Conflicting Self-Perceptions in George Eliot's Romola

by Peggy Fitzhugh Johnstone

November 30, 2000


Eliot's Romola presents contrasting father-child relationships, one cold and narcissistic and the other warm and loving. Central to both is conflict, emphasized in the narcissistic relationship but denied in the other. These relationships, I argue, reflect Eliot's conflicting perceptions of her relationship to her father. Kernberg's theory of intrapsychic development combined with Bowlby's studies of attachment and loss suggest that the split between the two sets of characters reflects both the author's conflicting self-perceptions and her failure fully to mourn her father's death. Eliot's early experiences of separation and loss gave her a pattern of anxious attachment to loved ones that predisposed her to problems with mourning their deaths. Her denial of the anger in her anxious relation to her father keeps her from finishing the task of mourning, i.e., integrating positive and negative aspects of their relationship.


     George Eliot's Romola (1863) takes place in fifteenth-century Florence in the context of the tumultuous events leading up to the execution of Savonarola (1452-98), a Roman Catholic friar who had become a charismatic reformer. The title character, Romola, is the devoted daughter of Bardo, a descendant of the once-prominent Bardi family that had been "destroyed by popular rage in the middle of the fourteenth century" (Ch. 5). Bardo is now a "moneyless blind old scholar" (Ch. 5), who, with Romola's help, devotes himself to organizing and preserving his library as his legacy for his fellow-citizens. Early in the story Romola marries Tito, a Greek newcomer to Florence who poses as a scholar willing to help her father. In contrast to Romola, Tito has abandoned an aging parent: before he came to Florence, he had left his stepfather Baldassarre behind following a shipwreck. The abandonment seems particularly outrageous to Baldassarre, who had rescued Tito as a child from an abusive situation and adopted and raised him, only to experience betrayal in return. The contrast between the devoted daughter and the abandoning son is stressed throughout the novel.

    In The Transformation of Rage (1994), I emphasized the influence of Eliot's relationship to her mother on the creation of her characters and the shape of her novels. In this essay, I want to show how Eliot's relationship to her father affected her portrayal of the two contrasting father-child relationships in Romola. After examining her characterizations of Tito and Romola and their relationships to their fathers, I shall attempt to show how the circumstances of Eliot's life are reflected in the contrasting portrayals. I shall argue that the split between the two sets of father-child relationships in Romola reflects both the author's conflicting self-perceptions of her relationship to her own father and her failure to complete the process of mourning his death. Bowlby's (1973, 1980) studies of separation and loss, used in conjunction with Kernberg's (1975, 1976, 1980) theory of development, will provide support for my argument.

    Tito, the abandoning son, is the most villainous character in Eliot's fiction. His traits are those of the adult narcissistic personality as described by Kernberg (1975) in his classic study of pathological narcissism. A quality of shallowness in relationships, achievements, and convictions, along with a deficiency in genuine feelings of sadness or guilt, enable the narcissistic personality to exploit others without remorse. Eliot shows Tito to be deficient both in genuine accomplishments, either as a scholar or a political leader, and in genuine feelings--of appreciation, love, guilt, or sorrow. One after another, he exploits and then betrays his stepfather, his father-in-law, his wife, and his mistress. He also serves as spy and counter-spy for opposing political factions, and in the process helps to bring about the executions both of Romola's godfather, Bernardo, and of Savonarola.

    In order to appreciate the depth of psychological insight in Eliot's portrayal of Tito, it is necessary to understand her use of the technique of literary pictorialism, "the verbal imitation of works of visual art" (Witemeyer, 1979, p. 55), as a technique of psychological revelation. In her later fiction, Eliot often places a character in relation to a real or imagined work of art as a means of describing the character's psychological state. In Romola, Tito asks the artist Piero di Cosimo to paint a miniature triptych of himself and Romola in a mythological scene of the triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne. It is Tito's idiosyncratic interpretation of this popular subject that reveals his psychological situation. The portrait that Tito requests conveys a visual image of his self-concept that is strikingly similar to Kernberg's verbal description of the self-concept of the narcissistic personality. Kernberg (1975) explains that pathological narcissism is characterized by the simultaneous development of pathological forms both of self-love and object love. Whereas a normal self-structure consists of multiple, integrated (good and bad) self-images, the narcissistic personality has a pathological self-structure in which the self-concept is a confusion of realistic and idealized self-images, merged with an idealized object image, while unacceptable self-images are projected onto external objects.

