The Gendering of Melancholia: Feminism, Psychoanalysis, and the Symbolics of Loss in Renaissance Literature

By Juliana Schiesari | Go to book overview

Chapter I
The Gendering of Freud's
"Mourning and Melancholia"

As Doctor Stanley Jackson writes in Melancholia and Depression: "Twentieth-century thought on the relationship of grief and mourning to clinical melancholia or depression tends to be presented as though it dated from Freud's "'Mourning and Melancholia'" in 1917. And, in a manner of speaking, perhaps it did." 1 In spite of his desire to downplay Freud's originality and to place his work within a preexisting medical tradition, Jackson is obliged to admit the prestige and influence of Freud's essay, which has come, in fact, to occupy—whether correctly or incorrectly—the pivotal position for discussions of melancholia not only in psychoanalysis but also in contemporary literary analysis, feminist theory, and cultural criticism. No study of melancholia can begin without a reconsideration of Freud's essay, and rereading that essay may also shed some light on recent feminist interpretations of melancholia.

Ernest Jones tells us that in 1915, at age sixty, Freud "superstitiously" believed that he had only a little over two years left to live. It was also during this year that Freud produced what were to be considered his most important theoretical writings, the so-called metapsychological essays. These comprise five papers begun on March 15, 1915, the last being " Mourning and Melancholia," published in 1917. 2 Also according

____________________
1
Stanley Jackson, Melancholia and Depression: From Hippocratic Times to Modern Times ( New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986), pp. 320-21.
2
The other four papers are "On Narcissism" ( 1914), "The Unconscious" ( 1915), "Instincts

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