The cultural ideal of motherhood in Victorian Britain seems to be undermined by Victorian novels, which almost always represent mothers as incapacitated, abandoning or dead. Carolyn Dever argues that the phenomenon of the dead or missing mother in Victorian narrative is central to the construction of the good mother as a cultural ideal. Maternal loss is the prerequisite for Victorian representations of domestic life, a fact which has especially complex implications for women. When Freud constructs psychoanalytical models of family, gender and desire, he too assumes that domesticity begins with the death of the mother. Analysing texts by Dickens, Collins, Eliot, Darwin and Woolf, as well as Freud, Klein and Winnicott, Dever argues that fictional and theoretical narratives alike use maternal absence to articulate concerns about gender and representation. Psychoanalysis has long been used to analyse Victorian fiction; Dever contends that Victorian fiction has much to teach us about psychoanalysis.
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"This volume will suit those who enjoy post-Freudian analysis of literature...." Choice
"Carolyn Dever's book is well-researched and excellent study about the actual medical and idealized literary versions of mothers dying in childbirth in Victorian England." Monika Elbert, Journal of the Association for Research in Mothering
"...[an] often brilliantly illuminating, always compelling discussion of the significance of maternal death in Victorian narrative. Dever's close, theoreticallu sophisticated, often delightfully witty readings display both her originality and her synthetic skill. Her analysis of the analysts is a tour de force (she is a superb reader of Klein in perticular), and her discussion of Victorian narrative as an elaborate fort-da game - where the mother's absence is controlled and displaced by its representation - is splendid." Eileen Gilloly, Victorian Studies
"Carolyn Dever's Death and the Mother from Dickens to Freud: Victorian Fiction and the Anxiety of Origins is a shrewd and elegant account of the meaning of maternal loss in psychoanalysis...and in Bleak House, The Woman in White, Daniel Deronda, Charles Darwin's Autobiography, and To the Lighthouse. Dever understands Freudian psychoanalytic theory and the Victorian novel to dwell within a common horizon of cultural assumptions, which is why she is able so persuasively to read Freud's case studies as exemplifying mid-Victorian fictional tropes." Linda Dowling, Studies in English Literature
"...a shrewd and elegant account of the meaning of maternal loss in psychoanalysis..." SEL
Carolyn Dever discusses the apparent paradox that, while Victorian culture idealized the figure of the mother, many popular novels of the period feature mothers who are dead or absent. She goes on to consider the relationship of the dead mother to Victorian theories of origin and Freudian psychoanalysis.
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