Histoire culturelle de l'Europe

Yvonne Kiddle

The Garden and Melancholia : A Psychodynamic Perspective.



Dans L’âge d’or de Kenneth Grahame [1895], en termes psychodynamiques, le jardin est représenté comme une force qui agit sur la psyché humaine de façon très spécifique selon le statut physique ou horticole réel du jardin en question. Une condition du jardin, l’état naturel ou sauvage, est associée au bonheur comparatif. L’autre extrême de la condition du jardin, cependant, l’état cultivé ou « civilisé », est associé à un fort degré de mélancolie. Une autre condition intermédiaire du jardin (c'est-à-dire soigneusement contrôlée, mais néanmoins dépourvue d’une application claire de la culture et qui tend donc à revenir à l’état sauvage) est définitivement associée à la présence et à la promotion de la pathologie psychique. Dans cet article, le statut du jardin en tant qu’espace psychique viable, réflexif, et en fait, étiologiquement et symptomatiquement productif (et discursif) est abordé par le recours à la théorie psychodynamique freudienne et lacanienne.


In Kenneth Grahame’s The Golden Age [1895], in psychodynamic terms, the garden is represented as a force which acts upon the human psyche in very specific ways according to the actual physical or horticultural status of the garden in question. One condition of the garden, the natural or wild state, is associated with comparative happiness. The other extreme of the garden condition, however, the cultivated or ‘civilised’ state, is associated with a strong degree of melancholia. A further, intermediate condition of the garden (that is, one that is fastidiously monitored, but nonetheless which lacks a clear enforcement of cultivation and which tends therefore, to return to the wild state) is definitively associated with the presence and promotion of psychical pathology. In this article, the status of the garden as a viable, reflective, and indeed, aetiologically and symptomatically productive (and discursive) psychical space is addressed with particular reference to Freudian and Lacanian psychodynamic theory.

Texte intégral

1In Kenneth Grahame’s The Golden Age, in psychodynamic terms, the garden is represented as a force which acts upon the human psyche in very specific ways according to the actual physical or horticultural status of the garden in question. One condition of the garden, the natural or wild state, is associated with comparative happiness ; the other extreme in terms of garden condition, the cultivated or ‘civilised’ state, is associated with a strong degree of melancholia. A further, intermediate condition of the garden (that is, one that is fastidiously monitored, but nonetheless which lacks a clear enforcement of cultivation and tends therefore to return to the wild state) is likewise strongly associated with the presence and promotion of psychical pathology.

2In Freudian terms, the natural or wild garden is equated with a more active and empowered id (and the associated reduced interventional ‘censorship’ on the part of the Über-Ich or superego) ; this privileging of the id coincides with the graduated program of the more general psychosocial and psychosexual developmental realm of the child. Conversely, the cultivated or methodically contained and manipulated man-made garden is associated with a reduced potency of the id (in terms of its attributed presence and impact), a state which is signified by the incursion of the surreal, the obscured, the constraining and the soporific (the « Garden of Sleep »)1. In Grahame’s cultivated garden, the child feels an inhibition of activity ; his interest in the outside, ‘more natural’ world is suspended ; his feelings of self-regard, his actual consciousness of being an empowered, self-directed and motivated being, fall away. Indeed, as the child demonstrates, it seems that the only action the human psychical entity can viably take to avoid a more direct encounter with the state of melancholy in the highly cultivated garden is to succumb to sleep. The sleep state allows the dreamer (the child, in this case) to ostensibly escape the burden of engaging with the processes of conflict which must necessarily instruct his developing ego (that is, the interaction between the structures of the id, the ego and the superego). One can assume, however, that the vital dream work which allows the child to develop, grow and function within the accepted cultural and societal norms, remains, albeit covertly, on-going during this induced sleep state.

3For Grahame then, the wild garden is associated with a degree of freedom, empowerment, spontaneity and fecundity. Conversely, in the cultivated garden, there is a sense of stiffness, of heaviness, of constraint, of sterility, of tension – in short, there is a strong quality of melancholy which is associated with the highly cultivated garden. Importantly, between these two extremes of garden states, there is an intermediary variety of garden where melancholia is so embedded (again, impregnated with the ‘surreal’ and the persistent sleep motif) that the lions of psychical conflict appear to be in an enforced and unhappy state of stasis to the point that any degree of useful psychic resolution appears to be wholly unachievable. This third species of garden, which I shall henceforth refer to as the ‘Garden of Static Melancholia’ is strongly associated with the development and presence of psychological pathology and will be further investigated in due course. The analogous extension of these differing garden states, which are premised as corresponding with specific human psychical states (both individual and societal) will also be examined ; questions abound. Does the ‘cultivated garden’ stand for or embody a more general sense of the loss of a love-object (initially instated through the id-ego interaction of the mourned-for childhood) and does this loss have the potential to be translated in the subject as the experience of melancholy ? Is the cultivated garden a representation of the process and effect of that earlier, nostalgic (child-to-adulthood) translation of the pleasure principle (reigning supreme within the id2) to the reality principle, prefacing and cementing other, associated integral psychical adjustments ? Furthermore, is the cultivated garden, in fact, a metaphor for society or civilization, incorporating (implicitly) the need for the perpetration of conflict in the economy of the individual’s libido by aim-inhibiting the libidinous drives3 and thereby promoting opportunities for the nurturing of specific psychical pathologies ? If this is indeed the case, how does Grahame both identify and communicate the signifiers of such processes in his work ? These questions, which position the garden as a viable, reflective and, indeed, aetiologically and symptomatically productive (and discursive) psychical space will all be further addressed.

