The Living Mirror

The Representation of Doubling Identities in the British and Polish Women’s Literature (1846–1938)

by Klara Naszkowska (Author)
©2014 Monographs 263 Pages


This book identifies a corpus of British and Polish texts that share correspondences with reference to the themes of feminine doubling, the difficulty of asserting feminine subjectivity, sexual mother-figures and symbolic father-figures. It draws on the Freudo-Lacanian psychoanalysis and the French feminist uses of it known as écriture féminine – the theories of Luce Irigaray and Hélène Cixous. It also introduces the theories of the forgotten Russian-Jewish psychoanalyst, Sabina Spielrein. The first part of the book takes account of specifics of Polish culture and history that made women writers marginalised within this context. In the second part, it closely and comparatively examines the selected British and Polish texts, while giving voice to the unknown, stereotyped, or forgotten Polish works. The innovative features of the book include its comparative character and the implementation of various psychoanalytical approaches to the Polish texts.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgements
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • 1. Outline of the Book
  • 2. Psychoanalytic Inspiration
  • 3. Masculine Double
  • PART I
  • Chapter I: British Literature: Survey of the Main Trends
  • Chapter II: Polish Romanticism: Madness. Vampirism. Messianism
  • 1. Survey of the Main Trends
  • 2. Romantic Femininity and Feminism
  • 3. Narcyza Zmichowska and (her) Enthusiasts
  • Chapter III: Polish Positivism: A Set of Restrictions
  • 1. Survey of the Main Trends
  • 2. Maria Konopnicka: Borderline Case, Rule, Exception
  • Chapter IV: Young Poland: Decadence and Melancholia
  • 1. Survey of the Main Trends
  • 2. Zofia Nalkowska: The Great Lady of Polish Literature
  • 3. Maria Komornicka: Spirit in the Mask of Nakedness
  • Chapter V: The Role of Mothers
  • 1. Mothers and Daughters: Feminine Doubling
  • 2. Acquisition of Feminine Sexuality
  • Beauty, Madness and Vampirism
  • Love for the Mother: Fantasy and Idealisation
  • Hysteria and Music
  • 3. To Become a Feminine Subject
  • Chapter VI: The Role of Fathers
  • 1. Fear of Feminine Sexuality
  • 2. (No) Education
  • 3. Blindness, Castration, Destruction
  • Chapter VII: Metaphors
  • 1. Hair, Serpents, Medusa
  • 2. Fire and Heat
  • 3. Flowers and Moon
  • 4. Love and Death. Eros and Thanatos
  • Conclusion
  • Select Bibliography
  • Primary Bibliography
  • Secondary Bibliography:
  • Series Index

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1. Outline of the Book

The present book closely and comparatively examines Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, Narcyza Żmichowska’s The Heathen, Maria Konopnicka’s “Miss Florentine”, Maria Komornicka’s “On Father and his Daughter” and Zofia Nałkowska’s “Green Shore” in the context of psychoanalysis. At the heart of this interrogation is the problem of feminine doubling, which has not yet been taken into academic consideration in this way.

It might reasonably be asked why I have selected these six texts, since there are other works penned by women and dealing with the subject of doubling. The main reason for choosing Jane Eyre and Rebecca was that these well–known and widely interpreted texts constitute a referable case study for the Polish works allowing the introduction of the works to an English–speaking reader. In selecting Polish texts for inclusion in this book, I took into account their previous reception. I selected unconventional works, which were forgotten, omitted by critics and readers throughout the years, typecast as uninteresting and conventional, or misinterpreted and included in the canon. It was my intention to provide a much–needed modern rereading of Polish women’s texts discussed in this book, so that they may be afforded their appropriate position within British and Polish criticism. Although The Heathen belongs to the literary canon, the subversive and original qualities of the novel were overlooked. The readers and the critics have forgotten “Miss Florentine” and “Green Shore”, although Konopnicka and Nałkowska are well–known, generally respected authors. The case for Komornicka’s “On Father and his Daughter” is that the text is vastly marginalised, although its author recently became a subject of intense (feminist) critique. The goal of this re–interpretation and re–evaluation is to demonstrate the innovativeness, unconventionality, complexity and/or literary value of these texts, and to introduce them to British and Polish criticism. It seemed necessary for me to say that these Polish texts deserve recognition by English–speaking readers and British secondary criticism. I also wanted to emphasise the unexamined correspondence between “On Father and his Daughter” and “Green Shore”. ← 11 | 12 →

The second reason for selecting such a textual corpus was connected with the presupposition underlying this book formulated in the following way: contrary to the negative relationship connecting masculine doppelgangers, the bond between feminine doppelgangers hides the potential of being positive and rewarding. I interpret the texts selected for inclusion in this book in order to retrace when and how the sexual mother–figures become capable of sharing their experiences with their “younger” counterparts; when and how they assists their daughter–figures to embrace their sexualities, the (feminine) language and the Symbolic realm, and to acquire subjectivity.1

Thirdly, although the textual corpus begins with the mid–nineteenth century and ends with the beginning of the twentieth century, my presentation is not chronological. Instead, the material is structured around the enmeshing of subjects and thematic patterns.