    Tito explains to Piero that he wants the subject of the triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne treated "in a new way," that is, with Bacchus seated in a ship with "the fair-haired Ariadne with him, made immortal with her golden crown--that is not in Ovid's story" (Ch. 18). The scene that Tito wants depicted includes these elements of Ovid's story: Bacchus, the son of Zeus, triumphs over the pirates who had tried to kidnap him and turns them into wild animals; he is seated in the ship amidst symbols of luxury. By asking for Ariadne to be placed with him in the painting, Tito incorporates elements of another story in the mythological tradition: Bacchus rescues the princess Ariadne, who had been abandoned by Theseus, the Athenian prince whose life she had saved. By conflating the two Bacchic stories, Tito distorts and exchanges images of himself and his missing stepfather. First, Tito's self-image is idealized through a merger with an idealized object image: he is the son of Zeus, not of Baldassarre. Then, in presenting himself as the rescuer of an abandoned princess, he takes his stepfather's role as rescuer and attributes it to himself. His unacceptable self-image as abandoner is projected onto Theseus, who had abandoned his own rescuer. The portrait that Tito wants thus idealizes himself and denies his failure to rescue his stepfather. Viewed in this light, Eliot's nineteenth-century pictorial characterization of Tito is a vivid illustration of Kernberg's (1975) twentieth-century idea that the narcissistic personality's self-concept is a fusion of "ideal self, ideal object, and actual self images as a defense against an intolerable reality in the interpersonal realm" (p. 231).

    Although the portrait that Tito requests conveys only a feeling of triumph, the artist Piero had earlier perceived the fear that accompanies Tito's apparent success. He had already done a sketch of him "with his right hand uplifted, holding a wine-cup, in the attitude of triumphant joy, but with his face turned away from the cup with an expression of . . . intense fear in the dilated eyes and pallid lips" (Ch. 18). Piero discerns the source of Tito's fear when he sees Baldassarre, one of a group of prisoners in a crowd on the piazza, clutch Tito's arm, and notes that Tito responds with a look of terror. Afterward, he adds the image of Baldassarre to the sketch of Tito that he keeps in his studio.

    Kernberg (1975) stresses more than any other trait the narcissistic personality's basic dread of attack and destruction; Eliot stresses Tito's paralyzing dread of Baldassarre's revenge for his abandonment. Kernberg explains that the feeling of dread is a projection of aggression from within. Just as the narcissistic personality's sense of dread comes from the strength of his own aggression, so Tito's fear seems to come from something beyond the actual threat of his stepfather's revenge. Given the old man's loss of his former physical and intellectual powers, Tito's fear of his stepfather seems irrational, in particular to his wife Romola, who is mystified by Tito's obsessive precautions against the possibility of his stepfather's assault.

    In Kernberg's theory, the narcissistic person's unconscious fear of his own envy and rage arises from his fantasy that his aggression will destroy his needed love object. In Eliot's portrayal, Tito experiences neither angry feelings nor the conscious intention to harm his demanding stepfather; it is the enraged Baldassarre who intends to murder his ungrateful son. In their narcissistic parent-child relationship, the two identities are distorted and exchanged: Tito projects his rage over his parent's demands onto Baldassarre, as Baldassarre, whose motive for adoption had been compensation for an unrequited love, projects his need onto his child. In the confused exchange of self and object images, the fear of destroying the father becomes the fear of the father's capacity to destroy the self.

