Hell Hath No Fury…
In literature and art, as in life, there are few archetypes that capture the darker side of our imagination, the tragic underbelly of the collective unconscious, quite like the figure of the lover scorned. In the wounds and wallowing of the heart broken, we find devastating themes so contrary to our notions of bliss in the throes of Venus and Her mighty spell. Be it the darling Ophelia mad with love for Hamlet, or Don José frantic in his delirium for Carmen, there are so many variants, so many lush and tender textures to the wounded portrait of a heart still longing, still clinging despite the lost beloved’s most ardent determinations to end the affair.
Such encounters happen in life and are mirrored in fiction, the devastations sometimes turning violent and destructive in their expression, wreaking havoc on those innocently caught within their turbulence. Long before the poor rabbit made its memorable exit from Fatal Attraction, there was the brutal fate of the dog in Mirbeau’s La Calvaire. No matter how deep the prior affection, the agonies of a lover scorned can often carry them to the very depths of jagged morbidity. REM sings of “Losing My Religion,” and the expression seems apt. For in these situations, with this archetype, all that is known, all that one has ever been as an entity, is subject to a vast overthrow.
Obsessive love is far different from the archetype of true passionate love. When true love is invoked, obsession and madness ensue as the two lovers are entranced by a shattering rush of chemical pleasure. This love will be consummated even unto the death of the lovers in their desire to devour one another. Not so with the jilted lover. In this archetype, the lover who has lost refuses to let go and allow the bond to dissolve as it was born. The lover who has lost rejects the heat of the moment in order to strive and struggle for the promise of future satisfaction. It is a matter of control and need.
This past week, it was reported that the house which had been the inspiration for the Gatsby mansion in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is to be demolished, and it is sad that such a thing must be. In his ardent pursuit of Daisy, Jay Gatsby is perhaps one of the finest illustrations of this archetype. For when Gatsby finally reveals the tale of his first meeting with Daisy to Nick Carraway, Fitzgerald displays for us a nobody who longed to be someone. A boy who always stood outside looking in. To possess this beautiful woman, to be allowed into her world would have won him an entire universe otherwise barred to him by his birth and station. Daisy became the ultimate symbol not only of attainment, but of Gatsby’s entire sense of self worth, driving him to any length to win her.
Value. Self worth. These are the foundation stones of this archetype. When someone loves us, they validate us. If they stop loving us, the validation is withdrawn. The lost one becomes objectified and idealized, symbols of our own inadequacies. Their favor or affection becomes a coveted holy grail of self-validation. In the sting of their rejection, we see all of the demons and ogres of our own internal ugliness. And if a rival is present, the implication is that our beloved chose them over us, because they must be so much better. Would Don José have killed Carmen if not for the presence of Escamillo? Our entire system of pleasure and rewards becomes misaligned. One answered e-mail, one text and our brain floods us with reward serums of the most luxuriant sorts. Our self worth has always been defined by others. Not so long ago social rejection could very well mean suffering and death. In obsessive love, we go to the very core of a Savannah Ape’s deepest mortal fears and frustrations.
But there is nobility in all understanding and all pain is a point for further catharsis. The lovers from Barbusse’s novel Hell had the gist of things with their conclusion that we all exist in isolation. At the rotted heart of obsessive love lies the fantasy that some other person can grant us entry to a world of happiness and contentment. The obsessed lover never sees their beloved as a real person, but as a possession, an object, a coveted prize. The true lover, the truly in love, accepts the choices of their loved one even if those choices hold pain for themselves. This is the nobility of Ophelia. It was better to plunge herself into the harrowing throes of madness, and later, into the depths of the flowing stream, than to stalk Hamlet; to insist and cajole in order to win the melancholy Dane or to join her brother in a bid for his destruction. Her love died with her. And in that, it was true.