4The Golden Age, Grahame’s tale of boyhood (effectively a snapshot of youth, detailed in pseudo-heroic and ostensibly nostalgic terms), lends itself well to the process of both Freudian and Lacanian psychodynamic deconstruction. In Freudian terms, the child is at war with the adult : the machinery of the Oedipal process looms large, as does the symbology of the sexual ; what is particularly relevant in this study, however, is that for the child, the influential space of the psychosocial and the psychosexual is effectively a garden, broken down into the natural (wild) and the cultivated. The strong association between the notion of the ‘cultivated’ and the successful passage to adulthood (the successful departure from boyhood) is enacted through the successive and, at times, competing interactions which occur between the two differing states of the garden. Melancholia is always associated with the constrained and highly structured nature of the cultivated adult [Über-Ich]-imbued and directed garden ; happiness is consistently associated with the wild, id-imbued garden, the one where adults (and the influence of the censorious Über-Ich) are kept at bay through the actions of the often assertive, if not demonstrably violent instruction of the id, associated with the developing Ich / ego.

5The Golden Age is thus the story of a passage through childhood ; it is also a narrative which aspires to interrogate the comparative worth of the socially defined emotional and behavioural parameters associated with human sexual and emotional maturity. It is told through the eyes of an adult, who is remembering, to the best of his ability, the intimate thoughts and sensations of being a growing child. Grahame, who is either oblivious to (unconsciously manifesting ?) or indeed actively providing the copious sexual imagery which informs his portrayal of the journey along the complex and nuanced psychic-emotional passage from childhood to adulthood, has undoubtedly gifted the reader with a work which is richly invested with psychodynamic structure and sign-posting. Through the act of what is always and necessarily selective and subjective memory, Grahame, the confiding adult, nonetheless imparts enough of the tangibly authentic psychic-emotional rites and rituals of childhood for us to gain much from his retrospective narrative glance. The [male] child is perpetually in the garden (the ‘womb’) with his sword, his pistol, his lance (the ‘phallus’) attending to the on-going work of psychical identification. There is always a maiden who needs ‘rescuing’ ; there is always an Other (specifically, an adult) vying and indeed controlling the rights or opportunity for this privilege of growth (the ‘rescuing’ of the maiden / the relieving of the burden of the maidenhood / the authentic representation of the phallus). The child is always thwarted in his attempts to replace the ‘Father’, always thwarted in his attempts to gain sexual access to the mother ; thus chastised, thus frustrated, he retires to sleep. There, he will do the necessary subconscious work (along with the physical growth) which will ultimately gain him the right to succeed to the tasks and privileges (sexual and otherwise) of adulthood. The action of the Oedipal identification with the Father (the Law) which occurs in the sleep-inducing, melancholic garden will ultimately inform the process of the development of the child’s own superego – that controlling force which the older Grahame sees as emerging from « the absorbing pursuit of the moment », eventually devolving into the domain of simply passing from « one droll devotion to another misshapen passion4 ». Relevantly, in terms of both the Freudian and the Lacanian paradigms of psychical developmental tasks, Grahame asks « how much is solid achievement and how much the merest child’s play5 ? ». Perhaps the adult « Olympian6 » is indeed the one who has manoeuvred his / her way through the classically inspired Oedipal orders of psychosexual and psychosocial complexity, transitioning, finally from the ‘wild’ to the more rigidly prescribed (and proscriptive) garden. Graham’s « misshapen passion » might be said to coincide with Freud’s aim-inhibited libido, where « the largest possible measure7 » of the latter is summoned, in order to strengthen the communal bonds which civilised society demands of its members – the sexual drive in particular is restricted and re-directed (inhibited) to allow for the more effective functioning of society. The comparatively sated libido is thus subjected to the authority of civilisation, the latent, virile originality of the drives being accordingly tempered (re-shaped ; « misshaped ») at the service of communal effort. The representation of this process (in terms of Grahame’s garden space), is expressed in the enervated, redacted, cultivated garden, where the force of the individual is moderated and tamed (« aim-inhibited ») in prioritizing the more commanding dictates of the communal goal. Grahame’s « misshapen passion » also represents an uncanny reference to the wild ‘garden’ of the id itself, which harbours the passions8.

