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Towne, J.E. (1935). Carlyle and Oedipus. Psychoanal. Rev., 22(3):297-305.

(1935). Psychoanalytic Review, 22(3):297-305

Carlyle and Oedipus

Jackson E. Towne

“It is strange to me, in these very days, how peaceable, though still sacred and tender, the memory of my mother now lies in me. (This very morning I got into dreaming confused nightmare stuff about some funeral and her; not her's, nor obviously my Jane's, seemingly my father's rather, and she sending me on it….)”

Carlyle, Reminiscences,

Mr. Isaac Watson Dyer's comprehensive bibliography of Thomas Carlyle's “writings and ana,” published in 1928, lists over fifteen hundred entries of books and articles, and the issuance of books and articles continues unabated.

Instead of treating of the courage and the genius of the great writer, far too many commentators emphasize the mere fact that he did not get on with his wife. This morbid interest persists, I believe, because in Carlyle's case it is so very difficult to understand.

The present paper is an attempt to solve somewhat more clearly than hitherto the enigma of Carlyle's career, with the hope that subsequent considerations will deal more with the works than with the acts of one of the outstanding literary masters of the nineteenth century.

On December 4, 1795, Thomas Carlyle was born, at Ecclefechan, Dumfries, Scotland. The father, James had married a cousin, Janet Carlyle, in 1791, who died after giving birth to a son, John. Two years after the first wife's death James Carlyle married Janet Aitken. The first child, Thomas, was followed by three sons and five daughters.

Unfortunately, few anecdotes are recorded of Carlyle's infancy. The father, a rather stern and silent man, was a stone mason and built the house in which Thomas was born. Of the mother, Margaret Aitken, Carlyle ultimately wrote in his Reminiscences that “with her alone my heart played freely.”

During his youth, as well as throughout the rest of his life, Carlyle suffered much from dyspepsia.

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