Temptation and Repression in Nodier's Trilby


Trilby (1822) places the struggle between the heroine's moral sensibility and instinctive desire in the context of folk traditions generated by the collective unconscious of a Scottish rural community. Three formal ceremonies of exorcism dramatize this conflict. For both Jeannie and her society, these ceremonies illustrate the psychic mechanism of repression and its Pyrrhic victory over the subject's libido. Trilby can be interpreted as Jeannie's Jungian animus; the old monk Ronald as both her and society's super-ego. Banishing Trilby and his fellow-spirits denies repressed desires an acceptable, sublimated outlet. They then become destructive for Jeannie, for the other villagers, and for Ronald's monastic community. On the one hand, Nodier suggests that Jeannie is driven insane by an erotic obsession, but on the other, that Trilby guides her to a higher mystical love that can embrace all beings without disloyalty to any, and that in death Jeannie attains heroic stature by embodying the imaginative principle of the human spirit. Through this ambiguous interplay of meanings, Nodier inaugurates in France the mode of psychoanalytical narrative, in the tradition of Goethe's Faust, which culminates in Nerval's Aurélia. (LMP)

Porter, Laurence M.
Release Year:
1974 Spring-Summer; 2(3-4): 97-110.