6In The Golden Age then, the garden, whether wild, cultivated or in some bound, cloistered intermediary state, is the undisputed medium for the growth described above. Yet the garden is also, overwhelmingly, a site of melancholy not only for Grahame as an adult, but also for Grahame as a child. It is a melancholy which envelops, infuses, informs, captures and indeed directs both the internal and the external conflicts of the psychical-emotional rites of passage along the verdant and corrupted path which will lead the child to the adult version of himself. The garden itself becomes a soporific, mournful, maze-like structure which the child must successfully pass through, on his way to becoming an adult. Somewhere within himself, the child realises that the actual process of becoming is essentially a mournful and melancholic one ; it is a process of continual leaving, of continual challenge, of the continual manifestation and channelling of drives about which he has little, if any, understanding and over which he has little, if any, control. Moreover, the garden, although always initially resplendent with hope, in Grahame’s hands, fast becomes a place of quiet and somnambulant death : the death of the child ; the death of each of the successive stages of the integral psychical economy ; ultimately, the death of the palace of authentic memory (consciousness) – all dreamed away, in dimensions of time and sleep. Perhaps we also find located in this sense of mourning, an equivalence to Freud’s ‘programme of civilisation’ (civilising), where Eros and Thanatos rule jointly, and man’s ‘natural aggressive drive9’, under the influence of the ubiquitous civilising process, is turned inward : a portion of happiness being traded for « a certain measure of security10 » ; notions of guilt and punishment ensue11. Moreover, if dreams are pathological products12 and the garden invokes the dream state (through soporific action ; through sleep), then the garden, in The Golden Age, becomes a variety of culturally sponsored pathogenic (or perhaps psychogenic) auditor, conceived in the apparatus of melancholy (inception of consciousness / awareness ; growth ; ageing) and ultimately supporting (if not delivering) the ingredients of the proximal end-sleep (death of the child ; death of inceptual consciousness ; death of authentic individual freedom). The cultivated garden becomes the embodiment of the psychodynamically problematic nature of civilised morality – a space where the conflict between the demands of civilised morality (effectively dictated by the superego) and the essentially amoral sexual drives of the subject (the child in the garden13), play out. In the following paragraphs, through an examination of Grahame’s writing of the garden as a locus of both imminent and actual melancholy, I shall investigate more closely how these aforementioned processes occur.

7The notion of landscape as being instructive in the perpetuation of a particular human psychic / emotional cultivar is hardly new. Burton epitomised the association of the natural landscape with the tendency to the melancholic mind-set in The Anatomy of Melancholy (162114) and throughout the long seventeenth / eighteenth Centuries we see various, almost typecast associations of psychic-emotional states (melancholic and otherwise) with specific, evolving, pre-disposing environs. Before this, the garden as an emotionally reflective surface is apparent in such stark expostulations as the Parco dei Mostri in the Garden of Bomarzo in northern Italy. Prince Pier Francesco Orsini’s sixteenth Century garden of monsters was effectively a stark and sustained expression of personal grief, designed to shock those who wandered its strange and provocative confines. Grahame’s garden is quieter than this latter example, though no less disturbing in what it purports to express. The child in the garden is « merely animal15 » set in a landscape of enervated incompetents (adults), « hopeless incapable creatures16 » depleted of vital energies and without any special insight. In Grahame’s wild garden, Nature is ‘Lord’ (« the masterful wind » ; the « roaring poplars17 ») ; the smiling, fecund, and rigorously insistent essence of the earth is her domain. The child (« colt-like18 ») is the id running free, drunk with a « vague sense of ruling power, wilful and freakish and prone to the practice of vagaries19 ». This is the setting for what will eventually (through the accumulation of melancholic ‘sleep’ periods, occurring in the determinate ‘civilization’ of the garden) fund the transition from the natural and spontaneous gesture of the child to the aforementioned « misshapen passion20 » of the adult. This same transition sees the transformation of the free-willed son or daughter of Nature to the « upgrown » being that is « judged by Rhadamanthus21 » ; the abated, pitiable, fully socialized human being that belongs to the dead, who talks ceaselessly (a consciousness that chatters incessantly), but remains all the while unaware of the true « importances of life22 ». The child, on the other hand, is the illuminati23 in the wild garden, at one with his ‘Lord’ (Nature), discoursing freely and meaningfully at his pleasure. It is interesting to note that this discourse is reminiscent of Lacan’s proposition of the parlêtre [parle-être] – the child who may ‘speak’ (in terms of communicating with his specific social collective) only upon accession to castration and the law of the Father. In the garden of the ‘civilised’, the child is not heard ; he is not understood. In the wild garden, by contrast, Nature is singing in the same key and comprehends what he is saying :

[…] presently, I somehow found myself singing. The words were mere nonsense – irresponsible babble ; the tune was an improvisation, a weary, unrhythmic thing of rise and fall : and yet it seemed to me a genuine utterance, and just at that moment the one thing fitting and right and perfect. Humanity would have rejected it with scorn. Nature, everywhere singing in the same key, recognised and accepted it without a flicker of dissent24.

8The child, in wild nature, is a being who is perhaps above even the wise and wizened spectre of Rhadomanthus – he escapes his judgement, due to the nature of his psychic and emotional freedom. He is at one with his passions, which steer him. He understands the words and instruction of the elements around him ; in some measure, he finds his voice and his image mirrored there amongst these faces of Nature : he identifies ; he connects. Yet this sureness of being that the child experiences, this wilful, wild id-creature that is he, diminishes in the province of the cultivated garden. He becomes watchful, confused, enervated, undermined ; unsure. Finally, exhausted from trying to guess the rules of the adult game, and satiated, at least in part, by the partial appeasement of his sensual appetites, he falls asleep (that is, he falls into comparative impotency). The stages of this descent into sleep / impotency are of interest. The wild slowly gives way to the cultivated ; the impressions are at first stark, urgent, self-driven, fecund and then become more subtle, more restrained.

