The Erotic Motive in Literature

The Erotic Motive in Literature
Title: The Erotic Motive in Literature
Release Date: 2018-03-18
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
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New York        1919

Copyright, 1919,
By Boni & Liveright, Inc.

First printing, May, 1919

Second printing, July, 1919

Printed in the U. S. A.



I Introduction 1
II Eroticism in Life 20
III Dreams and Literature 31
IV The Œdipus Complex and the Brother and Sister Complex 51
V The Author Always Unconsciously in His Work 63
VI Unconscious Consolatory Mechanisms in Authorship 83
VII Projection, Villain Portrayals and Cynicism as Work of the Unconscious 97
VIII Genius as a Product of the Unconscious 107
IX Literary Emotions and the Neuroses 118
X The Infantile Love Life of the Author and its Sublimations 132
XI Sexual Symbolism in Literature 150
XII Cannibalism: The Atreus Legend 172
XIII Psychoanalysis and Literary Criticism 179
XIV Keats' Personal Love Poems 199
XV Shelley's Personal Love Poems 209
XVI Psychoanalytic Study of Edgar Allan Poe 220
XVII The Ideas of Lafcadio Hearn 237
XVIII Conclusion 244





This work is an endeavour to apply some of the methodsof psychoanalysis to literature. It attempts to readclosely between the lines of an author's works. It appliessome principles in interpreting literature with ascrutiny hitherto scarcely deemed permissible. Onlysuch suggestions have been set down whose applicationhas been rendered fairly unimpeachable by science andexperience.

In studying literature thus, I aim to trace a writer'sbooks back to the outward and inner events of his lifeand to reveal his unconscious, or that part of his psychiclife of which he is unaware. I try to show that unsuspectedemotions of the writer have entered into hisliterary productions, that events he had apparently forgottenhave guided his pen. In every book there ismuch of the author's unconscious which can be discoveredby the critic and psychologist who apply a fewand well tested and infallible principles.

This unconscious is largely identical with the mentallove fantasies in our present and past life. Since theterms "unconscious" and "erotic" are almost synonymous,any serious study of literature which is concerned[2]with the unconscious must deal impartially with eroticism.

Every author reveals more than he intended. Worksof the imagination open up to the reader hidden vistasin man's inner life just as dreams do. As the psychoanalystrecognises that dreams are the realised repressedwishes of the unconscious, so the critic discovers inliterary performances ideal pictures inspired by pastrepressions in the authors' lives. And just as anxiety-dreamsspring largely from the anxieties of waking life,so literature describing human sorrows in general takesits cue from the personal griefs of the author.

A literary work is no longer regarded as a sort ofobjective product unrelated to its creator, written onlyby compliance with certain rules. It is a personal expressionand represents the whole man behind it. Hispresent and past have gone into the making of it andit records his secret aspirations and most intimate feelings;it is the outcropping of his struggles and disappointments.It is the outlet of his emotions, freely flowingforth even though he has sought to stem their flux.It dates from his apparently forgotten infantile life.

We know that a man's reading, his early education,his contact with the world, the fortunes and vicissitudesof his life, have all combined to influence his artisticwork. We have learned that hereditary influences, thenature of his relations to his parents, his infantile repressions,his youthful love affairs, his daily occupations,his physical powers or failings, enter into thecolouring and directing of his ideas and emotions, and willstamp any artistic product that he may undertake.Thus with a man's literary work before us and with afew clues, we are able to reconstruct his emotional andintellectual life, and guess with reasonable certainty at[3]many of the events in his career. George Brandes hasbeen able to build up a life of Shakespeare almost fromthe plays alone. As he said, if we have about forty-fiveworks by a writer, and we still cannot find out muchabout his life, it must be our own fault.

Again we may deduce what kind of literary workwould have been the result if there are given to us notonly the hereditary antecedents and biographical dataof an author, but a full account of his day dreams, ambitions,frailties, disillusionments, of his favourite reading,intellectual influences, love affairs and relations to hisparents, relatives and friends. I do not think it wouldbe difficult for us to deduce from the facts we have ofDante's life that he naturally would have given us awork of the nature of the Divine Comedy.

Literature is a personal voice the source of which canbe traced to the unconscious.

But an author draws not only on the past in his ownlife, but on the past psychic history of the human family.Unconscious race memories are revived by him in hiswriting; his productions are influenced by most primitiveideas and emotions, though he may not be awarewhat they are. Yet they emerge from his pen; forthe methods of thought and ways of feeling of our earlyancestors still rule us. Nor is the idea of unconsciousrace memories idle speculation or fanciful theorising.Just as surely as we carry in ourselves the physical marksof our forefathers of which each individual has millions,so undoubtedly we must have inherited their mentaland emotional characteristics. The manner and natureof the lives of those who preceded us have never beenentirely eliminated from our unconscious. We have eventhe most bestial instincts in a rudimentary stage, andthese are revived, to our surprise, not only in our dreams[4]but in our waking thoughts and also occasionally inour conduct. We carry the whole world's past underour skins. And there is a sediment of that primitivelife in many of our books, without the author beingaware of the fact.

