Obsession predominantly unrequited obsessive love and insanity

Obsession, predominantly unrequited obsessive love, and insanity are human conditions explored by both Hardy and McEwan in Far From the Madding Crowd and Enduring Love. Boldwood and Jed Parry are both consumed by their fixation, resulting in the distortion of their perception on reality. Jed Parry in particular complies with his most basic instincts and so he is rendered insane to the reader, just as Boldwood’s unnatural longing for Bathsheba causes his delusion. Ultimately, in both novels, obsession inevitably results in madness, demonstrated by both characters’ violent mental breakdowns at the climax of both novels.

Evidence of Jed Parry’s obsession with Joe Rose lies in his love’s ability to transcend time. Jed’s emotional attachment to Joe is stimulated by the moment of intensity provided by the balloon accident and never falters, even with his removal to the mental hospital. His attachment to Joe originates from their first meeting during the balloon accident, becoming apparent from his longing for Joe to pray with him.

It acts as a suitably intense moment to explain Jed’s emotional reliance on another person, Joe. His delusional belief that ‘God has brought [them] together in this tragedy’ leads to his insistence and Joe realises that ‘Parry wasn’t giving up’ . However, upon closer inspection, McEwan hints at his interest in Joe before this. Joe mentions that he ‘noticed Jed Parry watching [him]’ and the description of how ‘Parry took a couple steps closer’ suggests his yearning for intimacy with Joe. Hardy makes Jed’s adoration explicit when he admits ‘I love you’ to Joe on the phone, but his delusion is evident in his misunderstanding that Joe reciprocates this feeling.

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Clearly, his obsessional love results in a blindness to Joe’s feelings and so despite Joe not reciprocating his love, Jed’s fondness for Joe strengthens from this moment and reaches its peak in Appendix II. The letter is written during his ‘third year after admittance’ and so the continuation of his yearning depicts his love as the most enduring in the novel. Undeniably, his intensity of emotion has grown throughout the novel up until this point where he tells Joe, ‘I adore you. I live for you. I love you.’ McEwan’s use of an ascending tricolon demonstrates Jed’s relentless pursuit and according to Kiernan Ryan, ‘Jed’s rapturous cri de coeur closes the novel on a note of defiant irrationality and invincible delusion, which makes psychotic passion our final image of Enduring Love.’ Certainly, Jed’s belief that ‘I’ve never felt so free. I’m soaring. I’m so happy Joe’ is psychotic considering his entrapment in the hospital. Equally, his continuation as a threatening presence to Joe and Clarissa’s relationship is evident in the final words of the letter. The use of ‘Faith and Joy’, words which typically hold positive connotations, are horrifying in this context. They represent the ‘faith and joy’ of a maniac. As a result, the final appendix leaves the reader feeling disturbed. Ultimately, Jed ignores the problem of unrequited love and is blind to the impossibility of his hopes so the novel ends with Joe’s delusional devotion to an unachievable goal, suggesting that obsessional love results in insanity.

Just as Jed’s obsession with Joe in Enduring Love is activated by a single event, Boldwood’s fixation with Bathsheba in Far From the Madding Crowd is stimulated by the receipt of the Valentine. Hardy’s description of the sunrise as a ‘flameless fire shining’ could be symbolic of an awakening in Boldwood, perhaps an awakening of his desire for Bathsheba or even a sexual awakening. Almost instantly after receiving the letter, he becomes consumed with Bathsheba and she, like Joe Rose in Enduring Love, spends much of the novel trying to evade his gaze. It is evident that the valentine from Bathsheba disturbs him because ‘the large red seal’ , reading ‘Marry Me’ , becomes like ‘a blot on the retina of his eye’ , indicating his fixation on the letter as it is almost imprinted on his retina due to the number of times he has read it. His scrutiny of the writing in the letter and the resulting imaginative vision of the woman’s hand as having ‘travelled softly over the paper’ whilst her lips had ‘curved’ in the same way to the letters depicts him as immediately consumed by the anticipation of a woman who is interested in him. From this, we can deduce that Boldwood is not obsessed with Bathsheba, but with the concept of a woman who loves him. Furthermore, unlike Jed in Enduring Love, Boldwood’s obsession grows over time. For example, Jed is instantly drawn to Joe from their first encounter yet Boldwood is indifferent to Bathsheba. He takes no notice of her at the corn-market and later passes her on the road without even glancing in her direction. Thus, Boldwood’s obsession with Bathsheba is triggered by the valentine.