[…] where a rabbit could go a boy could follow, howbeit stomach-wise and with one leg in the stream ; so the passage was achieved, and I stood inside, safe, but breathless at the sight. Gone was the brambled waste, gone the flickering tangle of woodland. Instead, terrace after terrace of shaven sward, stone-edged, urn-cornered, stepped delicately down to where the stream, now tamed and educated, passed from one to another marble basin, on which on occasion gleams of red hinted at goldfish poised among the spreading water-lilies. The scene lay silent and slumberous in the brooding noonday sun : the drowsing peacock squatted humped on the lawn ; no fish leaped in the pools ; no bird declared himself from trim secluding hedges. Self-confessed it was here, then, at last, the Garden of Sleep25 !

9The child has gone from being at one with nature and the wind (« Lord of Misrule » ; « strong capricious one, […] unprincipled […] obeying no law26 ») to a place where the energy and the objects within the horticultural space are stagnant, static, contained, depleted, even. In symbolic, Freudian terms, the hair of the maiden is no longer wild, natural, untamed and uncut : it is instead « shaven… tamed, educated » – penetrated – « the red hinted at amongst the spreading lilies… ». The maiden has been taken, but not by the child. Nature is tamed ; muted ; quiet – but she has not been tamed by the energies of the child ; the acts and legacies of Civilisation herself, have robbed him of this possibility. Furthermore, despite the child’s entry into the womb of the garden (« the passage was achieved and I stood inside safe, but breathless at the sight »), the Oedipal image of the Father is immanent, indeed it replaces Nature as Lord. In this space, the air, the birds and fish are impotent ; everything is contained ; sleeping ; slumberous and the child, although realising his own state of impotency, nonetheless feels the drive to push forward. He goes between « rich flower-beds27 » in search of the necessary Princess, « […] conditions declared her presence patently as trumpets ; without this centre, such surroundings could not exist28 ».

10The Princess is therefore the object of desire for the inherently sexualised child. Yet despite his impotency in this place, and indeed, despite his foreknowledge of continued impotency, he will progress upstream, towards the object of desire.

[…] A pavilion, gold-topped, wreathed with lush jessamine, beckoned with a special significance over close-set shrubs. There, if anywhere, She should be enshrined29.

11Gold indicates the nature of the prize – something like a trophy ; something to be possibly fought for and won. The shrubs are « close-set » – obscuring ; offering resistance. The Princess (note the capitalised ‘S’ in She) is a goddess, a target, an alluring and potentially marvellous and remarkable acquisition ; to be taken, enshrined. Perhaps the Princess herself represents civilisation – that goal towards which the individual sacrifices a part of him / herself – a simultaneously sustaining and sustained entity which enjoys (amongst other things) the privilege of directed worship and the comparative submission of the individual.

12Yet, effectively, the child will be disappointed in his quest on two counts. Firstly, the Princess is quite alive and « laughing30 » – she is comfortable, and therefore somewhat in control of her surroundings. Secondly, she is « disengaging her hand from the grasp of a grown-up man31 ». This is the child encountering, yet again, the unyielding competition from the Father, the Other, the socialised ego, continually at the behest of the superego, ‘the Law’. This is the child manoeuvring through the extended machinery of the Freudian Oedipal complex. As if to underline the boy’s aspirations to power, swimming sperm-like upstream to the golden prize of the princess (the ‘mother’ of problematic status), the adult male in the piece immediately refers to the boy as a « sprat » :

« What do you think of the Princess, now you’ve found her ? »

« I think she is lovely, » I said (and doubtless I was right, having never learned to flatter). « But she’s wide awake, so I suppose somebody has kissed her32 ! »

13Thus, in this garden of cultivated, stultified, seemingly dissipated energy, the child is disappointed. Robbed of his association with wild Nature, he is indeed enfeebled, yet his desires, although confused, muted, remain intact. He becomes the plaything of the adults (the ‘Law’) ; subservient to their / its requirements. His very purpose, which before, in the realm of wild Nature he knew so well, is now obscured. The laughter of the adults reduces his potency further – he is not to be taken seriously. The sensuousness of his nature, his grand and driving desire for satiety, is now simply reduced to the prosaic fact of having ‘lunch’ – his drives to desire (erotic ? sensual ? sexual ?) are forcibly deviated – assuaged with the oral satisfaction gained from the ingestion of food. The pleasure principle which is so strongly associated with the id is thus, at least partially, satiated at this point.

14Ultimately, as we shall observe, this garden of hybrid desires, will overwhelm the child. It will buy him off (sell him a version of satiety) and sell him / settle him to sleep.

[...] but before they left me, the grown-up man put two half-crowns in my hand, for the purpose, he explained, of treating the other water babies. I was so touched by this crowning mark of friendship that I nearly cried ; and I thought much more of his generosity than of the fact that the Princess, ere she moved away, stooped down and kissed me33[…].

