Self-Love and Thomas Hardy: In his Lost Mother of Infancy is a pre-Oedipal Mother, the Muse Behind all Creativity – VIII

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Intrigued by an interpretation of The French Lieutenant’s Woman published by the Yale psychoanalyst Gilbert Rose, Fowles posits in Hardy and other novelists an unconscious drive toward the unobtainable. Fowles accepts Rose’s thesis that the wish to re-establish unity with the lost mother of infancy is an important motive behind the creative impulse. Behind Tryphena Sparks and the other incarnations of the Well Beloved, including Sue Bridehead and Tess, both of whom Fowles calls in The French Lieutenant’s Woman “pure Tryphena in spirit,” lies the pre-Oedipal mother, the muse behind all creativity, opines Prof. Ashoka, in the eighth and final part of his erudite research, in the weekly column. A Different Truths exclusive.

Hardy’s little-known novel The Well-Beloved (1897) powerfully confirms the narcissistic infatuation to which his characters are particularly vulnerable.  Hardy wrote The Well-Beloved, subtitled “A Sketch of a Temperament,” at about the same time he was working on Jude the Obscure. Both novels explore spectral love. Critics generally agree that The Well Beloved is Hardy’s most autobiographical novel in its revelations of his unhappy love life. Jocelyn Pierston is a sculptor, not a writer, but like Hardy, he is blessed and cursed by a seemingly endless series of blinding infatuations that end in bitter disillusionment. Pierston tires of his lovers as soon as he knows them well, and only one aspect of his life remains constant: the instability of his love. Unusually introspective, Pierston meticulously analyses his infatuations, lamenting the havoc they wreak upon his life:

To see the creature who has hitherto been perfect, divine, lose under your very gaze the divinity which has informed her, grow commonplace, turn from flame to ashes, from a radiant vitality to a relic, is anything but a pleasure for any man, and has been nothing less than a racking spectacle to my sight. Each mournful emptied shape stands ever after like the nest of some beautiful bird from which the inhabitant has departed and left it to fill with snow.

Pierston’s pursuit of the Beloved One, as he calls his elusive love object, suggests defensive idealisation, concealing hostility toward women. “Each shape, or embodiment, has been a temporary residence only, which she has entered, lived in a while, and made her exit from, leaving the substance, so far as I have been concerned, a corpse, worse luck!” Like Narcissus, Pierston realises that he is doomed to pursue phantoms who vanish upon close approach. Poetic justice catches up with him when he finds himself infatuated hopelessly with a young woman (the daughter of the woman he rejected earlier) who, driven by the same psychology, tantalises and finally spurns him. Pierston is in love with the idea of love, as Sue Bridehead is. Indeed, Sue’s revealing admission, that sometimes her love of being loved gets the better of her conscience, causing her to treat a man cruelly, applies equally well to Pierston. Both Sue and Pierston fail in their reparative efforts to undo the harm they have caused others.

In an illuminating article on The Well Beloved that reveals as much about the creative source of his own fiction as it does about Hardy’s, John Fowles has identified the real object of Pierston’s hopeless quest.  “The vanished young mother of infancy is quite as elusive as the Well Beloved— indeed, she is The Well Beloved, although the adult writer transmogrifies her according to the pleasures and fancies that have in the older man superseded the nameless ones of the child—most commonly into a young female sexual ideal of some kind, to be attained or pursued (or denied) by himself hiding behind some male character.” Intrigued by an interpretation of The French Lieutenant’s Woman published by the Yale psychoanalyst Gilbert Rose, Fowles posits in Hardy and other novelists an unconscious drive toward the unobtainable. Fowles accepts Rose’s thesis that the wish to re-establish unity with the lost mother of infancy is an important motive behind the creative impulse. Behind Tryphena Sparks and the other incarnations of the Well Beloved, including Sue Bridehead and Tess, both of whom Fowles calls in The French Lieutenant’s Woman “pure Tryphena in spirit,” lies the pre-Oedipal mother, the muse behind all creativity.

Yet Hardy’s maternal muse was profoundly paradoxical, both creative and destructive. Jude the Obscure remains his bleakest novel, arguably the bleakest in English literature. Of all Hardy’s great tragic novels, Jude the Obscure alone lacks convincing affirmation. Despite Hardy’s sympathy toward Jude and Sue, he casts them into an indifferent world and then shows, in a novel at once beautiful and terrible, the tragedy of their self-extinction. “How cruel you are,” Swinburne wrote to Hardy in an otherwise glowing review the novelist cites in his biography. “Only the great and awful father of Pierrette and L’Enfant Maudit was ever so merciless to his children”. Speaking like a disillusioned parent renouncing further children, Hardy observes, in the “Postscript to the Preface” to Jude the Obscure, that the experience of writing the book cured him completely of the wish to write additional novels. The novel provoked so much hostility, in fact, that he later referred to a book burning incident in which the real object of the flames was the novelist himself. It may seem extravagant to compare Father Time’s infanticide to Hardy’s decision to silence forever his fictional voice. The fact remains, however, that although Hardy published a voluminous amount of poetry in the remaining thirty-three years of his life, he repudiated the art of fiction, perhaps believing, like Father Time, that the world would be better off without him. In that decision lies the greatest loss of all.

(Concluded)

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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Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad is a physician /psychiatrist holding doctorates in pharmacology, history and philosophy plus a higher doctorate. He is also a qualified barrister and geneticist. He is a regular columnist in several newspapers, has published over 100 books and has been described by the Cambridge News as the ‘most educationally qualified in the world’.