Eros and Thanatos. Love across Civilizations

by Alberto Castelli (Hainan University, China)

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With “Eros and Thanatos: Love across Civilizations,” Alberto Castelli affords readers with a moving study of love and death’s profound roles across the great history of civilization. An ambitious and pioneering work, “Eros and Thanatos” offers a perceptive, interdisciplinary reading of love’s eternal mysteries across Western culture.

Dr. Kenneth Womack
Professor of English and Popular Music
Monmouth University, USA

In this engaging work, the author explores the bottomless mysteries of love. He reveals the most dramatic of all–how love is profoundly intertwined to death across civilizations. There is much psychology and sociology in the way the author treats death. The author is correct to say that few studies attempt to explain the phenomenon of romantic love in its entirety after de Rougement’s and Singer’s texts. Scholarship tends to focus on a smaller and more manageable corpus, such as the works of one or two authors or a more defined period. “Eros and Thanatos” is, therefore, ambitious in scope and potentially pioneering in terms of academic research. I think the book can attract the Western reader because this reader can find in it an alternative version of a story one already knows. But it can also attract the non-Western reader because one will come across a story heard before but never fully understood.

Prof. Dr. Lifang Bai
Hainan University, China

Although love and death are eternal themes in world literatures, it is Alberto Castelli who for the first time gives a detailed illustration from a theoretical perspective. It is particularly impressive that the author has reached such a convincing conclusion: beauty can be immoral and love must die to preserve the illusion of beauty.

Wang Ning
Distinguished University Professor of Humanities and Social Sciences
Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China

By analyzing the ways literature narrates love in the past 200 hundred years, Alberto Castelli ingeniously ties in the theme of love with the motif of death and treats them as a total scheme of universal appeal, thus bringing the age-old topic to the level of contemporaneity. Incisive anatomies with multiple literary theories are in full play by a true expert. This book is undoubtedly a masterpiece of cultural study and a must-read for students of world literature.

Xiaoping Wang
Distinguished Professor
Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China

'Eros and Thanatos' is about the deadly nature of love. It is remarkable that literary critics have paid so little attention to the combination between love and death in literature. This book seeks to address this significant scholarly lacuna by exploring key literary texts of the last two hundred years as exemplary of a consistent tendency toward love and death. Its emphasis on singular characters and close readings suggests the spectrum of an arbitrary dichotomy never fully resolved. The existential discussion triggered by each plot is so intense that the erotic and the merely sexual seem inappropriate. Indeed, each writer chose to reduce it to the setting and background of a story that takes place elsewhere. With this in mind, the author intends to reflect love’s paradoxical nature. If love is triggered by beauty, beauty can be immoral and love must die to preserve the illusion of beauty.

List of Abbreviations

Chapter 1 A Durkheimian Reading of Suicide in Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther and Foscolo’s The Last Letters of Jacopo Ortis
A Tragic Understanding
A Durkheimian Suicide

Chapter 2 Bipolarism in the Nineteenth Century Novel
Mental Illness as a Cause
Julien Sorel: A Case of Bipolar Disorder
Madame Bovary: A Case of Cognitive Dissonance
Anna Karenina: A Case of Post-Traumatic Amnesia

Chapter 3 A Love That Kills: The Idiot
The Esthetic and the Ethical Dialectic
Neighborly Love vs. Preferential Love
Explaining the Ending
An Idiotic Ideal?

Chapter 4 Camus, the Absurd Meursault, and Alexandros Panagoulis
Sisyphus and Alexandros Panagoulis
The Absurd Rebellion

Chapter 5 When Life Imitates Art
Cesare Pavese: Among Woman Only (1949)
Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar (1963)

Chapter 6 Buzzati and Nabokov: It Is Not about Desire
Salvation through Youth
Art after Youth

Chapter 7 Beauty Against the Grain: The Great Gatsby
A Dream That Money Can Buy
A Love That Money Can Buy
Repeating the Past

Chapter 8 Norwegian Wood and A Private Life: A Limbo at the End of Youth
The Labyrinth of Loneliness
Writing Death
Eros and Thanatos
An Open Finale

Chapter 9 Travesuras de la Niña Mala: The Temptation of the Impossible
Characters in the Mirror
The Postmodern Madame Bovary (?)
Saving the Bad Girl

Chapter 10 The Museum of Innocence: A Museum Without Innocence
Almost a Tragedy
A Melancholic Loss
Objects and Fetishism
Scenes in Chronotope
A Museum Without Innocence


Alberto Castelli is a Professor of Human Science at Hainan University, China. Chiefly, he is engaged with Modernism, Postmodern dynamics, and Cross-Cultural Studies. Castelli's publications include 'Perspective on Asia: Is China Kitsch?', published by Cambridge University Press, and 'Bipolarism in the Nineteenth Century Novel', published by the University of Toronto Quarterly.

Aesthetic, Beauty, Eros, Ethic, Existentialism, Durkheim, Freud, Kierkegaard, Lacan, Psychology of love, Romance, Suicide, Thanatos

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Bibliographic Information

Book Title

Eros and Thanatos. Love across Civilizations





Number of pages


Physical size

236mm x 160mm

Publication date

January 2024