15The Father, having diverted the instinctual drives of the child (via the offer of compensation) appears, temporarily at least, to have assuaged the child’s drive for satiation ; the kiss of civilisation stains his skin. The child, satisfied, for the interim, falls asleep – the garden assists in this transaction ; it « lulls » him34. Nonetheless, the fact remains that the child has been diminished in this highly cultivated garden. The soporific melancholy of the mesmeric trance induced by the presence of the garden’s rooms, has accompanied him all the way through the garden’s real and imagined pleasures. The boy has been ‘judged’ and put in his place ; he has been satiated with diverting trinkets ; the only bodily / physical compensation he has received is food – in terms of the boy’s access to the Princess, she remains intact. Yet because she remains intact, the Princess remains alluring ; unobtained – a promise yet to be fully engaged with. The child’s very passions, which he experienced so strongly in his wild / natural state, have been reduced, harnessed, subdued – this is the effect of the cultivated, the civilised garden – it has served to detract from his self-emanating brilliance, from his authenticity, from his primal, id energy. The child has become a dormant, disempowered, reduced force.

16Upon waking (upon the termination of the trance ; upon the end of this particular period of sleep), the child finds that Nature is once again challenging the garden’s appearance as a cultivated, ‘civilised’ entity. In psychodynamic terms, the id has found its measure and has resurfaced in the play between the psychical forces.

When I woke the sun had gone in, a chill wind set all the leaves a-whispering, and the peacock on the lawn was harshly calling up the rain35.

17The conditions in the cultivated space are changing. There is a renewed call (through the elements of nature – the sun, the wind, the leaves, the peacock) for the psychical theatre of on-going conflict, the psychical work of on-going identification, to recommence. The peacock (a pertinent Freudian choice in both symbolic and linguistic terms), is « harshly calling up the rain ». The phallic symbol heralds both the change and the call to subservience – the child hearkens and is on his way :

A wild, unreasoning panic possessed me, and I sped out of the garden like a guilty thing, wriggled through the rabbit-run, and threaded my doubtful way homewards, hounded by nameless terrors36.

18The call to order, voiced through the conduit of the peacock, along with provocative id / ego / super-ego interactions and the changing conditions of the actual garden space, contribute to the boy’s sense of panic and terror. The discrepancy between the id and the superego, searching for its appropriate manifestation in the ego, temporarily scars and disturbs the psychical balance ; this process is experienced by the child firstly as fear and panic and then as guilt (a result of the child’s earlier encounter with the cultivated garden). Allied to such guilt (both on an individual and a cultural level37) is the notion of punishment. Furthermore, in keeping with Freud’s distinguishing mental features of melancholia, the explicit expectation of « punishment38 » follows. Indeed, the child heads home and is sent « tealess » to bed. A housemaid « coming delicately by the backstairs » supplies him with « chunks of cold pudding and condolence, till his small skin [is] tight as any drum39 ». The Freudian inferences here are obvious and need not be elaborated upon. It is the official reappearance of Nature that is more worthy of comment :

Then Nature, asserting herself, I passed into the comforting kingdom of sleep, where, a golden carp of fattest build, I oared it in translucent waters with a new half-crown snug under right fin and left, and thrust up a nose through water-lily leaves to be kissed by a rose-flushed Princess40.

19Nature commands that the child go to sleep and in doing so, perform his necessary dream / psychical work. The dream symbols allow the dreamer to revisit the cultivated garden space with both hope and empowerment. Being himself gold and fat (grown ; worthy), the carp (phallic ; puissant) is finally on a par with the Princess ; through the conduit of the dream, the child may approach, if not actually satiate, his desires. He may connect, in some unconscious state, with the prospect of his future ‘Self’, an active and predicated component of the ‘civilised’. Perhaps the gifted coins (the two half-crowns), the ‘token’ of entry to that domain, is in part responsible for affording the child some sense of hope, of peace. His piscine totem of belonging (having now grown from sprat to golden, fatted carp), in conjunction with the precious token, allows him entry into that ‘comforting, soporific’ world, where, for the moment at least, his psychical economy can find a modicum of balance ; id, ego and super-ego in the dream-state at least, temporarily find their corporate harmony.

The Garden of Static Melancholy.

20Thus far, I have examined the effects of both the wild and the cultivated garden on the child’s psychical apparatus. I have aligned these effects with the normal processes of development which the psychological structures undergo as the child passes from boy / girlhood to adulthood. The wild garden (representing the privileging of the id influence) and the cultivated garden (representing the dominance of the Uber-Ich or superego), although associated with [comparative] happiness versus [comparative] melancholy, both contribute, ultimately, to the potentially normal psychical development of the child. The relation of the cultivated garden to ‘civilisation’ has been identified and discussed. However, the third category, that which may be referred to as the ‘Garden of Static Melancholy’, is yet to be examined. In contrast to the other two garden states, the Garden of Static Melancholy (GSM) appears to constitute a uniquely fertile medium for the propagation of psychological pathology.