    The ultimate consequence of Tito's abandonment is the death of both himself and his father. Baldassarre is waiting for him on the riverbank after Tito becomes exhausted in an attempt to escape his enemies by swimming down the river to a more distant section of Florence, and he succeeds in choking him to death. Although Baldassarre realizes that he has succeeded in killing Tito, he cannot let go of him. He is still so determined that "justice" be done to the abandoner, that he wants "to die with his hold on this body, and follow the traitor to hell that he might clutch him there" (Ch. 67). Exhausted from the effort of killing Tito, Baldassarre dies clinging to him. After their deaths, it is impossible to disentangle the two bodies.

    Just as Tito is portrayed as bound to his father even in death, so Romola is initially portrayed as bound to hers, although Bardo dies early in the story. Once again, Eliot uses the technique of literary pictorialism to describe her character's psychological situation. When Tito asks Piero for the portrait of himself and Romola as Bacchus and Ariadne, the artist asks in turn that Tito persuade Bardo and Romola to sit for a commissioned portrait of Oedipus and Antigone at Colonos. Eliot's evocation of Sophocles' version of the story of the loving daughter of the blind, exiled Oedipus is intended to heighten the contrast between Romola's and Tito's treatment of their fathers and to add a mythological dimension to the characterization of Romola, whose story is patterned after Antigone's. However, the portrait of Antigone with Oedipus in exile at Colonos is a picture of filial devotion that denies the element of conflict that actually exists in the close relationship between Romola and Bardo.

    In contrast to the intense rage that is evident in Tito's and Baldassarre's relationship, the anger in Romola's and Bardo's is submerged in the story of the devoted daughter whose life's work is focused on her father's interests. Bardo has provided Romola with an education, so that she is able to be a substantial help to him in his work of organizing and preserving his library. She patiently endures his ongoing demands, which, like Baldassarre's on Tito, have increased as he has grown older. Yet while Romola devotes herself to his concerns, Bardo longs for his son Dino. Like Oedipus, who is enraged because he feels his sons have abandoned him, the aged blind father Bardo is angry because he feels abandoned by his only son, Dino, who has chosen to leave his ancestral home to become a friar. Romola, his only remaining child, stays close to him and takes care of him for the rest of his life. Although she struggles to be a good enough scholar to replace her brother, even her father's praise reveals his dissatisfaction. His words reveal his assumption that her intellectual gifts are inferior because she is a female. Her deficiencies as a scholar derive from her "feminine mind"; her strength is her "man's nobility of soul" (Ch. 5). Despite her father's obvious preference for his son's capabilities, Romola, apparently without a thought of protest, submits to his authority. In her outlook, she remains bound to her father. She shares his ambivalent feelings of anger toward and longing for Dino, as well as his sense of purpose regarding his library.

    The question of obedience to authority becomes an issue for Romola, as it had for Antigone, only after her father's death. In Sophocles' Antigone, Creon, Oedipus' successor to the throne, has denied burial rites to one of Antigone's brothers who had fought against Thebes. Death is the punishment for disobeying Creon's order. Antigone, reasoning that the laws of the gods regarding burial rites supersede any laws of humankind, decides to defy Creon's authority by providing a proper burial for her brother. In Eliot's Romola, the question of obedience to authority arises when Romola acknowledges her changed feelings regarding her marriage to Tito. When she learns after her father's death that Tito has sold the scholar's precious library for his own gain, she becomes disillusioned with the marriage and decides to flee Florence. Savonarola, the Prior of the monastery where Dino had lived as a friar and a powerful authority figure for Romola, discovers her as she is leaving the city. By arguing for a distinction between her brother's vocation, which had justified his departure from home, and her own obligation to fulfill her marriage vows, Savonarola persuades Romola not to run away. However, in deciding to stay with Tito, Romola must throw "all the energy of her will into renunciation" (Ch. 41).

