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Title: Dickens and Freud : a mutual encounter with the double
Author: Benjamin, Charles
Awarding Body: University of Stirling
Current Institution: University of Stirling
Date of Award: 2005
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Abstract:
Up to this point, the relationship between Charles Dickens and Sigmund Freud has been largely restricted to the application of Freud’s psychoanalytic theory to Dickens’ writing. Where it has extended beyond this, critics have made fleeting references to Freud’s reading of Dickens’ David Copperfleld, his identification with the hero of the novel, David, and his comparison of his father, Jacob Freud, to the father-figure Mr. Wilkins Micawber, whom Dickens modeled after his father, John Dickens. This thesis initially set out to examine the relationship between Dickens and Freud in greater depth. In so doing, what this thesis has achieved beyond its initial aim, is to demonstrate that Freud’s identification with Dickens, and Dickens’ semi-autobiographical character David Copperfleld can in part be traced back to their very similar childhood experiences of family poverty, of psychologically escaping from this poverty through literature, of finding it difficult to identify with their financially unsuccessful fathers, of being rejected by their mothers, Freud when he was three years old, and Dickens when he was twelve years old, and yet simultaneously identifying more strongly with their mothers. The thesis demonstrates that this familial relationship was reflected in Dickens’ and Freud’s unconscious minds as a weak castration threat posed by the father, which led to the repression rather than destruction of the Oedipus complex. Moreover, within their respective unconscious minds, the mother as object of desire was paralleled by the mother as castration threat, and the mother as super ego. This manifests in Dickens’ and Freud’s respective writing as the need to reconstruct an idealised double of the mother who cannot reject them. In so doing, they counter the real memory of being rejected by their mothers. At the same time, the thesis demonstrates how Dickens and Freud Ill repeatedly, and thus futilely, use their writing to reconstruct the castration threat which ideally should bring about the end of the Oedipus complex. As something of a secondary consequence, but important in illustrating this conflict between the need to fulfill and the need to destroy the Oedipus complex, the thesis also demonstrates that there are striking similarities between LG Moberly’s ‘Inexplicable’ and Charles Dickens’ David Copperfleld, similarities which are the possible cause of the uncanny feeling that Freud is left with after having read Moberly’s short story. The thesis also demonstrates that in the writing of Dickens and Freud, there can be found a specific form of double originating in the Oedipus complex and the child’s perceptual splitting of the mother into comforter and object of desire, the mother into castration threat and object of desire, and the father into protector and castrator. From this, it is argued that all forms of doubling can be traced back to the Oedipus complex and castration complex. This was something to which Sigmund Freud and later Diane F. Sadoff in an echo of Freud, have only alluded to, but never explored. In broader terms, this thesis contributes to the debate on the relationship between literature and psychoanalysis, and in particular the part that Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins played in the early development of psychoanalysis, the understanding of the double and the uncanny. Chapter one begins by examining the relationship between Dickens and Freud, showing that this relationship is based upon two things: firstly, Dickens’ anticipation of psychoanalysis through his fascination with mesmerism, the human mind, the ‘unheimlich’ or uncanny, the German ‘doppelganger’ which Dickens calls the ‘double’, and the child’s relationship to its mother and father and what Freud would later call the Oedipus complex. Secondly, their relationship is based upon Freud’s reading of a number IV of Dickens’ novels, which the thesis identifies, his identification with Dickens, and Dickens’ semi-autobiographical hero David Copperfleld. However, Freud’s reading of Dickens is countered by his subsequent forgetting of Dickens. In a different context, Freud theorises that forgetting can function as a means of repressing memories and feelings associated with the name or memory being forgotten. Through the comparative analysis of Dickens’ David Copperfleld, and L G Moberly’s ‘Inexplicable’ which has many demonstrable similarities to David Copperfleld, something not commented on by critics so far, it is argued that what Freud represses, through his forgetting of David