To what extent did Hardy suffer narcissistic injuries as a consequence of erratic maternal care? Giordano notes that Hardy was plagued by feelings of low self-esteem, referring to himself on his forty-seventh birthday as “Thomas the Unworthy” (The Life of Thomas Hardy). Although we do not usually think of Hardy as a mother-fixated novelist, as we do of D. H. Lawrence, Gittings observes that he repeatedly fell in love with women (in particular, with several maternal cousins) who reminded him of his mother, says Prof. Ashoka, in the seventh part of his erudite research, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.
James W. Hamilton, a psychoanalyst, has suggested that the actual circumstances of Hardy’s birth burdened him “with profound guilt for having damaged and almost killed his mother,” as revealed in his first poem, “Discouragement.” An incident in Tess of the D’Urbervilles reveals a mother’s under-loving and over-loving tendencies. Hamilton speculates that Tess’s ambivalence toward her infant son, aptly named Sorrow (corresponding, perhaps, to the allegorical Father Time in Jude the Obscure), may well reflect Jemima Hardy’s feelings toward her own child. “When the infant had taken its fill,” Hardy writes in Tess of the D’Urbervilles, “the young mother sat it upright in her lap, and looking into the far distance dandled it with a gloomy indifference that was almost dislike; then all of a sudden she fell to violently kissing it some dozens of times, as if she could never leave off, the child crying at the vehemence of an onset which strangely combined passionateness with contempt.” Sorrow’s death, like Father Time’s, implicates both nature and nurture: “So passed away Sorrow the Undesired—that intrusive creature, that bastard gift of shameless Nature who respects not the social law.”
Hardy’s acknowledgement that the fictional portrait of Mrs. Yeobright in The Return of the Native was closely based upon his own mother is also revealing. Closely resembling Mrs. Morel in Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers, Mrs. Yeobright is an intimidating woman, alternating between moods of gentleness and anger. Like Paul Morel, Clym Yeobright is implicated in his mother’s death. Michael Millgate points out in his biography that while Jemima Hardy always commanded the unquestioning devotion of her children, she could be “cold in her manner, intolerant in her views, and tyrannical in her governance”. The same could be said about nearly all parents at one time or another, but Mrs. Yeobright, like Mrs. Morel, is particularly overbearing.
To what extent did Hardy suffer narcissistic injuries as a consequence of erratic maternal care? Giordano notes that Hardy was plagued by feelings of low self-esteem, referring to himself on his forty-seventh birthday as “Thomas the Unworthy” (The Life of Thomas Hardy). Although we do not usually think of Hardy as a mother-fixated novelist, as we do of D. H. Lawrence, Gittings observes that he repeatedly fell in love with women (in particular, with several maternal cousins) who reminded him of his mother. “More than most mother-fixed youths, Hardy was falling in love with his own mother over and over again, in a physical and consistent way that was a typical part of his almost literal-minded nature” (Young Thomas Hardy). Hardy’s attraction to his cousin, Tryphena Sparks, one of the chief sources of Sue Bridehead, has generated intense biographical speculation. Whatever actually happened between Hardy and his mysterious cousin, Jude and Sue reflect the novelist’s fascination with incestuous love and its elusive, forbidden nature. Hardy’s tragic heroes and heroines repeatedly find themselves pursuing the unobtainable. Like Narcissus, they discover the bittersweet quality of infatuation, ending their lives defeated and broken, unable to recover lost primal unity.
(To be continued)
This is an excerpt from Prof. Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad’s book, Self-Love in Literature. The book is dedicated to the Principal of Colvin Taluqdars’ College, the author’s boarding school, H.L. Dutt, one of the most respected figures in Indian secondary education and a teacher par excellence, who kindled many nascent literary instincts.
©Prof Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad
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