Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

Possession of the mother necessitates defiance of the father: or, if we prefer to express the idea in practical terms, the matrist ends to be in revolt against authority. When matrists are brought up in a world substantially patrist in pattern, they naturally find themselves in a state of protest: that protest becomes quite explicit when they are saddled with strongly patrist parents — as in the case of Shelley. Thus it is entirely in keeping with our analysis that Romantics like Byron and Shelley should have sympathized, as they did, with the under-dog and inveighed against tyranny. It is equally natural that they should find in the story of Lucifer’s revolt against God a sympathetic myth; and it is understandable, therefore, to find Blake expressing sympathy — was he the first to do so? — for Milton’s Satan. Shelley, similarly, praised Dante as “the Lucifer of his age“, a comparison which is ludicrous if we think of Lucifer simply as the embodiment of evil, but which makes sense when we think of him as the “bringer of light” and of Dante as the passionate but distant worshipper of the unattainable Beatrice, the almost Gnostic Sophia, or wisdom.

Dissatisfaction with society may also lead to the propounding of plans for its reconstruction, as it did in the case of Rousseau, another character of great psychological interest. Rousseau taught that man is naturally good, and is only made bad by circumstances or civilization — the logical counterpart to the patrist claim that man is by nature wicked: this alone would be enough to make us suspect some degree of mother-identification. Rousseau sought to arouse sympathy for the concept of the natural man in harmonious relations with his surroundings — a concept rather recalling Rabelais’s “company of upright men“. But Rabelais had seen that they would have to be “bien instruictz“, whereas Rousseau, more fully in reaction from patrism, felt that all instruction harmed. It would be interesting to study the psychology of Rousseau at great length — for instance, it seems relevant that he always called his mistress, Mme. de Warens, “mother” — but he is so complex a character that to do so would involve an unduly long digression.

It is not necessary to pursue the argument further in order to establish the point that the Romantic Movement was, at bottom, a small-scale matrist reaction in favour of greater spontaneity, freer sexual morality, higher status for women and all the other attitudes which we have seen to be associated with mother fixation. But it was a reaction which took place within the framework of a larger movement towards patrism, and especially so in England. This gives it its peculiar character. It had no time, before it was strangled, to establish new customs and values and to modify the legal formulations through which accepted values were expressed. It was forced primarily into expression in literary form, where it dominated the field; in the real world it appears in the form of a limited number of acts of defiance of accepted law, and necessarily has the character of a revolt.

The stock “explanation” of the Romantic Movement is that it was a reaction against the growth of industrialism, and sought to substitute aesthetic values for utilitarian ones. This may be true, as far as it goes, but it does not explain why some people felt this necessity at a time when the bulk of the population was hurrying ever more rapidly in pursuit of utilitarian values. Still less does it explain why the spirit of revolt extended to the fields of politics and sex. Russell’s phrase, to the effect that Darwin praised the useful earthworm whereas Blake praised the tiger, is exceedingly apt, but gets one nowhere.