An historical and psychoanalytic investigation with reference to the bride-in-white

Williams, Gavin. 2012. An historical and psychoanalytic investigation with reference to the bride-in-white. Diploma thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

Asking how the subjective experience of the bride-in-white, who marries in an Anglican Church, can best be understood led to an historical exploration of the importance of virginity, the efficacy of wearing white and Church authority. From a religious perspective, in contrast to Eve’s disobedience and ejection from God’s presence, the Virgin Mary points towards a need to appear spotless and obedient.

Although the historical investigation offers evidence to ‘when and where’, often it does not address ‘why’, so attention was turned to psychoanalysis and the junction between ‘the child’ and ‘the adult’. Key to psychoanalytic understanding suggests that childhood memories become repressed and emerge in adulthood. This thesis argues that recognised psychoanalytic concepts offer indications for the unconscious motivations of the bride. These include that the infant sets up both their own ideals and also idealises others. In infancy there can be a sense of exhibitionism without shame. That experienced during the Oedipus complex the infant negotiates separation from the mother, allowing the father to become a whole object, and in repudiating their authority finds independence. Later under the influence of envy of the mother’s relationship to the father, the infant girl develops femininity.

Interviews indicate that, although the bride has a need to appear spotless like a virgin, submit to Church authority, rather than a civil ceremony, that sometimes repudiating parental authority can be problematic, on occasions ‘penis envy’ could not be resisted prior to marriage. While the bride by wearing wedding white receives maximum attention, surprisingly the warmth generated from the familial group seems paramount. That is, the bride-in-white who marries in Church, appearing like a virgin, submitting to ecclesiastical and patriarchal authority, receives the familial group’s acceptance of her new union. A selection of plates, illustrate the themes under investigation.

Item Type:

Thesis (Diploma)


Adolescence, adulthood, analysis, Anglican church, baptism, Book of Common Prayer, Bible, Wilfred Bion, bisexual, bride, bride-in-white, case-study, castration, change surname, Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel, Nancy Chodorow, confetti, consanguinity, counter-transference, cultural studies, depressive position, desire, dream, Durkheim, ego-ideal, empiricism, epistemology, Eve, exhibitionism, exogamy, fantasy, family, familial, father, feminism, fetish, Sigmund Freud, genitals, girl, given away, God, grounded theory, group dynamic, hate, Heidegger, King Henry VIII, hermeneutic circle, heterosexual, heterosexuality, husband, hymen, hymenoplasty, iconography, ideal ego, idealisation, illusion, incest, incest prohibition, incest taboo, induction, infant psychological development, infancy, interpretation, interview, Otto Kernberg, Melanie Klein, Julia Kristeva, latency, love, man, marriage, marriage ceremony, matrimony, Juliet Mitchell, monogamy, mother, mothering, murderous rage, Oedipus, Oedipus complex, Oedipal triangle, ontology, penis-envy, perfection, phantasy, phenomenology, Plato, playing, polygamy, polymorphously perverse, positivism, paranoia, paranoid-schizoid position, primal phantasy, primal scene, psychoanalysis, psychoanalytic interpretation, psychodynamic, puberty, plural marriage, pure, purity, Queen Victoria, reality, reformation, regression, religious, repression, repudiation, rite of passage, scopophilia, scopophilic instinct, semi-structured questionnaire, serial monogamy, subjective experience, transference, transitional object, transitional space, unconscious, unconscious incestuous desire, Virgin Mary, virginity, vow, wedding ceremony, wedding dress, white wedding dress, wedding reception, wife, Donald Winnicott, white, woman

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Social, Therapeutic & Community Engagement (STaCS)


7 July 2012

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

03 May 2013 13:28

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 08:40


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