    Romola's disillusionment with her marriage becomes intolerable as she discerns the depths of Tito's capacity for betrayal, and she is thrown back into the conflict that Savonarola's earlier guidance had seemed to resolve. Not only does she discover that Tito had abandoned his stepfather, but she also learns that he had fathered two children with a mistress, Tessa, whom he had lured into a relationship with a fake marriage ceremony. In her inward debate about whether or not to leave her marriage, Romola struggles with the conflict between the demands of "an outward law which she recognized as widely-ramifying obligation" (Ch. 56) and her inner sense of the right thing to do under the circumstances of Tito's ongoing treachery to herself and others. Thus, as the heroine in Antigone must decide whether to obey a ruler's law or the gods' law, the heroine in Romola must decide whether the laws of her society take precedence over her own inner moral sense.

    To add to her disillusionment with Tito, Romola becomes disenchanted with Savonarola. The Prior's fanaticism and corruptibility become apparent when he refuses Romola's request to help prevent the execution of her godfather, Bernardo, who, although innocent of any crime, is a member of the opposing political party. When Romola loses her trust in Savonarola, she sees "all the repulsive and inconsistent details in his teaching with a painful lucidity which exaggerated their proportions" (Ch. 61). Thus she moves rapidly from idealization to devaluation of her authority figure as she works her way out from under his control. Afterward, she is left not only without a father figure, but also without a moral framework.

    In despair over the loss of the "vision of . . . great purpose" (Ch. 61) that Savonarola's teachings had represented, and wanting to be free of the burden of choice regarding her marriage, Romola becomes suicidal. Placing herself in a boat, she lets herself float out to sea, and "with a great sob . . . [wishes] that she might be gliding into death" (Ch. 61). In Sophocles' play, Antigone commits suicide in prison before she can learn that Creon, persuaded by the prophet Teiresias, has revoked his death order. In Eliot's novel, Romola is saved from her suicide attempt. While she is still asleep, her boat lands safely "in a little creek," and she wakes up to find herself in a beautiful natural setting on the shore of "the speckless sapphire-blue of the Mediterranean" (Ch. 68). After only a short time, she realizes that she no longer feels a longing for death. She finds her way back to Florence, where she learns that Savonarola has been executed and Tito murdered.

    The story ends with "Madonna Antigone," as Piero had called her, heroically caring for the victims of the plague in Florence, and even willingly taking responsibility for the support of Tessa and the two children that Tito had fathered. This ending of Romola is unacceptable to readers both because of the excessive idealization of Romola and because the necessary resolution of conflict is missing. The question of Romola's obligation to fulfill her marriage vows is avoided by the convenient deaths of both her husband Tito and her spiritual guide Savonarola. Moreover, the issue of Romola's loss of a moral framework is resolved offstage, that is, only by implication. The ending of the novel suggests that Romola, having grown out of her need for a father's guidance, finds her own vision of purpose in the form of service to those in need.

    Antigone's story had long been of interest to Eliot and "often inspired her conception of characters," including Romola and Dorothea in Middlemarch (Bonaparte, 1979, p. 251n). It is understandable, in the light of the circumstances of her own life, that Eliot would identify with the mythological heroine and then project that identification onto her own fictional heroines. As a young adult, following her mother's death in 1836 and her sister's and brother's marriages in 1837 and 1841, Mary Ann Evans lived alone with her father Robert Evans. Like the loyal Antigone, she stayed with him for the rest of his life. She was solely responsible for his care during his long last illness. He died in 1849, when Mary Ann was nearly thirty. While her father was dying, Mary Ann wrote to a friend, "What shall I be without my Father? It will seem as if a part of my moral nature were gone. I had a horrid vision of myself last night becoming earthly sensual and devilish for want of that purifying restraining influence" (Haight, 1954a, p. 284). Apparently, the living presence of her father symbolized for Mary Ann her own moral framework.