21In The Golden Age, the GSM is introduced in a chapter entitled « The Argonauts ». In this chapter, the main protagonist and his brothers set off in a « borrowed » farmer’s dinghy (which they name the Argo) in search for a classically-styled adventure. The boys soon come to a garden which has « brooding quiet lapping it around41 ». The air is still, and upon crossing the gate, the children feel as if they are crossing the threshold of « some private chamber42 ». Again, we are invited into the space of the Other ; again, the symbolic enclosure of the womb and the sense of the surreal (the « magical », notionally equivalent to Lacan’s Imaginary order), pervade. Yet this garden, as opposed to those usual gardens of cultivation which lie within the experience of the main protagonist in Grahame’s retrospective work, has a definite air of something overtly disturbing. The flowers, which are in abundance, « droop and sprawl in an overgrowth hinting at indifference » ; the scent of heliotrope cloys, « possesses43 » the space ; the hedges are tall and untrimmed. Moreover, the usual accoutrements of the civilised garden (the basket-chairs, the shawls, the novels « dotting the lawns with colours44 »), products which perhaps represent the « sublimation of the drives45 » and their reconfigured utterance as expressions of the « higher mental activities46 », are wholly absent in this garden. The garden is unruly ; it does not heed the usual observable parameters which denote the authentically cultured and cultivated horticultural statement that is associated with such a space – rather, it strays worryingly from them. This garden appears devoid of humans and, indeed, devoid of any palpable human influence ; it appears removed, hostile, even ; deranged. An old grey sundial with an « antic motto » reading TIME : TRYETH : TROTHE47 adds to the sense of confusion which the children experience in this particular garden space. The numerous alternatives for the translation of the motto (« Time tests faith / loyalty / truth » or perhaps « Time alters Truth », etc.) are, as yet, unknown to the children ; this fact adds to their feeling of unease. A pall of heaviness, a stillness created by the collusion of air and scent, along with the garden’s adamant refusal to fit clearly into the category of either wild or cultivated, makes this space stultifying, cloying ; mesmeric. Time itself becomes a quantity which is no longer strictly trackable or reliable, yet ironically, it is the subject of the test which is alluded to in the motto. In short, this is a garden of melancholic essence. However, this particular melancholy doesn’t necessarily allow for the possibility of escape or recovery. This is not a melancholy bred by the usual mechanisms of cultivation ; it resists the invitation to reveal the usual signposts of its invention. The garden space in which this particular species of melancholy rests (germinates ?) is akin to some old and eerie structure of punitive confinement, one which has somehow lost its way in time. To return to the earlier Freudian analogy, in this breed of garden, the lions of the psychical conflict appear to be trapped indefinitely in some static frame, increasingly unsure of either their purpose or their purported goal. Time may test or alter their faith or loyalty to the nature of their own, intrinsic truths and drives ; the walls between the known quantities and their respective dimensions warp, buckle and dissolve in the reflected mire of this garden of static melancholy. The usual boundaries and processes of the triadic psychical structures of the id, the ego and the superego are challenged in this garden as the interaction between the systems of the unconscious, preconscious and conscious struggle with a superimposed obfuscation of time and space – inertia and confusion reign supreme. The ghosts of totemic history appear to be the principle divinities of this garden, with its uncanny links to a stirring, chthonic undertow of sacrificial rites and shaded, esoteric observances. Freud’s link between the magical power that is attributed to taboo (based on the capacity of arousing temptation48) speaks clearly to the energy of this garden, where the prohibited desire in the unconscious is seemingly ill at ease, restive.

22The arrival of the « Princess », this time, appearing as Medea (in keeping with the classical theme of the children’s grand adventure) alleviates the heaviness of the situation for a while, at least. This young Medea (although hard to place an exact age upon) is « pale and listless49 » (an image redolent with the signs of illness) ; paradoxically, she suggests an energetic game for them all to play. The sense of timelessness or time standing still continues, as Medea explains « I’ve been shut up here for a thousand years » and « I haven’t run for a century50 ! » The contrast between the sense of inertia and the energy of movement is interesting, as this Medea seems to be integral to the perceived problem with Time which this garden appears to manifest. She is Grahame’s « witch-maiden51 », the keeper of the narcotic herbs, the sleep-inducing drug which seems to operate within this space ; she has the power to enervate, the power to diminish the boys’ potency, yet she also wields the power, perhaps, to heal ( « she was on her knees comforting him […] a soft murmur of consolation52 »). When the boys ask Medea about the motto on the sundial, she replies :

That’s what I’m here for […] They shut me up here – they think I’ll forget ; but I never will – never, never ! And he too – but I don’t know – it is so long – I don’t know53 !

