A Matter of Time

When the twentieth century novelists decided that those plots which frame our
lives and those masks we wear every day for the sake of conventions and society were no longer “interesting”, but rather, what’s hidden behind those masks, the very first victim to be sacrificed to the altar of modern narrative was time, or
better, chronological time .

As Sterne taught us, under the mask there is not hypocrisy, but chaos, the freedom of
thought, no fear of judgement, it is exactly what we are: naked. In that precious
tabernacle which is our mind, time flows free and ruthless. Hence, whoever dared
represent it should have employed new writing techniques, as the old ones could not go under the surface, the mask. Freud, with his studies on the unconscious, Bergson,
with his theory on mental time processes called ” la Durée” and William James, who
theorized “the stream of consciousness” gave those writers what they needed to forge the modern novel.

Rather than following actions linked by a cause-effect pattern, readers were involved by the train of thoughts of the characters that caused those actions. Therefore, at the beginning of a modern novel we don’t find any longer introductory pages with all the information we need to have about the central character/s, as in Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, for example:

I WAS born in the year 1632, in the city of York, of a good family, though not of that country, my father being a foreigner of Bremen, who settled first at Hull. He got a good estate by merchandise, and leaving off his trade, lived afterwards at York, from whence he had married my mother, whose relations were named Robinson, a very good family in that country, and from whom I was called Robinson Kreutznaer; but, by the usual corruption of words in England, we are now called – nay we call ourselves and write our name – Crusoe; and so my companions always called me(…)”. (Robinson Crusoe Chpt.1)

Or Jane Austen’s Emma:

“Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her. She was the youngest of the two daughters of a most affectionate, indulgent father; and had, in consequence of her sister’s marriage, been mistress of his house from a very early period. Her mother had died too long ago for her to have more than an indistinct remembrance of her caresses; and her place had been supplied by an excellent woman as governess, who had fallen little short of a mother in affection.”(Emma Chpt.1)

The heroes that people modern novels may remain without a face or details about their personal lives for many pages till those details cross the mind of the character and only then it is possible to attempt a picture of one of them. Novels become as treasure chests that chronologically may last even one day only, like James Joyce’s Ulysses or Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, chests that keep together the warm, virulent, indomitable power of the characters’ thoughts which freely skip from one way to another thanks to their association of ideas.

The fresh morning air of London”( What a lark! What a plunge!“) and the sound of the hinges of the doors which are to be removed to make more room for Mrs Dalloway’s party, take her to the past when she was eighteen at her summer-house by the sea and the ghost of Peter Walsh appears without any introduction, just few lines she remembers which are apparently meaningful for her, but absolutely meaningless for us :

Musing among the vegetables?”— was that it? —“I prefer men to cauliflowers”— was that it? He must have said it at breakfast one morning when she had gone out on to the terrace — Peter Walsh.” (Mrs Dalloway Chpt.1)

Peter Welsh is a central character of Mrs Dalloway’s life, even he is physically distant, he is constantly present in her mind, in fact he is the very first person we meet in her train of thoughts.

In Dubliners, Eveline has been motionless at the window for some time when she hears somebody’s footsteps:

“The man out of the last house passed on his way home; she heard his footsteps clacking along the concrete pavement and afterwards crunching on the cinder path before the new red houses.”

The sound of the footsteps, which turns from cracking to crunching takes her to the red houses where once there was a field, where she used to play with her brothers and friends and was happy. In that memory the censorious shadow of her father materializes, with a “blackthorn” stick in his hands. Her father is first in her thoughts rather than Frank, the young man with whom she had consented to an elopement that very night, as it is Eveline’s relationship with him the core of the story.

In this new way of writing, pages may chronologically cover few seconds, while a
line hours, as for the individual, time may speed up or slow down even if for the clock pace remains the same. Joyce tells us that “She(Eveline) sat at the window watching the evening invade the avenue“, however, how long had she been sitting there? Hours? Maybe, as we are brought to understand that there was still light when she sat there, but the day had then become night as pointed out by the alliteration of the “w”, which turns into a “v”, and the vowel sound, which grows darker and darker word after word. The incoming night presses her to go while her sense of guilt keeps her there, at the window motionless. Eveline feels both as an invasion of her soul. Very likely she would have preferred a third option, but hadn’t we plunged into the secrecy of her thoughts, we would have seen only a girl sitting at the window and not a word would have been spent on her.



