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Bragman, L.J. (1934). The Case of Algernon Charles Swinburne a Study in Sadism. Psychoanal. Rev., 21(1):59-74.

(1934). Psychoanalytic Review, 21(1):59-74

The Case of Algernon Charles Swinburne a Study in Sadism

Louis J. Bragman, M.D.

“There is a tendency to strangeness, an excess or violence of delicacy, which is proverbially associated with poetry, and the bardic appearance of exclusively aesthetic persons.”


“Hidden away in The Sisters,” writes Welby, “to be discerned only by those who have been set on the alert by passages in the correspondence and unpublishable writings of Swinburne, are strange things, evidences that looking back on his boyhood, he saw there a boy destined never to come to full normal manhood.” For he was “a manchild with an ungrown God's desire,” always conscious of a great gulf between himself and others, believing, from an early age, that he was not as ordinary people.

He was “born to isolation,” Thalassius, his spiritual autobiography, relates. In this poem he is a wandering sea-mew, a child of the sea, “a fosterling and fugitive on earth,” “a sexless, ageless, earthless emanation,” found on the seashore in April, his birth-month. Likewise, Lesbia Brandon shows his early years as solitary, living at large and straying at will. In his emotional loneliness he turned to the beneficences of Nature, revealing an innate passion for the solace of the sun, the wind, and the sea. He believed himself frustrated from birth, for his parents never seemed adequate for his needs, despite the fact that outwardly his reaction to them was congenial and that his upbringing at home was scrupulously correct.

During most of his childhood and adolescence there existed a strong antagonism between the poet and his father. The older Swinburne was a strict disciplinarian, with more energy than a sense of humor. Yet he showed at all times a patient, affectionate indulgence. Of him, Swinburne wrote to Rossetti:

“I think you are rather hard upon Shelley as to the filial relation.

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