The material falls into a three–part structure. The Introduction opens with a presentation of psychoanalytic and gender–oriented theories, which are going to be implemented rigorously in Part Two devoted to the close reading of the selected texts. Secondly, it includes a concise survey of canonical masculine doppelgangers and of the logic of masculine doubling. The section sheds light on the negative, destructive, even murderous alter egos in Edgar Allan Poe’s “William Wilson”, Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s “The Double”, Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” and Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, in order to contrast them with the positive feminine doubling present in the texts chosen for discussion in this book.

The present investigation of the selected texts proceeds on two levels – the broad cultural, social and historical background of the texts, and the close reading of fiction penned by women in a comparative context. The first part begins with an Introduction devoted to the British cultural and historical background aimed to briefly introduce Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, and to locate the argument about women writers in a comparative context. As the well–known British tradition does not call for such an explication, this part provides a much more extended presentation of the Polish background presently almost completely unknown to the English–speaking reader. It predominantly aims to introduce the Polish writers and their texts. The section throws light on the relevant biographical facts connected with the authors, the social and historical issues (such as emancipation), the character of the nineteenth–century epochs (Romanticism, Positivism and Young Poland), the place ← 12 | 13 → of the selected works within/outside the literary canon, and the prevailing interpretative tendencies. Such broad introduction of the Polish cultural background is necessary for the further close reading of the texts chosen for inclusion in this book.

The second, pivotal part is a comparative interrogation focusing around the common issues of feminine doubling, the ambiguous nature of the relation of mothers and daughters, and of fathers and daughters, the acquisition of feminine sexuality and subjectivity, the ambiguity of gender, the significance of beauty, the connection between creativity and madness, as well as the common themes and metaphors of education, confinement, abandonment, Eros and Thanatos, feminine vampirism, hair, snake, fire, flowers, and moon, among others in the British and Polish works selected for inclusion in this book. The aim of Part II is to interrogate the above issues, themes and metaphors in isolation from the autobiographical, cultural, social and historical contexts, and to close–read them, in order to pay particular attention to the works themselves.

A comparative study allows for a fruitful introduction of the little known Polish works that deserve more attention vis–à–vis the well–known British works. Furthermore, it enables us to trace common ideas, themes, motifs, values, and shifts present in the texts and between the texts, despite the fact that they belong to two different traditions. With its comparative nature, the present book attempts to surpass the cultural, national and linguistic boundaries with the view to bringing to the attention many innovative aspects of Polish women's writing and the pioneering approaches of Polish women authors to the construction of their identity as modern subjects.

The examination stems from the conviction that Rebecca is a reinterpretation of Jane Eyre: its nameless protagonist is the rewritten version of Jane, Rebecca is the embodiment of Bertha Mason, Maxim de Winter is the counterpart of Edward Rochester. The following interpretation focuses on the issues usually marginalised by critics: the shifts between the two novels and the mother–daughter–father relationships portrayed in them. It aims to demonstrate that the two protagonists manifest contrary attitudes towards their mother–figures: while Jane Eyre establishes continuity with Bertha Mason, she “listens” to her, saves her from total annihilation, and uses her guidelines, the nameless protagonist of Rebecca repeatedly abandons her mother–figure and, finally, triumphs over her death. In their attitude towards their mother–figures and father–figures, the Polish heroines repeat the behaviour of Jane Eyre, or the anonymous narrator of Rebecca. Again, the book traces the shifts between the Polish texts, Jane Eyre and Rebecca, in relation to the theme of positive feminine doubling.

The present analysis of the Polish women’s literature considers various ways in which critics have approached the questions of femininity, feminine subjectivity, ← 13 | 14 → sexuality and creativity. The research is deeply indebted to scholars who have attempted to investigate the literary strategies of Polish women writers in a new, modern way. Although, the works selected for this book have been omitted, misinterpreted and typecast on a large scale, there are some inspiring, groundbreaking analyses. Most importantly, I draw on Ursula Phillips’s highly stimulating interpretations of The Heathen and her yet to be published translation of the book. Secondly, the enlightening Alienated Women where Grażyna Borkowska confronts the literary strategies of Narcyza Żmichowska and other writers. I am also greatly indebted to Lena Magnone’s insight on “Miss Florentine” and Krystyna Kralkowska–Gątkowska’s analyses of “On Father and his Daughter”.

