Mrs Klein

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By | From the Collections

Melanie Klein with grandson, 1938. Wellcome Images no. L0018195.

Melanie Klein with grandson, 1938. Wellcome Images no. L0018195.

The play Mrs Klein by Nicholas Wright is currently enjoying a well-reviewed revival at the Almeida Theatre, London.

The play had its first production at the National Theatre in 1988. Two years previously Phyllis Grosskurth’s somewhat controversial biography of Klein had appeared, based on extensive research in the Klein papers while these were still in the care of Hanna Segal of the Melanie Klein Trust.

The Melanie Klein Trust gave the Klein papers to what was then the Contemporary Medical Archives Centre at the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine in 1984. These were catalogued (the catalogue is now available online), and in 1987 Nicholas Wright did research on them for his play. They were also consulted by designers for both the original and the current productions. Since the receipt of the first and largest batch of her papers a number of additions have been added, including family letters and other papers from her grandchildren.

The Klein papers reflect her life and her career as an influential psychoanalyst. They include notes on the cases she saw, both from her early years of practice in Germany and the later part of her career in England – it is interesting to see how quickly she made the shift from keeping notes in German to keeping them in English. The collection also holds manuscripts of her books and articles, drafts of articles, and unpublished lectures, notes on analytical technique and theory, appointment diaries, a brief autobiographical memoir, press cuttings, and numerous photographs of Klein, her family, and colleagues, also of the small toys that she used for child analysis (as well as numerous original drawings by child patients).

Small toys used in Klein's child analysis. Wellcome Images no. L0019105

Small toys used in Klein’s child analysis. Wellcome Images no. L0019105

There is a significant group of files concerning the Controversial Discussions within the British Psycho-Analytical Society, in which Klein and her daughter Melitta Schmideberg, also a psychoanalyst, were ranged on opposite sides: the play centres on the tensions between mother and daughter at an earlier phase of their lives. Apart from this episode, however, there is surprisingly little surviving correspondence between Klein and her professional associates.

Besides her own papers, there is material relating to Klein in Archives and Manuscripts among the papers of John Bowlby and Donald Winnicott, both of whom were analysed by her, the papers of S. H. Foulkes, and those of Michael Fordham. Her published works may be found on the Library shelves.

Lesley Hall

Lesley Hall

Lesley Hall, FRHistS, PhD, DipAA, has been an archivist at the Wellcome since 1979. She has published extensively on the history of sexuality and gender in Britain in the 19th and 20th centuries, given many talks and conference presentations, and featured on radio and television. Further details can be found at her website.

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