23The sense of the Other, the parent, the Father, is strengthened with this exclamation, which appears to appeal to some sense of injustice occurring within the domain of some currently obscured law. The inference is that the Princess has been enclosed, shut up, placed in a sort of prison – the garden is integral to the expression of that prison, part of the expression of the occult and esoteric process of the Law. The prison atmosphere also suggests a sense of castration – what has happened to the girl [devoid of a penis ; devoid of potency] might yet happen to the boys. Underscoring this notion, one of the « prison guards » arrives. A strident female « angular and rigid54 », who appears to manifest qualities more regularly associated with the domain of the masculine, asserts her powers of judgement and dominion over the boys (« dirty little boys55 ») and also over the now diminished spell of young Medea (« Lie down – the sun will give you a headache56 »). In this garden of inertia, this garden of static melancholy, it is quite clear that Nature (and, by inference, the garden itself) is directly associated with conditions of illness and pain. Natural processes are stopped ; clogged ; cut off ; the drives, libidinous and otherwise, are unable to flow ; sickness prevails – thus, this garden is, definitively, a space which allows the propagation of pathology. The strident female prison guard herself perhaps represents the « intense erotic excitement57 » associated with aggressive impulses issuing from the deviated [aim-inhibited] sexual drive. Medea « kisses a white hand58 » (a cultivar of the neurotic, the repressed [ ?]) as a gesture of goodbye to the boys as she is lead away to continue her existence in this inescapable, cyclical loop, in the garden which distorts and disables both the process and the perception of Time. The boys, aware of young Medea’s pain (psychological and otherwise) wonder about the possibility of rescuing their « Princess ». « We could if Edward was here59 », Harold suggests hopefully, referring to the eldest of the brothers (imbued perhaps, with a portion of the Law / Father) ; but alas, Edward is not there, not available to help alleviate the brothers’ impotence which remains firmly in place in this garden of static melancholy. Change is neither aided nor abetted through the possibility of sleep ; sleep itself has become a pathogen, part of the elaborate and labyrinthine economy of the machinery of melancholy. As children, they do what they can (that is, what the id instructs) : they run, urgent and hard, to escape.

24In psychodynamic terms, perhaps Grahame’s The Golden Age establishes a narrative (however inadvertently expressed) which highlights the continual struggle between the Ich and the Uber-Ich. Grahame gifts this struggle with a space, a medium in which and through which the struggle may be contained and may play out. Under Grahame’s direction, the topography of the garden becomes analogous to the psychical topography of the human subject. The world of the child is id-driven ; it aligns itself with the wild garden, the pleasure principle and Nature. The world of the adult is essentially driven by the operation of the Über-Ich and all the rules (Laws) and conditions it imposes. Grahame sees the adult world as effete, reduced and impotent ; he thus places it within the confines of the cultivated, ‘civilised’ garden. The civilised garden engenders a playing out of the ultimate expression of totem and taboo. Libidinous drives are undermined, deviated, in the cause of subduing individual claims to pleasure and gratification in the prioritised interests of the success of the greater community. In the wild garden, the child can be true to himself and his urges and, importantly, he may experiment with this truth. The adults in Grahame’s retrospective appear to have forgotten what this comparative freedom is like – they talk of nothing important, they are effectively sterile and enfeebled, reduced to mere moving objects in their cultivated and ‘oppressive’ garden enclosures. Beauty in these gardens (as the child will no doubt learn) is effected by the process of the diverse, material results of the sublimation of the drives ; such hybrid ‘cultivars’ serve to constitute ideal examples of the outcome of the « aim-inhibited impulse60 ». Moreover, the melancholy of the cultivated garden seems to go hand in hand with a specific loss of memory – the memory of the child constantly striving for authentic pleasure (« no inner inhibitions to stop their impulses striving for pleasure61 »). In the cultivated garden, memory is adumbrated and directed to a specific arbitrator of not only beauty, but of that which constitutes good and evil. Convention and rule take the place of spontaneity and authenticity ; the garden effectively becomes a mirror of the « cultural superego62 ». The adult ‘pleasure garden’ is not a legitimate pleasure garden, in the sense of the original psychical economy – it is, in fact, the opposite. It is an obscure reflection of something barely remembered, a ‘monstrous’ creation of an impaired imagination, seeking to recreate something which the adult has forgotten, but which the child is currently and authentically living through. The adult pleasure garden assumes that pleasures are those token items of culture and civilisation which lie scattered across its compliant and manicured lawns – the basket-chairs, the rugs, the shawls, the coloured faces of the novels which lie between the carefully landscaped flower beds, the clever fountains, the stamped, heraldic urns – all patent marks of civilisation denoting (ultimately, in psychodynamic terms) the substitution of the pleasure principle for the reality principle ; the action of the conscience at work via the mechanism of the superego. The child’s pleasure garden is the real one – it encompasses the elements of Nature, who is ‘Lord’ and facilitates the vigorous and energetic pursuit of raw and uninhibited pleasure. In a further contrast, the garden which actively restricts the childish wont to pleasure, but which, nonetheless, has not been sufficiently harnessed to facilitate the proper balance of cultivation .i.e. the Garden of Static Melancholy, is ruled by an excess of the Über-Ich, the prohibitive and moral judge which cloys, transects, stops. This is the garden where that integral work of personality, that challenge of successfully achieving the psychical transition between Lacan’s Imaginary and Symbolic might be at risk – distracted, undermined, deviated ; it is the garden where the pathological is most easily and notoriously bred. In the comparative clarity of the cultivated garden, the worst one might suffer is melancholia – passing and potentially, at least, escapable ; assimilable. The latter is a melancholy associated with the amnesiac personality of he / she who has the Über-Ich in stark and dynamic ascendancy, rather than one who is nurturing any true and persistent pathology. As Grahame says :

And perhaps we have reason to be very grateful that, both as children and long afterwards, we are never allowed to guess how the absorbing pursuit of the moment will appear, not only to others, but to ourselves, a very short time hence. So we pass, with a gusto and a heartiness that to an onlooker would seem almost pathetic […] and how much the merest child’s play63 ?