A list of the major innovative features of the current book includes its comparative British–Polish character, the investigation of the Polish texts from the viewpoint of Freudian and post–Freudian psychoanalysis, the introduction of the theories of Spielrein, the comparison of “On Father and his Daughter” and “Green Shore”. All these aspects of my research contribute to a broader understanding of women's writing in Europe and highlight many specific characteristics of Polish women's writing.

2. Psychoanalytic Inspiration

The use of a combined approach, which takes into account a variety of psychoanalytic and gender–oriented theories, and confronts Polish works with well–known and broadly interpreted English texts, is a productive way of interpreting unfamiliar Polish texts. Psychoanalysis is the major methodological inspiration for the present study because, firstly, this book focuses on motifs and themes fundamental for psychoanalysis, and, secondly, psychoanalytic theory serves as the basis for comparison of works from various cultures, literary periods, languages and genres.

The present book draws on Freudo–Lacanian psychoanalysis and the French feminist uses of it associated with écriture féminine – the theories of Luce Irigaray and Hélène Cixous which argue with the Freudo–Lacanian perspective. To my knowledge, this is the first critical work to analyse literature using the ideas of the forgotten Russian psychoanalyst Sabina Spielrein. The book seeks to introduce Spielrein’s theories to the English–speaking reader and British literary criticism.

The following work focuses on the mother–daughter and father–daughter relationships, the figures of mother and father, and the realms associated with them: the pre–Oedipal stage or the Imaginary, and the Oedipal stage or the Symbolic, respectively. In his “Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality” Freud ← 14 | 15 → presents only a male perspective. According to his description, a little girl is a little boy, and the sexuality of girls is of a masculine character.2 In the undifferentiated pre–Oedipal stage a child and a mother remain in a dyadic unity. In this stage of development a child believes itself to be a part of the mother. There is no lack, no unconscious and no sexual difference. The pre–Oedipal, phallic mother encompassing femininity and masculinity, is the first love object, and a prototypical object of sexual desire. A child initially perceives its father as rival. I would like to suggest that the mother is the first wife of every man, because he is the re–embodiment of his biological father, the father of the primal horde and the phallus. Therefore, a wife is always the second woman. Let us also consider Freud’s “Three Essays”, which illustrate the connection between the mother and child:

It was the child’s first and most vital activity, his sucking at his mother’s breast, or at substitutes for it, that must have familiarized him with the pleasure. The child’s lips, in our view, behave like an erotogenic zone, and no doubt stimulation by the warm flow of milk is the cause of the pleasurable sensation. The satisfaction of the erotogenic zone is associated, in the first instance, with the satisfaction of the need for nourishment. To begin with, sexual activity attaches itself to functions serving the purpose of self–preservation and does not become independent of them until later.

[A] child sucking at his mother’s breast has become the prototype of every relation of love. The finding of an object is in fact a refinding of it.

[T]he person in charge of him [child], who, after all, is as a rule his mother, herself regards him with feelings that are derived from her own sexual life: she strokes him, kisses him, rocks him and quite clearly treats him as a substitute for a complete sexual object (263, 288 and 288–289).

During its maturation, a subject discovers that its mother (and all women) lack a penis, gives up the emotional bond with the mother and creates an internalized paternal agency – the super–ego.3 “The Oedipus complex for Freud marks the origin of civilisation, religion, morals and art. It is only through the repression and sublimation of our incestuous desire for our mothers that civilisation and culture can develop” (Homer 57).

In his later texts, which stress the importance of the pre–Oedipal relationship with the mother: “Some Psychical Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction between the Sexes”, “Female Sexuality” and “Femininity”, Freud also emphasises the significance of the bond with a mother for a girl and her future development. He uses the (in)famous comparison of this discovery to the discovery of ← 15 | 16 → Minoan–Mycenaean civilisation behind the Greek. In the girl’s version of the Oedipus complex, developed in these three essays, in order to grow up properly and resolve the complex, a girl has to discontinue her relationship with her mother (she holds her responsible for her deficiency – the lack of penis) and take her father as an object, but she also needs to become a passive object of his love.4 The father serves as a prototypical model for her future object choices. In his “Three Essays” Freud asserts that a girl often falls in love for the first time with a much older man in a position of authority, because he re–animates the image of her father.

