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Individuation and Attachment in the Works of Isabelle de Charrière

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Jelka Samsom

The novels published by Isabelle de Charrière before the French Revolution offer a perceptive account of the psychology and the social climate of the late eighteenth century. The anti-Freudian psychoanalysis of the neurologist and psychiatrist Heinz Kohut (1913-81) is used in this study as a means of developing an awareness of the position of the fictional characters. Feminist and Freudian readings of Charrière’s novels of the 1780s have stressed the ‘closed’ deterministic atmosphere of contemporary society; this new study emphasises what can be called the ‘modern’ side of the novels: patriarchal society and individual needs confront each other and allow the relationships to be seen in a new light. By means of Kohut’s notion of ‘selfobject’ a rich insight is gained into the complex relationships described by Isabelle de Charrière.
Contents: Feminist and Freudian readings of Isabelle de Charrière’s novels of the 1780s – A modern side of the novels – Theoretical background for the analysis of Isabelle de Charrière’s work: Kohut’s Self psychology – Healthy narcissism – Secondary narcissism – Selfobject – Self psychology and late eighteenth-century literature – First part of the Lettres écrites de Lausanne: an essay on mother and child relationship – Lettres neuchâteloises: an essay on attachment, individuation and morality – Lettres de Mistriss Henley: an essay on social identity – Caliste: an essay on the divided self.