    Indeed, in the years following her father's death, Mary Ann seems to have suffered from a prolonged sense of dislocation. She was left for the first time without either a parent or a home, and she needed to find a way to supplement the small income that her father had left her. After a recuperative trip to the Continent, where she stayed in Switzerland for several months, she returned to England to find that she felt unwelcome in the homes of her relatives. For a while, she lived with friends in Coventry, where she continued to write and work on translations, as she had done while her father was alive. Soon she was invited to serve as editor and writer for the Westminster Review in London. Her years there were distinguished by the extraordinary quality of her work, but her letters during this period reveal a pattern of recurring ill health and depressions. Along with such signs of malaise, her shifting infatuations with men suggest the mourning daughter's search for the lost father. By age thirty-four, however, she seems to have recovered her balance. She had demonstrated her capacity to make a living as a non-fiction writer and had settled into what turned out to be a lifelong partnership with G. H. Lewes.

    In choosing to live with Lewes, Eliot had confronted a moral dilemma that helps to explain her identification with Antigone's inner struggle and her portrayal of Romola's. Lewes was a married man who had been unable to obtain a divorce. Yet his circumstances were such that Marian (as she called herself by this time) could justify the relationship on the grounds that the inner law of affections superseded the laws of her society. Lewes and his wife Agnes had suffered the consequences of their youthful belief in free love. When Agnes had a child with their friend Thornton Hunt, Lewes accepted the child as his own, and this prevented him from obtaining a divorce when Agnes had a second child with Hunt. During the time that Eliot was preparing to write Romola, Lewes had investigated the possibility of obtaining a divorce abroad, but to no avail. Although at the time, Eliot claimed in a letter to a friend that she did not mind the social ostracism that followed from her unmarried life with Lewes, her need for self-justification is evident in the novel.

    The ending of Romola can be seen as an idealized version of Eliot's life following the estrangement from her family and her society that was precipitated by her liaison with Lewes. Just as Romola provided for the support of Tessa and the children, so Eliot willingly bore a good share of the responsibility for the financial support of Agnes and the children. Just as Romola found a satisfying role as caregiver for the victims of the plague in Florence, so Eliot found a new and satisfying role as stepmother to Lewes's three sons. Just as Romola found her own new vocation, so Eliot's relationship with Lewes had inaugurated her new and extraordinarily successful fiction-writing career. Lewes had encouraged her to try writing fiction, and throughout their partnership he offered sympathetic support, as she did for his writing projects. One interpretation of Eliot's life story, then, is that like Romola, after suffering the despair that followed the loss of family and home, she awakened miraculously to find a new and satisfying life. Yet in this idealized version of Eliot's life story, as is the case in her idealized heroine's story, the necessary resolution of conflict is missing.

    To judge from her projection of her identification with Antigone onto her idealized heroine in Romola, Eliot wanted to think of herself as a loyal daughter who remained close to her father as long as he lived. However, although Mary Ann Evans had indeed been close to her father both in her childhood and afterward, incidents during her young adult years reveal intense conflicts with him that belie the picture of herself as the Antigone-like daughter. One example is her refusal to attend church with her father during their well-known "Holy War" when she was in her early twenties. Church attendance was vital to Mr. Evans, and he was so upset by Mary Ann's stance--which amounted to a rebellion against his system of values--that he very nearly insisted that she leave the household. Indeed, she did stay at her married brother's home for a few weeks. However, with the help of other relatives she and her father finally reached a compromise whereby she agreed to attend church with him, apparently with the understanding that she could think what she wished. Although Mary Ann was closely involved with her father's life, their "Holy War" was the first overt sign of her growth away from his provincial outlook. She went on to develop her own system of values that retained ideals derived from Christianity minus a supernatural deity or an institutional church. The ideals of the mature George Eliot's "Religion of Humanity" (Paris, 1962) are evident in Romola in the heroine's growing capacity for independent moral decisions and in her active concern for the victims of the plague.