In his return to Freud, Jacques Lacan developed the notion of three orders: the Real, the Imaginary and the Symbolic. These are linked with stages in the development of a child, but are also structures significant throughout its entire life. In the Real, a child fully indentifies with the mother (the Other). In “The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I” and The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho–analysis Lacan explained that the Imaginary is inaugurated by the Mirror Stage when a child recognizes its image in the mirror (figurative or metaphorical).5 The child differentiates itself from the mother (m/other) and its surroundings, and identifies with its coherent mirror image. The mother’s gaze is the first object of its desire. However, the child realises that the mother turns her gaze away from it , towards the father – the representative of the big Other. Moreover, the latter permanently separates the child from the mother and her body. He forbids further incestuous access to the mother. The child is forced to repress its desire for the dyadic unity with the mother and for the Imaginary.

Lacan rewrote the Oedipus complex as a Symbolic structure. In his account, the Oedipal crisis is fundamental for the acquisition of identity. It represents the transition to culture, language, law and society associated with the father. The child abandons the mother’s pre–cultural and pre–verbal sphere and acquires the notion of self. The unconscious emerges as a result of the repression of desire (for the mother). “[T]he speaking subject only comes into existence because of the repression of the desire for the lost mother. […] [T]he speaking subject is lack” (Moi, “Sexual/Textual Politics” 99–100, original emphasis). While the Real and the Imaginary are pre–linguistic, in the Symbolic realm the child becomes a subject in language. In Lacan’s terms, the Imaginary and the Mirror Stage are problematic, while the Symbolic is positive, and accredited with the law–giving functions. In the present book the Symbolic has dubious effects. The ← 16 | 17 → entrance to the Symbolic order may pose a threat to female subjectivity; immobilize and silence a protagonist.

In the Symbolic, when sexual difference emerges, the differentiation between femininity and masculinity is based on (in)visibility of the penis. According to the Lacanian poststructuralist rereading of Freud, the penis is a bodily organ and the phallus is a signifier of sexual difference. As stated in “The Signification of the Phallus”, it symbolises the penis in the Imaginary and the Symbolic. “The phallus is the privileged signifier of that mark in which the role of the logos is joined with the advent of desire” (Lacan, Écrits 318). In the order of the Symbolic, the phallic mother transforms into the castrated, defective mother, as she lacks the “visible” genital organs.6

In “The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis”, “On a Question Preliminary to Any Possible Treatment of Psychosis” and “Introduction to the Names–of–the–Father Seminar” Lacan takes up Freud’s concept of the dead Father and proposes a paternal metaphor, a signifier, the–Name–of–the–Father. It refers not to the Real, or the Imaginary father, but to the Symbolic father. The homophony of le nom Du père (the name of the father) and le non Du père (the no of the father) indicates the legislative and prohibitive function of the Symbolic father: “It is the name of the father that we must recognize the support of the symbolic function which, from the dawn of history, has identified his person with the figure of the law” (Lacan, Écrits 74, original emphasis). The–Name–of–the–Father interrupts the dyadic mother–child relationship, introduces the law (the prohibition of the incestuous relationship with the mother), and sexual difference. The paternal metaphor replaces the forbidden desire for the mother with the law of the father. “The Oedipus myth is based on the premise that it is the father, as the agent of prohibition, who denies us access to enjoyment (i.e., incest, the sexual relationship with the mother)” (Žižek 23). Finally, the Symbolic father positions the child within the Symbolic realm, subject to the law and language.

Lacan goes beyond Freud and attempts to interrogate the issue of feminine sexuality. According to his diagram of sexual difference presented during Seminar XX (published in “A Love Letter”), only a masculine subject can acquire the position of a speaking subject. Although women enter the Symbolic, they remain mere objects of male desire – objet petit a. Only by taking up the position ← 17 | 18 → of a masculine subject, can they speak and create. As a result, they express themselves solely in a masculine manner. Hence, they are unable to say anything about their desires. In Lacan’s theory, a feminine subject cannot constitute a speaking subject. The psychoanalyst argues for an inscription “the woman” to emphasise her incompleteness and non–subjectivity:

The woman can only be written with The crossed through. There is no such thing as The woman, where the definite article stands for the universal. There is no such thing as The woman since of her essence […] – of her essence, she is not all. […] This the is a signifier characterised by being the only signifier which cannot signify anything, but which merely constitutes the status of the woman as being not all. Which forbids our speaking of The woman (“God and the Jouissance” 144, original emphasis).


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (July)
Doppelgänger Thanatos Eros Psychoanalyse
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 263 pp.

Biographical notes

Klara Naszkowska (Author)

Klara Naszkowska completed her PhD in Comparative Literature at the University of Edinburgh and holds MA in Polish Philology from the University of Warsaw. Her research interests lie in the area of psychoanalysis, 19th century women’s prose and feminist critique. She has published in academic journals and collective books in Poland and abroad.


Title: The Living Mirror
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266 pages