‘Unkind and cruel, to deceive your Son | In borrow’d Shapes, and his Embrace to shun’: Mother-son love in T. S. Eliot’s ‘La Figlia Che Piange’

Abstract

T. S. Eliot's "La Figlia Che Piange" (1916) is a curious anomaly in his early works. It stands out as a love poem of outstanding grace portraying a more positive relationship to the feminine compared to other poems contemporaneous with its writing such as "The Love Song of St. Sebastian" (1914) and "Hysteria" (1915). This essay shows the import of Eliot's chosen epigraph for "La Figlia" taken from Virgil's Aeneid to have been largely neglected or misread by critics. As a consequence, it argues that critical readings have crucially missed the presence of a shrouded maternal aspect within the poem. Through the lens of Lacanian psychoanalysis and the work of adherents to Lacanian theory — such as Bruce Fink, Shoshana Felman and Slavoj Zizek — this paper newly argues that the poem's meditation on the issues of union and separation between two lovers is in fact a screen for deeper unconscious ambivalent feelings between mother and son. That is to say, Eliot's "La Figlia Che Piange" shows a failed attempt to reconstruct, traverse and separate from the "fundamental fantasy" unconsciously orientating the male speaker of the poem and his desire.

How to Cite

Geary, M., (2015) “‘Unkind and cruel, to deceive your Son | In borrow’d Shapes, and his Embrace to shun’: Mother-son love in T. S. Eliot’s ‘La Figlia Che Piange’”, Studies in the Maternal 7(1), p.1-22. doi: https://doi.org/10.16995/sim.197

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Matthew Geary

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