    In the light of her conflicts with her father while he was alive and her departure from his system of values, I suggest that Romola reflects Eliot's psychological state in much the same way that her character Tito's requested portrait reflects his. Just as Tito's idealization of himself in the portrait of Bacchus and Ariadne denies the rage that motivated his abandonment of his father, so Eliot's idealization of Romola, the character with whom she identifies, denies the anger inherent in her long-term defiance of her own father's authority. Romola's struggle over the question of obedience to marriage vows is implicitly likened to Antigone's struggle over the conflicting demands of human and divine law. Equating Romola's inner moral sense with divine law, the author's inflated interpretation of her all-good heroine's dilemma obscures any anger embedded in her own defiant choice of a partnership with a married man. However, the two opposing characters in Romola taken together, the all-good devoted child and the all-bad abandoning child, can be said to reflect the reality of the author's conflicting self-perceptions. As a loving, loyal daughter, she stayed home to care for her father throughout his last illness; as an angry, abandoning daughter, she left his values behind.

    In Kernberg's (1976, 1980) theory of development, identity formation necessitates a process of separating self-images from object images and, simultaneously, of integrating good and bad (or aggressively tinged) images of the self and others. Eliot's need to complete this process of identity formation is reflected in her portrayal of the two father-child relationships in Romola. In both relationships in the novel, the child's self-image is still tightly bound to the image of the father; self-images and object images are confused and exchanged. Each child projects his or her own dependence onto the aging parent, who in turn projects his own needs onto the child. However, the negative (or aggressive) feelings that are evident in both father-child relationships are submerged in the portrayal of Romola and Bardo and split off and projected onto the relationship between Tito and Baldassarre. Both the aggression and the punishment for the aggression (or abandonment) toward the father are deflected onto Tito, who dies in the grip of Baldassarre (who in turn dies of exhaustion), while Romola goes on to a new identity without a need for a father. This kind of split between an immature and/or villainous character and an idealized character is pervasive in Eliot's fiction, but the splitting in Romola is distinguished from that in the other novels by its intensity. Just as Tito is the most villainous character in Eliot's fiction, so Romola is the most extremely idealized, particularly in the last section of the book. Moreover, the split between the opposing characters is distinctive in that both characters are shown to be so tightly bound to their fathers. Piero's sketch of Tito with Baldassarre and his proposed portrait of Romola with Bardo convey this aspect of their shared psychological situation.

    One outward sign of Eliot's inner state as she was trying to write Romola was the intense anxiety that she experienced during the time that she was doing the research for the novel. She feared not knowing enough about fifteenth-century Florence to be able to write a historical novel based on Savonarola's life. Even after she finally began writing, her work was frequently interrupted by her recurring depressions and illnesses, as well as by Lewes's frequent and sometimes severe illnesses. As I suggested earlier (1994), the anxiety that Eliot experienced during this time was more intense than the difficulty of the research and writing of a new kind of novel would warrant. It seems more than likely, in the light of psychoanalytic knowledge of anniversary reactions (Bowlby, 1980; Pollock, 1989) that unresolved issues from the past exacerbated her current anxieties.

    Eliot's preparation and writing of the novel occurred during the period of time that marked the tenth anniversary of the years of dislocation that had followed her father's death. Besides the timing, a number of factors in Eliot's current life could have served as triggers for a renewed sense of dislocation. Both the structure of her family and the location of her household had changed. Lewes's son Charles had come to live with the couple, and the family had moved to London. Moreover, Eliot's attempt to write a new kind of novel repeated the circumstances of the decade before, when she had moved to London to begin new and demanding writing and editorial work for the Westminster Review. During this time of researching and writing Romola, Eliot was quite likely reliving and attempting to work through in her writing the state of despair that she had experienced a decade earlier. The self-reported fluctuations in her frame of mind, for example, "despondency and distrust of myself . . . followed by hours of strength when life seems glorious" (Haight, 1954b, p. 460) depict a mental state that repeats the pattern of her self-reported mental state during the time when her father was dying.

