Academic journal article PSYART

'I Love You; I 'Ate You': Oral Aggression, Consumed Subjects, and the Creative Impulse in Antonia White's Autobiographical Novel, Frost in May

Academic journal article PSYART

'I Love You; I 'Ate You': Oral Aggression, Consumed Subjects, and the Creative Impulse in Antonia White's Autobiographical Novel, Frost in May

Article excerpt

abstract

Antonia White's autobiographical novel, Frost in May (1933), documenting young Nanda Grey's life at a convent, illustrates the complexities of patriarchal attitudes in Melanie Klein's views on the maternal role in a girl's psychosexual development. Interconnecting motifs of food and maternity highlight Nanda's consumption of food at the convent as an all-consuming process of symbolic maternal devouring. According to Kleinian theory, Nanda's sadistic impulse to devour the mother is based on a misconceived perception of persecution, which leads to guilt and thence to a process of reparation. However, through a Foucaultian lens, exposed is a complex, nuanced relationship between psychoanalytic and religio-cultural notions of self-sacrifice, self-regulation, and self-punishment that serve to symbolically manufacture subjects according to a higher moral imperative. What ensues is a struggle based on negotiations that project on to Nanda's relationship with her own mother.

When does the consumption of food cross the line from being an act of pleasurable gratification to an act of alleviating anxiety? British writer Antonia White's autobiographical novel, Frost in May (1933), is a narrative that recounts Nanda Grey's coming-of-age experiences at the Convent of the Five Wounds, Lippington. For Nanda, the act of consuming food becomes an all-consuming process of symbolic devouring. However, from a Kleinian psychoanalytic perspective, this symbolic act is symptomatic of anxiety associated with Nanda's perceived rejection by her own mother and the nuns' rigid spiritual practices at Lippington. Nanda's sadistic impulse to devour the mother is based on a misconceived perception of persecution, which leads to guilt and thence to a process of reparation.

I propose that the scenario presented here exposes a complex, nuanced relationship between psychoanalytic and patriarchal religio-cultural ideals attached to maternal notions of self-sacrifice, self-regulation, and self-punishment that serve to symbolically manufacture subjects according to a higher moral imperative. What plays out is a form of warfare in Foucaultian terms as Nanda struggles to take up arms to ward offfeelings of persecution in an attempt to assert individual sovereignty.

At Lippington, nine-year-old Nanda is often served unpalatable meals that cause emotional stress. Her first meal "consisted of stewed meat and rice, cabbage drowned in vinegar, and sweet tea, already mixed with milk" (White 27). Nanda feels "sickened" at what is set before her but soon learns that not consuming this unappetizing meal could lead to mortal sin. Nanda knows that it takes three things to make a mortal sin, "grave matter, full knowledge, and full consent" (77). Thus, Nanda endeavors to be extra scrupulous, in order to be accepted into Lippington as a true Catholic and as a true soldier of Christ. This includes the mortification of her sensory pleasures as a demonstration of her piety, for example, taking second helpings of "particularly nasty cabbage" and dowsing her rhubarb with salt; these are actions that are looked upon approvingly by the nuns (79). It is the connection between Nanda's fear of committing mortal sin and her eagerness to suffer sensory depravity that reveals her willingness to follow Lippington's rules.

At the root of the nuns' rigid spiritual practices is a specific Christian paradigm, which is evident in methods commonly employed in convents in the first half of the twentieth century. On the one hand, the girls are at war according to a higher moral imperative: manufactured to be "soldiers of Christ, accustomed to hardship and ridicule and ingratitude," as Mother Radcliffe fondly states at Lippington (118). On the other hand, the girls are subjects at war treated as goods by the nuns and also by themselves as they both acquiesce to and voluntarily assume responsibility for subjecting themselves to unpalatable processes of self-regulation and self-sacrifice. …

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