A Lacanian Study of Motherhood in the Poems of William Wordsworth

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William Wordsworth was a prolific poet of the Romantic movement, perhaps best known for publishing Lyrical Ballads with friend and fellow poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1798. These poems were written in what Wordsworth described as a ‘common tongue’ with a focus on themes often found in Romantic poetry, such as the pastoral, the mythical, fragmentation, heroism and satire. In Lyrical Ballads one recurring subject almost unique to Wordsworth in its passion and persistence is that of motherhood. The connection between womanhood and nature make it a frequently explored theme for many poets, such as Blake in his Songs of Innocence. However, I have chosen to focus on Wordsworth since motherhood is not only examined at great length in his poetry, but also because biographical details of his own life make analysis of his works concerning the topic all the more significant, since he had lost his own mother at the age of eight.

For a topic such as motherhood, one school of critical thought likely to provide interesting observations is that of psychoanalysis. I have chosen to focus on Jacques Lacan for this essay since his theories have a greater emphasis on the use and formation of language in the individual than other key figures in his field, such as Jung or Freud. Lacan believed that when we examine literature, we do not merely analyse the characters of a text, but also the text itself as an effect of the linguistic wordplay of the unconscious. For this reason I feel that Lacan is particularly well suited to the discussion of poetry. In this essay I shall be making reference to Lacan’s analysis of The Three Orders and his account of The Mirror Stage in relation to the ego.

For Lacan, the Mirror Stage is not ...

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...ressing or painful situations, although we may have forgotten of origins of the compulsion. In the symbolic realm we also begin our unending search for Objet (petit) a, the lost object that must constantly be sought in order, we feel, to complete us: an unobtainable other. For Wordsworth, this Objet (petit) a appears to be the mother figure and his compulsion is to write about her from every perspective.

Works Cited

Bennett, Andrew, and Nicholas Royle. An introduction to literature, criticism and theory 4. ed. Harlow: Pearson Longman, 2009.

Leitch, Vincent B. "Jacques Lacan." In The Norton anthology of theory and criticism. New York: Norton, 2001.

Wilden, Anthony. System and structure: essays in communication and exchange. 2nd ed. London: Tavistock, 1980.

Wu, Duncan. "Lyrical Ballads." In Romanticism: an anthology. Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1994.

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