“Man is not Truly One but Truly Two”

Dr Jekyll had always strived to conform to the dominant values of his time. Highly respectable with a charitable disposition, he enjoys a reputation as a courteous and genial man, however, he very soon understands that the sparkling facade that he exhibits in society does not correspond to his real nature, or better, natures. “Man is not truly one , but truly two“, Dr Jekyll says , a “double being“, then, whose most secret side is more prudent to have it concealed from the eyes of the many, but at the same time it is also so dangerously attractive. Whether we call it “evil side” or “id” as Freud would define it, what’s so fascinating in the exploration of this dark, emotional world?

According to the Freudian tripartite division of the psyche, the “id” is the primitive and instinctual part of the mind that contains sexual and aggressive drives and hidden memories. That part of our psyche prevails when we are children, as we haven’t fully developed a moral conscience yet, according to the values imparted by parents or society, what Freud calls the “superego”. This development, which occurs around the age 3-5, is called the phallic age of the psychosexual development. How does it all this work, then? Well, the “superego” controls the “id” ‘s impulses, especially those which society forbids, such as sex and aggression, for example and persuades the “ego” to turn to moralistic goals, to behave properly and to seek for perfection. Otherwise, the controlling power of the superego would take the form of conscience, thus making arouse a sense of guilt for not having being able to conform to what family and society expect from you, for not being that ideal self that you ought to become in order to be proudly integrated in the system.

So, the “id” is the instinct, whatever is forbidden and therefore evil, that is why it is so appealing, in particular to seemingly strait-laced Dr Jekyll, who would like to enjoy the drives he so painfully tries to repress. A potion will do the trick and give him the chance to tell us readers, what it feels like to fully experience that secret side of our self, to be finally the Mr Hyde each of us conceals. Well, the answer we’ll be shockingly simple: happy.

He is happy, as for the first time he we’ll be able to feel ” something indescribably new and, from its very novelty, incredibly sweet“. Without the moral laces of the superego he feels even “younger, lighter, happier in body” like a child and in his mind “a current of disordered sensual images” runs” like a mill-race in (his) fancy, a solution of the bonds of obligation, an unknown but not an innocent freedom of the soul”. Dr Jekyll, now Mr Hyde, is fully aware that this new self is “ more wicked, tenfold more wicked, sold a slave to (his) original evil“, but there is no room for a moral condemnation here, but rather, the only thought of it is as inebriating as wine.

Having struggled all his life to improve his good side, this Mr Hyde appears to be shorter and smaller than Dr Jekyll and conforming to the canons which connote evil, he is ugly and deformed. However, when he looks upon that “ugly idol “in the mirror, he feels no repugnance but rather “a leap of welcome”. He recognizes that as his real, natural self, better than “the imperfect and divided countenance” of Dr Jekyll and even if Mr Hyde is repulsive at the eyes of other people, he doesn’t care. Why should he? After all, he finds himself now above the moral ties of the Victorian society and can enjoy freely the darkness of his soul.

Wuthering Minds


The characters of Wuthering Heights are of a complex multi-layered kind. Especially those who originate from Wuthering Heights manifest various degrees of restlessness and emotional instability, thus making them appear sort of psychopaths or even sociopaths at the eye of a detached reader. Psychologists of any school couldn’t resist the temptation of analyzing the destructive dynamics that bind the characters together giving their solid contribute to interpretations.

Freudian analysis

The dynamics that bind Catherine, Heathcliff, and Edgar together are those of the relationship of Freud’s id, ego, and superego. Heathcliff,  the id,  represents the most primitive drives (like sex), constantly wants its pleasure to be fulfilled; the id does not change in time and remains secluded in the unconscious. Catherine, the ego, relates to other people and society, tests the impulses of the id against the real world, and tries to control its energy. Edgar, the superego, represents the rules of proper behaviour and morality inculcated by teachers, family, and society; he is civilized and cultured. He is the moral conscience which compels Catherine to choose between Heathcliff and himself.

