de suivre Klein dans la dcouverte et le maniement du transfert de lenfant
et dans les expressions brutales de haine, de jalousie et denvie avec leurs tristes consquences, savoir de
vifs sentiments de perscution. Les auteurs examinent galement la comparaison que fait Klein entre ce cas et
lHomme aux loups de Freud, surtout pour montrer que les similitudes ntaient pas aussi nombreuses que ce
quelle a prtendu ; sans doute, tait-elle en train dintroduire le tournant thorique qui a conduit la technique
kleinienne progressivement du Nachtrglichkeit au couple signi cation resigni cation , apparent au
concept dinterprtation mutative de Strachey. En n, les auteurs tudient les rapports entre la comprhension
des importants traits psychotiques dErna et les dveloppements ultrieurs de la thorie de la psychose.
Erna e Melanie Klein. Erna fu uno dei bambini sottoposti a trattamento da Melanie Klein a Berlino
impiegando la tecnica del gioco da lei appena scoperta. Poich Erna mor in Cile, gli autori hanno pensato
che il Convegno dellIpa a Santiago fosse una buona occasione per presentare un lavoro in omaggio a

1602

ELIZABETH TABAK DE BIANCHEDI , R. HORACIO ETCHEGOYEN ET AL.

Erna e soprattutto a Melanie Klein. Melanie Klein impar molto da quella bambina assai disturbata, che in
seguito utilizz per sostenere levoluzione in corso delle proprie teorie. Larticolo prende in esame alcuni
dati biogra ci rilevanti per la comprensione sia del caso sia delle teorie, proseguendo poi con lanalisi del
materiale clinico per seguire la Klein nella scoperta e nel trattamento del transfert della bambina, con le sue
forti manifestazioni di odio, gelosia e invidia e le tristi conseguenze di forti sensi di persecuzione e di colpa.
anche preso in considerazione il confronto fatto dalla Klein tra questo caso e quello dellUomo dei lupi
di Freud per mostrare soprattutto che le rassomiglianze non sono tante come si suole credere, segnalando la
svolta teorica che port gradualmente la tecnica kleinana a discostarsi dalla Nachtrglichkeit freudiana in
direzione della coppia signi cazione-risigni cazione, af ne alla concezione di Strachey di interpretazione
mutativa. Sono in ne studiati la comprensione dei forti tratti psicotici di Erna e i suoi collegamenti con i
successivi sviluppi della teoria della psicosi e delle posizioni schizo-paranoide e depressiva.

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