Thus a deterministic influence prevails in literature.A book is not an accident. The nature of its contentsdepends not only on hereditary influences, nor,as Taine thought, on climate, country and environment,alone, but on the nature of the repressions the author'semotions have experienced. The impulses that createdit are largely unconscious, and the only conscious tracesin it are those in the art of composition. Hence theancient idea of poetic inspiration cannot be relegatedto limbo, for it plays a decided part in determining thepsychical features of the work. Inspiration finds its materialin the unconscious. When the writer is inspired,he is eager to express ideas and feelings that have beenformed by some event, though he cannot trace their origin,for he speaks out of the soul of a buried humanity.

There is no form or species of literature that maynot be interpreted by psychoanalytic methods. Be theauthor ever so objective, no matter how much he hassought to make his personality intangible and elusive,there are means, with the aid of clues, of opening upthe barred gates of his soul. Men like Flaubert andMerimée, who believed in the impersonal and objectivetheory of art and who strove deliberately to conceal theirpersonalities, failed in doing so. Their presence is revealedin their stories; they could not hold themselvesaloof. It is true we have been aided by external evidencein learning what methods they employed to renderthemselves impersonal; the real Merimée and Flaubert,however, were made to emerge by the help of their[5]published personal letters. It matters not whether theauthor writes realistic or romantic fiction, autobiographicalor historical tales, lyric or epic poems, dramas oressays, his unconscious is there, in some degree.

But in a field which is largely new, it is best to takethose works or species of writing where the existence ofthe unconscious does not elude our efforts to detect it.Therefore, much will be said in this volume of workswhere there is no question that the author is talking fromhis own experiences, in his own person, or where he isusing some character as a vehicle for his own point ofview. Such works include lyric poetry which is usuallythe personal expression of the love emotions of thesinger. Burns, Byron, Shelley, Keats and Swinburnehave left us records of their love affairs in their greatlyric poems. Most of these were inspired by frustrationof love, and were the results of actual experiences. Andthough much is said in them, other facts may be deduced.

It is also a fact that nearly every great novelist hasgiven us an intimate though disguised account of himselfin at least one novel (note David Copperfield andPendennis as examples), while other writers have drawnthemselves in almost every character they portrayed,Goethe and Byron being two instances. An author givesus the best insight into himself when he speaks franklyin his own person. His records are then intensely interestingand informative about his unconscious. Buteven if the author identifies himself with a fictitiouscharacter he speaks hardly less firmly.


Very important is the consideration of some of theliterature where authentic dreams or dreams having the[6]appearance of authenticity have been recorded. Theconnection between poetry and dreams has often beennoted. The poet projects an ideal and imaginary worldjust as the dreamer does. He builds utopias and paradisesand celestial cities. He sees visions and constructsallegories. I have interpreted, according to the methodsof Freud, some dream literature like Kipling's BrushwoodBoy and Gautier's Arria Marcella. These talesprove most astoundingly the correctness of Freud'stheories about dreams being the fulfilment in our sleepof unconscious wishes of our daily life.

A literary production, even if no dream is recordedtherein, is still a dream; that of the author. It representsthe fulfilment of his unconscious wishes, orregisters a complaint because they are not fulfilled. Likethe dream, it is formed of remnants of the past psychiclife of the author, and is coloured by recent events andimages. Freud in interpreting the dreams of his neuroticpatients, learns the substance, the manifest contentof the dream, as he calls it, and inquires about the eventsof the preceding days and he evokes all the associationswhich occur to the patients. He learns something oftheir lives and finally after a course of psychoanalytictreatment frequently cures them of their neuroses bymaking them aware of the unconscious repressions orfixations from which they suffer. These are removedand the resistances are broken down. As critics, wemay interpret a book in the same way. A literary workstands in the same relation to the author as thedream to the patient. The writer has, however, curedhimself of his emotional anxiety by giving vent to his feelingsin his book. He has been his own doctor. Thecritic may see how this has been accomplished and pointout the unconscious elements that the writer has brought[7]forth in his book out of his own soul. The critic, notbeing able, like the physician and his patient, to questionthe author in person, must avail himself, in additionto the internal evidence of the literary product itself, ofall the data that have been collected from the author'sconfessions and letters, from the accounts of friends,etc. After having studied these in connection with thewriting in question, he learns the author's unconscious.Shelley's Epipsychidion, for instance, is an autobiographicalpoem, Shelley's dream of love, and can be fully followedonly when the reader has acquainted himself withthe history of Shelley's marriages and love affairs.

I have interpreted a

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