In Freud’s analysis, however, the ego must be male to deal successfully with the world, therefore a female ego would have to live through males if she wants to survive. That is why Catherine has to identify herself with Heathcliff and Edgar: to pull through. Catherine rejects Heathcliff, as she is attracted by the material and social advantages of marrying Edgar, thus avoiding the degradation of yielding to her unconscious self. However, she expects Edgar to accept Heathliff in their life, thus integrating  the different parts of her personality–id, ego, and superego–into one unified self. When she realizes the hopelessness of this psychological integration and torn by her fragmentation, she dies.

Jungian analysis

The relationship of Catherine and Heathcliff is considered as aspects of one person for Jungian readers as well: those aspects may be the archetype of the shadow and the individual

In the personal unconscious, the shadow consists of those desires, feelings, etc. which are unacceptable, for both emotional or moral reasons : it is the dark side of human nature. The shadow is emotional, uncontrollable, and hence can become obsessive or possessive. That’s why Heathcliff  can be seen as Catherine’s shadow: he represents the darkest side of her, with his rancour, his wildness, and his detachment from social connections.

When Catherine marries Edgar, she tries to reject that secret part of her,  that’s why Heathcliff mysteriously disappears. But Heathcliff, as the shadow, refuses to be suppressed permanently, in fact, he comes back out of the blue after two years .  Jung explains that:” even if self-knowledge or insight enables the individual to integrate the shadow, the shadow still resists moral control and can rarely be changed“. Therefore Cathy’s efforts to integrate Heathcliff into her life with Edgar are destined to fail. She tries somehow to impose herself and affect Heathcliff’s behaviour, but he defiantly ignores her prohibitions(an example is when Catherine forbids Heathcliff to court Isabella). Once back, Heathcliff obsessively seeks possession of Catherine to insure his own survival.


For Graeme Tytler Heathcliff suffered of monomania, a nineteenth-century psychological theory, which refers to “the disease of going to extremes, of singularization, of one-sidedness,” in short, an obsessive behaviour. Monomania can be caused by “ thwarted love,  fear, vanity, wounded self-love, or disappointed ambition“.” Heathcliff shows a predisposition to monomania soon after Catherine’s death for his resolute determination to be connected to her after her death. However, it’s only eighteen years after Catherine’s death that he shows the first signs of insanity. He suffers from hallucinations, insomnia; he talks to himself or to Catherine’s ghost and he seems to be continuously haunted by Catherine’s image.

Only death will set them all free from obsessions and……. psychologists.

Yorkshire dreams


Do you ever dream queer dreams?” asks Catherine to Nelly Dean at a crucial moment of Wuthering Heights. Nelly startles and doesn’t want Cathy to proceed, because she is convinced that dreams may foreshadow some imminent catastrophe. But it won’t be that kind of dreams. The way Emily Bronte will use the dream effect on the story is innovative. In her sister’s masterpiece Jane Eyre, dreams give the novel a gothic flavour, in fact they are usually in the form of presentiments, warnings for the future or sometimes symbolize the complex representations for the events in Jane’s life. Emily will dare more, she will anticipate somehow  Freud‘s Interpretation of Dreams. Let’s try to make it in simple words: dreams for Freud are unconscious wishes. As they are not accessible to the ego, they emerge from the psyche during the sleep when conscience weaken its control. Dreams for Freud are highly symbolic. They contain both overt meanings (manifest content) as well as underlying, unconscious thoughts (latent content),this is because dreams may represent the fulfillment of a wish often unacceptable to the ego,so the latent content undergoes a transformation that doesn’t allow the super ego of “the dreamer” to recognize it, thus escaping  its censorship. Dreams are our unconscious wishes in disguise. Cathy tells Nelly that she often dreams to be in heaven. But she is unhappy there and when the angels, worn out by her desperation, send her back on the earth she wakes up “sobbing for joy”. Cathy won’t need many sessions with a psychologyst to decipher the metaphors of her dream. She knows exactly its meaning. That heaven isThrushcross Grange, the grand house where the Lintons’ live, and she, as the future Mrs Linton, will have to join them very soon. Respectability, society , money are part of that heaven but ,as Nelly jockingly will say, Cathy “is not fit to be there”,she belongs to the earth, to Wuthering Heights where Heathcliff may be beside her. In another dream she sees her image reflected in a mirror but  she doesn’t seem to recognize it. All her dreams seem to warn that she is about to do the wrong choice, a choice that will make her betray her true nature, her true self.