Copperfleld and his partial forgetting of ‘Inexplicable’, is the knowledge that like David Copperfleld in relation to Dora, Freud had attempted to create in his fiancee, Martha Bemays, an idealised Dora-like double of his mother. While Diane F. Sadoff argues that Dickens’ writing is dominated by images of castration and patriarchal authority, chapter two considers a novel not looked at by Sadoff, but which is arguably Dickens’ most patriarchal novel of all, the Gothic-historical novel Barnaby Rudge, and shows that even at its most violent and destructive, the castration threat is unable to destroy the Oedipus complex. Even in the most patriarchal of novels, it is the mother who remains at the centre of the narrative. The chapter moves into a comparison of Dickens’ Gothic-historical novel with Freud’s historically Gothic text, ‘A Seventeenth Century Demonological Neurosis’, as texts concerned with the empty signifier, which is traced back to the problem faced by the Roman Catholic Church in the seventeenth century, of people venerating religious images rather than the person or concept to which the image referred. It is argued that initially, this emptiness of the signifier contributes to the formation of what would retrospectively be called the Gothic V genre, but later, also allows the old abandoned meanings, to be replaced by a new psychoanalytic interpretation, which we see Dickens in the nineteenth century embarking upon, and Freud in the twentieth century establishing. This study of the Gothic empty signifier is important to the thesis’ examination of the empty signifiers employed by Freud, namely the pseudonyms he ascribed his patients, including his most famous patient, Dora. Chapter three examines Dickens’ David Copperfleld, specifically the character Dora, and compares her with Freud’s patient, Ida Bauer, whom he named ‘Dora’, arguing that while Freud considers the possible origins of the name ‘Dora’ in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, he forgets that the name is that of a character in his favourite Dickens novel, one which he and his fiancee, Martha Bemays, had read while courting. It is pointed out, however, that in another essay within the same text, Freud theorises that forgetting names can function as means of repressing feelings and thoughts associated with the name. In these terms, it is argued that Freud forgets the origin of the name ‘Dora’ as a means of repressing the knowledge that he unconsciously attempts to transform his patient Ida Bauer into another version of Dickens’ Dora, who as a character, is demonstrably a substitute mother-figure. By forgetting the origin of ‘Dora’, the name becomes an empty signifier, which Freud is then able to re-substantiate, by associating the name with his wife, his patient, and his mother, and in so doing, create a signifying double of his mother. Chapter four draws attention to the indirect reference made to the patriarchy of Barnaby Rudge, in Dickens’ later novel Little Dorrit, and through a comparison of this novel with Freud’s case history The Wolfman, examines the extent to which the mother as VI castration threat, and mother as object of desire manifest in their respective writing, in the form of the double rooted in the Oedipus complex, centered in both texts upon the figure of the Wolf. The chapter argues that just as Dickens draws an implicit parallel between Mrs Clennam, Arthur’s step-mother, and the Capitoline she-wolf who adopts Romulus and Remus, the twin founders of Rome, so the wolf that Freud’s patient, Sergei Pankejev, fears, represents not his father, as Freud theorises, but his Governess, the substitute mother. This latter theory is considered, but later abandoned by Freud, and arguably happens as a result of his repressed Oedipus complex. He rejects the theory of the substitute mother as wolf, just as his mother had rejected him as a child leaving him to be looked after by a substitute mother. The thesis concludes by suggesting that through their similar childhood experiences, through Freud’s identification with Dickens, through the repressed Oedipus complex that manifests in the respective writing of Dickens and Freud as a need to reconstruct an idealised version of their mothers, and at the same time, the need to reconstruct the castration threat in the form of the threatening mother, there is at play a kind of doubling between Dickens and Freud rooted in the Oedipus complex.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID: uk.bl.ethos.804732  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Dickens, Charles, 1812-1870--David Copperfield ; Dickens, Charles, 1812-1870--Criticism and interpretation ; Freud, Sigmund,1856-1939--Criticism and interpretation ; Psychoanalysis and literature ; Oedipus complex in literature
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