Once Boldwood’s attention is captured, he demonstrates an unwavering focus on Bathsheba until the end of the novel. The relentless pursuit of her even causes him to stray from his primary values; he gradually neglects his land and the surrounding community, confining himself to his bedroom closet, where his fantasy of ‘Mrs Boldwood’ prospers. This is unsurprising given Hardy’s initial description of his character that explains, ‘If an emotion possessed him at all, it ruled him’ . As a pillar of the community, Boldwood’s neglect of his farm resulting from his obsession and as such, his emotional state and moral irresponsibility, would have been suprising to a Victorian reader. However, modern readers may appreciate his unavoidable infatuation with her and so are more likely to pity him due to her nonchalance towards him. The name ‘Boldwood’ reinforces the inevitability of his adoration for a woman as it connotes constancy and commitment, suggesting a reason for his complete devotion to her. The name also connotes rigidity, indicating that once he is fixated with a woman, he is rooted in his obsession. For the reader, the collection of gifts which Boldwood has labelled ‘Bathsheba Boldwood’ is enough evidence to consider him totally obsessed. Boldwood’s fixation on Bathsheba is not only presented as inevitable but also as beyond control. Hardy’s description of the moon as ‘not of a customary kind’ and ‘casting shadows in strange places’ suggests a connection between Boldwood’s uncertainty and natural forces beyond human control. This idea is reinforced with Hardy’s illustration of how Bathsheba has opened the ‘sluices of feeling’ and he has become ‘surcharged’ with feeling. Phillip Mallett feels that this suggests that ‘love is something like a medical condition’ . The implication is that love and by extension, obsession are beyond control and so cannot be restrained, stopped or averted. It is therefore a natural force that develops rapidly and can easily deform into insanity. The third person omniscient narrator enables the reader to observe the intensity of Boldwood’s obsessive love. Moreover, obsession, in relation to Boldwood, leads to selfishness regarding Bathsheba’s feelings and this is comparable to Jed’s blindness to Joe’s feelings in Enduring Love. Boldwood’s compulsion for Bathsheba leads to his demand that she wear a ring for six years as a promise that she will marry him. According to Linda Shires, ‘His ideal passion distorts his life as much as it distorts her’ . Ultimately, his inflated demands prevents Bathsheba from being happy because she is unable to escape his intense gaze. This is what separates Gabriel from Boldwood because Gabriel would rather Bathsheba be happy.

Jed’s obsession with Joe becomes apparent through the observations Joe makes of him as well as Jed’s expression of his feelings. McEwan’s use of the evocative nouns, ‘Hunger’ and ‘desperation’ to describe how ‘he was watching [Joe’s] face’ highlights his voracious longing for a connection with Joe. More clearly, Jed fantasises about Joe approaching his ‘front door’ of his ‘beautiful house’ where ‘hardly anyone’ goes. The symbol of the door illustrates his obsession because for Parry, Joe’s use of his front door represents a level of intimacy and affection that he yearns for. Moreover, McEwan uses the change in form to a letter to reveal Jed’s obsession to a greater extent. Jed’s words are undoubtedly disturbing because they are similar to the letters that typical lovers may send. For example, McEwan uses the simile of his happiness ‘running through [Jed] like an electrical current’ and Jed sees the ‘unspoken love between [them] as strong as steel cable’. These images are conventional expressions that compare love to natural and powerful forces, which is ironic given that Jed doesn’t reciprocate Jed’s feelings. Cressida Connolly feels that the letters depict Jed’s illness as more disturbing and compelling because it closely resembles ordinary romantic attachment. She believes that it is in his proximity to ordinary behaviour that he becomes most unsettling. The end of the first appendix draws on this through the explanation that ‘the pathological extensions of love not only touch upon but overlap with normal experience, and it is not always easy to accept that one of our most valued experiences may merge into psychopathy.’ Here, it is suggested that deranged love has parallels to conventional love and so most of Jed’s actions and words would not be out of place if they were between Joe and Clarissa but the unrealistic intentions of Jed in his desire for a relationship with Joe enhances his insanity.

