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Reading: ‘Unkind and cruel, to deceive your Son | In borrow’d Shapes, and his Embrace to shun’: Mothe...


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‘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’


Matthew Geary

About Matthew

Matthew Geary is a doctoral researcher in English Literature and Psychoanalysis at the University of Birmingham. His current research involves a psychoanalytic re-reading of a selection of T. S. Eliot's works utilising differing psychoanalytic and philosophical frameworks (Freudian, Lacanian, Object Relations, Post-Lacanian, Feminist, esp. Julia Kristeva and Luce Irigaray). Matthew's research has a maternal bias and focuses on the role of the mother as central to the process of psychic development of not only the child but also art, text, and culture. Noting that for the last thirty-five years the critical search for the mother has been almost entirely 'daughter-centric', Matthew is especially concerned with the mother-son relationship as a continuing 'taboo topic'. His work reconsiders literary representations of mother-son relationships, mother-son ambivalence, the maternal and the maternal body, mothering and motherhood, and the elaboration of a maternal poetics in the works of male modernist and postmodernist writers in light of recent advancements in maternal theory, gender theory, psychoanalytic theory and feminist theory. Further, it proposes a new theory of allegory brought closer to the maternal body than previously stated. This work is forthcoming in his paper 'Maternal Allegory: Death and the Mother, Faith and Revelation in "Ash-Wednesday"' in Religion and Myth in the Poetry of T. S. Eliot (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars, 2015). Matthew is co-founder, organiser and chair of the PsyLit network based at the University of Birmingham ( His academic profile is

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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), pp.1–22. DOI:
Published on 01 Jan 2015.
Peer Reviewed


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