Karl Abraham: Life and Work, a Biography

Author(s) : Anna Bentinck van Schoonheten

Part of The History of Psychoanalysis Series - more in this series

Karl Abraham: Life and Work, a Biography

Book Details

  • Publisher : Karnac Books
  • Published : December 2015
  • Cover : Hardback
  • Pages : 472
  • Category :
    Psychoanalysis
  • Catalogue No : 35872
  • ISBN 13 : 9781782201847
  • ISBN 10 : 178220184X
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Karl Abraham: Life and Work, a Biography is the first complete biography of Karl Abraham (1877-1925), a close colleague and friend of Sigmund Freud and one of the most important pioneers of psychoanalysis.

Abraham was the first psychoanalyst in Germany, where he brought about a great flourishing of psychoanalysis. His clinical-theoretical contributions quickly became classics that have powerfully influenced the development of psychoanalytic theory. He was the first to develop a psychoanalytic theory of depression, several years before the publication of Freud’s 'Mourning and Melancholia'. Abraham was both supervisor and analyst to Melanie Klein, on whose theoretical work he had a profound influence.

In the 1920s Abraham was the most important analyst of the psychoanalytic movement after Freud. He was president of the International Psychoanalytical Association, president of the Berlin Psychoanalytic Society, and a member of the "secret committee". He was involved in a number of major conflicts of the early years of psychoanalysis, and after his death he was quite often blamed for them. As a consequence, Abraham, so highly valued during his life, was frequently reviled after his death.

Reviews and Endorsements

‘This new biography of Karl Abraham draws on impressive research into his personal life; his important institutional role in the early psychoanalytic movement as the leader of the Berlin Psychoanalytic Society and as a member of the "secret committee" formed after Freud’s split with Jung; and his role in stimulating the theoretical contributions of his notable analysands, among them Karen Horney, Helene Deutsch, Edward Glover and Melanie Klein. The valuable clinical descriptions of the findings and personal history that inspired Abraham’s major theoretical contributions to psychoanalytic theory, including the origins of depressive illness in the oral stage of libidinal development, re-introduces psychoanalysts to the creativity of this early psychoanalyst.’
— Nellie L. Thompson, New York Psychoanalytic Society and Institute

‘This engagingly readable life of Karl Abraham contributes much to the history of psychoanalysis. It is certain to take a prominent and lasting place among the biographies of the founders and early practitioners of the discipline.’
— Deirdre Bair, winner of the National Book Award for Autobiography/Biography

‘This is a very clear and readable account of Karl Abraham’s career, in the context of the development of psychoanalysis in the first quarter of the century. Abraham as the pointer (if not the guide) towards object-relations psychoanalysis is profoundly important, and the development of Berlin under his leadership resulted in an uncomfortable rivalry with Vienna, erupting in the well-known affair of the Pabst film. This book is both scholarly and readable: a unique achievement that tells us about a psychoanalytic trajectory that never quite happened. That line of thinking was abruptly stopped because of Abraham’s tragically early death, and taken up by others, notably Melanie Klein.’
— Professor R. D. Hinshelwood, Professor in the Centre for Psychoanalytic Studies at the University of Essex

‘It is fitting that another “daughter” of Karl Abraham should have taken up what his own daughter Hilda called her “unfinished biography”. Anna Bentinck van Schoonheten’s study of this crucial figure is a labour of love. Previous historians, while always depicting him as the most reliable and dependable member of Freud’s inner circle, have generally had difficulty in bringing his character to life. The author’s devotion to her subject has enabled her to do just that. This is important not simply because it does justice to him as a man, but above all because it offers us a new insight into the personal and political dynamics of the secret committee, thus contributing towards a more nuanced understanding of the early years of the psychoanalytical movement.’
— Michael Molnar, former Director of the Freud Museum, London, author of Looking Through Freud’s Photos, and editor and translator of The Diary of Sigmund Freud: 1929-1939

About the Author(s)

Anna Bentinck van Schoonheten, PhD, is a psychoanalyst in private practice in Amsterdam. She is a member of the Dutch Psychoanalytic Group, the Dutch Psychoanalytic Society and the IPA, and President of the Board of the Dutch Journal of Psychoanalysis. She specializes in the early history of psychoanalysis, with a special focus on Freud and the secret committee. She has conducted extensive research on Karl Abraham and the role of the secret committee in the development of psychoanalytic theory.

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