Jed’s apparent insanity, garnered in a large part from his letters to Joe, culminates at the end of the novel in his violent outburst where he takes Clarissa as prisoner, attempts to murder Joe and threatens his own suicide. This results in his removal to the psychiatric ward, a treatment for his mental disorder that reflects modern attitudes towards madness, symbolising the height of his detachment from reality. In the 1800s, treatment for madness involved physical brutality whereas in recent times, the importance of managing the disorder as a cerebral problem has been recognised. Joe identifies Parry as suffering with de cl?rambault’s syndrome and the validity of this diagnosis is supported by Joe’s unstable mental state. He continues to believe that Joe is ‘leading him on’ by speaking to him ‘in dreams’ , which indicates Jed’s derangement given that the feelings Jed has for Joe are unreciprocated. This complete detachment from reality is reinforced by his physical threats. For example, he warns Joe that he can ‘get people to do things for [him]. Anything [he] want[s]’ . It is inferred that Jed is alluding to his ability to hire men to injure Joe, rather than to hire a researcher to gather information about him. This is the first instance where McEwan links Parry’s obsession to the potential of violence, and therefore, to extremes. Again, Jed uses ‘decorators’ as a euphemism for murderers when he explains how he ‘went to Mile End Road yesterday…Looking for more decorators!’ . However, it could be considered that Jed reaches the height of his insanity when he becomes physically violent himself, rather than relying on others. This is especially relevant because he previously mentions ‘What’s surprising is how cheap it is, you know, for something you’d never do yourself’ . Hence, the climax, when Jed threatens to kill Clarissa, is evidence that he poses a real threat now, perhaps representing his ultimate descent into madness. Equally, the moment Jed ‘brought the tapering point of the blade right up under his own ear lobe’ reinforces the epitome of his demise with suicide. Interestingly, Joe and David Broadfoot, feel that ‘the cutting of the ear could be a historical reference to the artist Vincent van Gogh’ since he cut off his ear to prove his love. In this way, Jed is desperately trying to prove his love for Joe, despite it being dramatic and putting him in a position of vulnerability. Controversially, McEwan shows Jed’s insanity most obviously through religious beliefs that become demented when ‘God was a term interchangeable with self’ . His confusion between himself and God is also hinted at through his threat to Joe to ‘never try to pretend to yourself that I do not exist.’ Ultimately, Jed’s delusion develops throughout the novel and reaches its peak in his threat of physical violence towards Joe, Clarissa and himself but it can also be recognised in his distortion of his religious beliefs.

