Thursday, February 25, 2010

Love is Blind

While reading Wordsworth’s “The Mad Mother”, “The Idiot Boy” and Southey’s “The Idiot” I couldn’t help but relate them to a seminar I am taking this semester—The Art of Love. In the seminar, we talk a lot about psychoanalysis, Freud and the way in which sexuality develops. While reading these three poems I felt uncomfortable about the relationship between the mothers and sons—the son seems to supplant the father as the love object, which is inappropriate and harmful to the child. The following passages highlight this weirdness:

“Thy father cares not for my breast, / ‘Tis thine, sweet baby, there to rest: / ‘Tis all thine own! …” (“The Mad Mother” ll. 61-63).

“She kisses o’er and o’er again, / Him whom she loves, her idiot boy” (“The Idiot Boy” ll. 397-398).

“And he was ev’ry thing to her, / And she to him was all” (“The Idiot” ll. 11-12).

These lines unsettle the reader. While mothers should love and care for their children, they should not love and care for them this much or in this manner. The mother’s affections are displaced in the Wordsworth poems, and in the Southey poem it is evident that the boy’s affections are misplaced as well—he even goes so far as to unbury her corpse and keep it in the house (Hitchcock’s Psycho anyone?). Obviously there is something uncanny about these relationships.

Of course, the other poems—“The Thorn” and “The Mad Woman”—offer the other extreme of the inappropriate mother-child love scenario: in these poems the mothers kill their children because the father is too deeply embedded in the heart of the woman. Instead of supplanting the father, these women destroy the child to maintain a pure and unchallenged relationship with the father, even if the father is absent.

Why the extremes? Perhaps these poets are pointing out the sickness of British society as a whole and its people’s misguided affections and cares. In both cases, obsession is the driving force and the characters are blinded by their sentiments. Perhaps they are making an appeal for the logical and rational and criticizing the overly emotional. It reminds me of the opposing phrases "Love is blind" and "Love is a choice." I think Wordsworth and Southey would condemn the first in favor of upholding the second.


  1. I agree that the mother / child relationships depicted in these poems are clearly perverted in a strange way from a rational / psychological standpoint. As to the question you pose - "why the extremes?" - I think the answer lies in the nature of the Gothic tradition itself. Normal, functional mother / son relationships would not make good fodder for Gothic poetry. Instead, these poets choose to describe the consequences of emotional anomalies and depravities in order to examine the place of rationality and the supernatural in each of these relationships. In looking at "The Idiot" and "The Idiot-boy," I think it is safe to say that the unnatural results of these mother/son relations springs from the fact that these boys are irrational to begin with. To put it more clearly, the sons (doomed from the beginning to a life of irrationality as a result of being mentally retarded) somehow transfer their unnaturalness to their mothers.

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