25It would seem then, that the garden of melancholy is soothed somewhat by the function of the selective psycho-social amnesia that the adult undergoes as he / she walks haltingly into the traces of civilisation ; into the absence implied by Lacan’s (ingenious) trace, perhaps, as we endeavour to nostalgically and indeed, momentarily, comprehend the footprint of a child as it falters in a garden of shifting sand.


1  Kenneth Grahame, The Golden Age, Londres, Thomas Nelson and Sons, [no date], p. 43.

2  Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle and Other Writings, Londres, Penguin, 2003, p. 116.

3  Id., Civilisation and Its Discontents, Londres, Penguin, 2002, p. 32 ; p. 37-41.

4  Kenneth grahame, The Golden Age, op. cit., p. 170.

5  Ibid., p. 170.

6  Ibid., Prologue : The Olympians, in The Golden Age, op. cit., p. 7.

7  Sigmund Freud, Civilisation and Its Discontents, op. cit., p. 46.

8  Id., Beyond the Pleasure Principle and other Writings, op. cit., p. 116.

9  Id., Civilisation and Its Discontents, op. cit., p. 57-58.

10  Ibid., p. 51.

11  Ibid., p. 60-61.

12  Id., An Outline of Psychoanalysis, Londres, Penguin, 2003, p. 11.

13  Dylan evans, An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis, East Sussex, Routledge, 1996, p. 56.

14  For one of the first comprehensive treatises on the subject of melancholy (including its implied association with certain features of the natural and the cultivated landscape), see Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy, New York, New York Review Books, 2001 [1621].

15  Kenneth grahame, The Golden Age, op. cit., p. 7.

16  Ibid.

17  Ibid., p. 18.

18  Ibid.

19  Ibid., p. 7.

20  Ibid., p. 170.

21  Ibid.

22  Ibid., p. 10.

23  Ibid.

24  Ibid., p. 18-19.

25  Ibid., p. 43.

26  Ibid., p. 19.

27  Ibid., p. 44.

28  Ibid.

29  Ibid.

30  Ibid.

31  Ibid.

32  Ibid., p. 45.

33  Ibid., p. 46-47.

34  Ibid., p. 47.

35  Ibid.

36  Ibid.

37  Sigmund Freud, Civilisation and Its Discontents, op. cit., p. 61.

38  Id., Mourning and Melancholia, op. cit., p. 243.

39  Kenneth Grahame, The Golden Age, op. cit., p. 47.

40  Ibid., p. 47-48.

41  Ibid., p. 103.

42  Ibid.

43  Ibid.

44  Ibid.

45  Sigmund Freud, Civilisation and Its Discontents, op. cit., p. 34.

46  Ibid., p. 34.

47  Kenneth Grahame, The Golden Age, op. cit., p. 103.

48  Sigmund Freud, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (Vol. XIII : 1913-1914) : Totem and Taboo and Other Works, Londres, Vintage, 2001, p. 35.

49  Ibid., p. 104.

50  Ibid., p. 104-105.

51  Ibid., p. 105.

52  Ibid., p. 104.

53  Ibid., p. 105-106.

54  Ibid., p. 106.

55 Ibid.

56  Ibid.

57  Leo Bersani, « Introduction » to Sigmund Freud, Civilisation and Its Discontents, op. cit., p. xx.

58  Kenneth Grahame, The Golden Age, op. cit., p. 107.

59  Ibid.

60  Sigmund Freud, Civilisation and Its Discontents, op. cit., p. 20.

61  Id., An Outline of Psychoanalysis, op. cit., p. 57.

62  Id., Civilisation and Its Discontents, op. cit., p. 77-78.

63  Kenneth Grahame, The Golden Age, op. cit., p. 169-170.

Pour citer ce document

Yvonne Kiddle, «The Garden and Melancholia : A Psychodynamic Perspective.», Histoire culturelle de l'Europe [En ligne], Prochains numéros, Jardin et mélancolie en Europe entre le XVIIIe siècle et l’époque contemporaine, Jardin et thérapie : sens, sensations, émotions,mis à jour le : 12/11/2019,URL : http://www.unicaen.fr/mrsh/hce/index.php?id=1238

Quelques mots à propos de : Yvonne Kiddle

University of Western Australia

Yvonne Kiddle gained her doctorate in English/Intellectual History from the University of Western Australia in 2016. Prior to this, she graduated with Honours (First) in English and Psychoanalytic Theory (having studied Psychology as part of an earlier pre-Med programme). She was the Jean Rogerson PhD Scholar (University of Western Australia) from 2011 until 2014. Yvonne Kiddle has written for several journals and has participated in numerous conferences, most recently at Harvard University (2018); she has also worked extensively as a therapist and counsellor. Yvonne Kiddle’s research interests include : evaluating the word as therapy, the role of cognition in approaches to therapeutic counselling and notions of hiraeth (sehnsucht/saudade) in relation to religious/spiritual melancholy. She is currently taking time out from her usual research commitments to design a garden near Portofino in Italy.