    To judge from Bowlby's (1980) and Pollock's (1989) studies of loss, Eliot's reliving of her reactions to her father's death ten years after the fact, at the time that she was preparing to write Romola, suggests her need to complete the process of mourning her loss of him. Her state of mourning for her father is reflected in the novel in the entangled father-child identifications. In a discussion of the differences between healthy and pathological mourning, Bowlby (1980) explains that the prevalence of "identificatory processes" (p. 30) following the death of a loved one is indicative of pathological mourning. In Romola, the mourner's need to move beyond the identification with the deceased parent is reflected in the portrayal of the two contrasting father-child relationships. In the close relationship between Tito and Baldassarre, the consequence of abandoning the parent is death to both the child and the parent, who remain bound together in death as they had been in life. In the portrayal of the close relationship between Romola and Bardo, Romola remains loyal to her father as long as he lives; after his death, she grows beyond the need for a father figure and finds her own sense of purpose. The outcome of Romola's story is the mourner's wish to move beyond her identification with her father; the outcome of Tito's is the mourner's fear that she cannot.

    Bowlby's (1973, 1980) observational studies of separation and loss, seen in conjunction with Kernberg's (1976, 1980) theory of intrapsychic development, suggest that individuals who have not achieved a secure sense of an identity separate from their parents are likely to have difficulties with mourning. In Kernberg's object-relations theory, identity formation necessitates the process of separating self-images from object images and integrating positive and negative images of both. Combining Kernberg's theory with Bowlby's findings, I suggest that the behavioral manifestation of an incomplete process of identity formation is the pattern of "anxious attachment" that Bowlby (1973, p. 211) describes, for example, in young children who have experienced inappropriate separations from their primary attachment figures. Observing the close connection between anxiety and anger in such children, Bowlby explains that the anger that is initially aroused in response to fear of additional separations from loved ones is habitually repressed in order to maintain closeness to them.

    In The Transformation of Rage (1994), I argued that Mary Ann Evans's early traumatic experiences of separation and loss had predisposed her to later difficulties with mourning. One formative event was the deaths of newborn twin brothers when Mary Ann was a toddler. At that time, her mother seems to have withdrawn from her into depression and illness; she died when Mary Ann was an adolescent. I suggest here that this early experience of the loss of emotional closeness to the mother who never recovered from her own losses had left Mary Ann with a pattern of anxious attachment to other loved ones, including her father. Recent studies of attachment confirm Bowlby's (1980) conclusion that unresolved mourning in a parent is a significant risk factor for her child's developing attachment patterns (Liotti, 1995; Main, 1995). In Romola, this pattern of anxious attachment in the author is reflected in the portrayals of the aggressively tinged father-child identifications. Although the anger in Romola's and Bardo's idealized close relationship is submerged, it becomes clear that it is the anger in the villainous characters' relationship that holds them together. After Baldassarre kills Tito, he is still so enraged that he would rather die himself and "follow the traitor to hell" than let him go.

    Bowlby (1980) explains that among adults whose mourning takes a pathological course are those individuals whose close attachments have tended to be "suffused with overt or covert ambivalence" (p. 202). Mary Ann Evans's close but conflicted relationship with her father is an example of this kind of attachment. Bowlby (1980) also cites cases of disordered mourning that followed from feelings of ambivalence toward a departed loved one. He explains that the recognition of angry thoughts toward the departed led to expressions of grief, and then recovery. In Romola, the aggression experienced in relation to the father is denied in the idealized character, with whom the author identifies, and split off and projected onto Tito, the most villainous character in her fiction. It is Eliot's denial of the anger in herself toward her father, then, that has stalled the mourning process. The contrasting father-child characterizations in the novel reflect the ongoing conflict in the mind of the author. The need to integrate positive and negative images of the self in relation to the father had yet to be met.


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To cite this article, use this bibliographical entry: Peggy Fitzhugh Johnstone "Conflicting Self-Perceptions in George Eliot's Romola". PSYART: A Hyperlink Journal for the Psychological Study of the Arts. Available July 19, 2024 [or whatever date you accessed the article].
Received: September 1, 2000, Published: November 30, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Peggy Fitzhugh Johnstone