Just as Jed’s insanity grows throughout the novel and reaches a peak towards the end, Boldwood’s obsessional love also mutates into madness by the end. Hardy expresses the climax of his derangement through violence, specifically his murder of Troy and similarly to Jed in Enduring Love, his attempted self-sacrifice. Boldwood’s loss of reason is first evident in his confidence that Bathsheba will agree to marry him, which becomes apparent in his conversation with Gabriel Oak in Chapter 52. Boldwood mentions that Oaks’ share in the farm ‘is small, too small, considering how little [he] attend[s] to business now’ . Here, Boldwood’s willingness to make economic decisions regarding his future plans demonstrates his delusional conviction that Bathsheba will marry him. This is reinforced by his misjudgment that ‘the world is brightening for [him]’ and the use of ‘I feel I shall’ to refer to the probability of marrying her. Moreover, his acknowledgement that he rarely ‘attend[s] to business now’ is an understatement given that he disregards his crops during the storm, demonstrating his obsession with the pursuit of Bathsheba. Furthermore, Hardy highlights Boldwood’s insanity by his desperate request of Bathsheba to promise marriage after six years. His pleading that ‘if [she] marry again, [she] will marry [him]’ evolves into his hope that ‘in six years’ time [she] will be [his] wife ’. Bathsheba’s unhappiness at his demands reflect how obsession has taken over his rationality, indicating his new-found insanity. It is ironic that the title, a borrowed phrase from Thomas Gary’s poem, ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard’, is suggestive that Wessex is an idyllic place of tranquility and security (in contrast to the industrialisation and urbanisation of the city that caused uncertainty surrounding the Victorian era) when its characters, specifically Boldwood, are revealed to be ‘madding’. According to Phillip Mallett, ‘for the modern reader, the evidence of the dresses, muffs, jewelry and the like which Boldwood has collected, packed in paper, and labelled ‘Bathsheba Boldwood’, seems reason enough to think him insane.’ So to Mallett, it is not Boldwood’s delusional wish for Bathsheba to marry him that renders him deranged, but the accumulation of gifts for her. For me, Boldwood’s insanity peaks in his violent outburst at Troy’s appearance at his party. When Troy seizes Bathsheba’s arm and ‘pulled it sharply’, she responds with a ‘quick, low scream’ . Boldwood reacts by ‘[taking] one of the guns, [cocking] it, and at once [discharging] it at Troy’ . Here, Bathsheba’s unease results in Boldwood’s violent expression of his love for her in a desperate attempt to protect her. Yet this only ends in his inability to retain Bathsheba’s promise. As Mallett mentions, Boldwood ‘recognise[s] that this was his final sacrifice’ and so he will be naive to expect a future with her now.

Obsession and its resulting insanity is visible in other characters besides Jed Parry in Enduring Love, notably in Joe Rose. McEwan demonstrates Joe’s obsession with asserting his own masculinity throughout the novel and it becomes most evident when he attains a gun. The female is often under the male gaze and so McEwan puts Joe in the uncomfortable position of the female when Jed exhibits an ‘unwavering gaze’ . Rhiannon Davies reinforces this view since she feels that ‘Parry’s gaze reverses the traditional male/female dichotomy and puts Joe firmly in the object position of the spectacle’ . Therefore, it is unsurprising that towards the end of the novel, Joe reasserts his masculinity through his acquisition of a gun – a conventional symbol of power. Furthermore, just as Jed is fixated with Joe, Joe demonstrates obsession with Jed. Clarissa highlights that he ‘didn’t want to talk to [her] about anything else’ and that he ‘became more and more agitated and obsessed.’ McEwan illustrates his obsession by his fixation with the door in the London Library which moves with a ‘diminishing pendulum movement’ since he believes that Parry is stalking him. This leads to Joe being unable to ‘stop looking at the door’ , signifying his obsession. Just as obsession in Jed and Boldwood results in insanity, Joe’s fixation with Jed leads to his mental instability. Once again, Clarissa makes this obvious through her belief that Joe is ‘making too much of’ Parry and that perhaps he exists only in Joe’s imagination. Moreover, Joe’s comment that ‘I did not trust my balance’ could be a pun, indicating his instability.

In conclusion, McEwan and Hardy both present male characters who become wholly consumed in their fixation with another person following a significant experience. Both Boldwood and Jed Parry are characterised as insane by their gradual demise and their ultimate mental breakdown, which terminates in a violent outburst. However, the outcome of the presentations of Boldwood and Jed Parry differ. The reader is encouraged to sympathise with Boldwood because Bathsheba unthinkingly sends him a valentine, misleading him to believe that she is interested in him. Her naivety to the power of her beauty causes us to pity Boldwood’s longing for her. Conversely, we are antipathetic to Jed Parry for his destruction of Joe and Clarissa’s once contented relationship. Furthermore, the use of Joe Rose’s obsession in Enduring Love also depicts obsession as stemming from a specific circumstance and resulting in madness. Ultimately, both novels depict obsessive characters that are delusional, but the effect on the reader in each novel is different.

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Obsession predominantly unrequited obsessive love and insanity. (2019, Dec 15). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/obsession-predominantly-unrequited-obsessive-love-and-insanity-best-essay/

Obsession predominantly unrequited obsessive love and insanity
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