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Schapiro, B.A. (2002). Psychoanalysis and Romantic Idealization: The Dialectics of Love in Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd: In Memory of Stephen A. Mitchell. Am. Imago, 59(1):3-26.

(2002). American Imago, 59(1):3-26

Psychoanalysis and Romantic Idealization: The Dialectics of Love in Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd: In Memory of Stephen A. Mitchell

Barbara A. Schapiro

Perhaps the single most pervasive theme of Thomas Hardy's fiction, as J. Hillis Miller (1970) has pointed out, is that of “fascination—the love of a human being who radiates a divine aura” (114). In many of the novels, characters are driven by a romantic infatuation with an idealized other. Eustacia Vye in The Return of the Native (1878), for instance, is described as “idealizing Wildeve for want of a better object” (98), then replacing him with Clym Yeobright because of “the fascination which must attend a man come direct from Paris” (141). Angel Clare initially regards Tess as an immaculate “visionary essence of woman” (Hardy 1891, 103), while Tess loves him so passionately, he was “godlike in her eyes” (142); and Jude never loses his sense of Sue as an “ideality,” indeed as “almost a divinity” (Hardy 1895, 164). Hardy's last published novel, The Well-Beloved (1897), presents the most focused elaboration of this theme as it follows Jocelyn Pierston's pursuit of an elusive idealization, the “Beloved,” as it is incarnated in three generations of women in a single family.

From a Freudian or traditional psychoanalytic perspective, such romantic idealization is generally regarded as rooted in primary narcissism, in the infant's original experience of omnipotence and blissful merged union with the mother. The idealized other is considered to be a projection of the ego ideal, a substitute for the once primary and now lost narcissistic perfection.1 Freud saw romantic love, like religion, as an illusion, and he believed the idealization that fuels romantic passion to be immature and dangerous.

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