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Novotny, P. (1965). A Poetic Corroboration of Psychoanalysis. Am. Imago, 22(1-2):40-46.

(1965). American Imago, 22(1-2):40-46

A Poetic Corroboration of Psychoanalysis

Peter Novotny, M.D.

“Flectere si nequeo superos, acheronta movebo.” “If I cannot bend the heavens, I shall move the underworld.” Those are Vergil's lines chosen by Freud as the motto for his book on the interpretation of dreams. We are told that this verse was selected to picture the efforts of the repressed instinctual forces to invade consciousness. Freud's book appeared in 1900. In the same year, in quite a different part of the world, a novel was finished which displayed an intuitive psychological awareness of and at times considerable similarity to some of the discoveries of psychoanalysis. What is most remarkable here is that the author, Machedo de Assis could not have known of Freud.

Dom Casmurro is considered the poet's masterpiece. It is the life history of a “morose, tight-lipped man withdrawn within himself” who tells his story in the first person on looking back over his life. Summarily, the story is as follows: Having lost her first offspring in childbirth, the mother vows that should a second child be born to her, his life will be devoted to serve God and the Church. So Bentinho—the future Casmurro—grows up destined to become a padre. Having lost his father—a man of the world, a lawyer—during his earliest years, there is no one around to speak up in favor of the possible worldly inclinations of the young boy, except that the mother herself unknowingly perhaps encourages in a subtle way a relationship with a young girl, Capitu. After much fear and intrigue the vow is modified—the Church is supplied with a substitute padre, and Bentinho and Capitu are married. Years of happiness follow, further enhanced by his closeness to a friend, Escobar, and his wife, Sancha. Finally, a son is born to Bentinho whose happiness over “the child of my own body” is unlimited. Escobar, however, suddenly dies in an accident.

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