Lover or Mother?: The Spiritual Beauty of Evadne and Enitharmon

Evadne is first introduced in Mary Shelley’s The Last Man as the object of Adrian’s admiration and desire: “there was neither jealousy, inquietude, or mistrust in [Adrian’s] sentiment; it was devotion and faith. His life was swallowed up in the existence of his beloved and his heart beat only in unison with the pulsations that vivified hers” (25-6)*. Since the first impression we have of this Oriental Greek princess is her effect on Lionel’s new companion, Shelley seems to portray Evadne’s sexual prowess as her defining characteristic, at least initially. We soon learn that she does not love Adrian – “there was much kindness, gratitude, and sweetness in her expression, but no love” (26) –but instead admires Lord Raymond after their initial meeting, though her love remains unrequited. Following her reunion with him later in the first volume, we discover that she wholeheartedly blames herself for her husband’s suicide in her reflection that “she knew that she was the cause of her husband’s utter ruin; and she strung herself to bear the consequences” (88). Still, with all three men, it appears that her sexuality both intrigued and, to a degree, ruined the men in her life. A pivotal scene in the text in which we see Evadne’s widespread effect on her male counterparts occurs when the Lord discovers that the artist commissioned to complete the national gallery is in fact his estranged lover. Requesting a design plan for the structure “characterized by originality as well as by perfect beauty” (83), Raymond rejects hundreds except for the sketches submitted anonymously by Evadne. Perhaps the most interesting observation about the two’s encounter is the Lord’s transformation: “Raymond recognized her; and his manner changed from polite beneficence to the warmest protestations of kindness and sympathy. The sight of her, in her present situation, passed like an arrow into his soul. He sat by her, he took her hand, and said a thousand things which breathed the deepest spirit of compassion and affection” (85). It is interesting to note Evadne’s reaction to his supplications: “Evadne did not answer; her large dark eyes were cast down, at length a tear glimmered on the lashes” (85). Here in particular, her physical beauty – as well as her artistic faculty – lures Raymond in, though temporarily. It can therefore be argued that her beauty is rooted deeply in her eroticism more than any other effect she possesses over men. Formerly characterized chiefly as the “idol of Adrian’s affection” (85) and the arguable catalyst for her husband’s death, she is now the incarnation of visual beauty through not only her sexual advantages, but also her artistic abilities. However, she possesses fragility and near subjugation to Raymond’s affections for which she will strive to attain unsuccessfully until her own death.

By contrast, the role of Enitharmon in William Blake’s “Europe: A Prophesy” is one of solely maternal effect. Though both female figures possess a distinctive spiritual beauty, Enitharmon seems to be purely a maternal character. While she is Los’ consort, there is no direct implication of the extent to which her femininity impacts him as Evadne’s impacts her men. Invoked by the “nameless shadowy female” in the poem’s Preludium as “accursed mother” who “[brought her] into life” (line 11), Enitharmon is immediately established as one who possesses the power of engendering life, though it is life unwanted for the shadowy female who feels the unrelenting sexual reproduction. The figure thus establishes a primary concern in the poem – the seeming necessity for reproduction and its never ending responsibilities: “my roots are brandish’d in the heavens, my fruits in earth beneath / Surge, foam, and labour into life, first born and first consum’d! / Consumed and consuming” (lines 8-10). The sense that a woman’s role is solely that of producing progeny is both limiting and frustrating to the “shadowy female” who is subject to the inescapable cycle from which she “rolled her shady clouds / Into the secret place” (Preludium, Plate 2, lines 17-18). Perhaps Enitharmon’s most central role is her proclamation of the sinfulness of her sex and her dominion over womanhood more generally: “go tell the human race that Women’s love is Sin! / That an Eternal life awaits the worms of sixty winters / In an allegorical abode where existence hath never come. / Forbid all Joy, and from her childhood shall the little female / Spread nets in every secret path” (A Prophecy, Plate 5, lines 5-9). It is unmistakable that these lines possess some sexual fervency; nonetheless, sexuality is divorced from reproduction here in so far as the latter is Enitharmon’s concern, rather than sensual pleasure. However, it does link to The Last Man to the extent that this particular kind of sign is manifested in Evadne’s husband’s suicide. Though we cannot attribute all blame to Evadne, it nonetheless needs to be considered within its broader context. Despite this rather dejected view of motherhood, Blake concludes his poem with Enitharmon’s evocation of her various children, including Orc – the epitome of revolution of the material world – who proceeds to engender the French Revolution. By concluding with a more positive depiction of maternity, he effectively presents antipodes of what it is to be a woman and mother. Thus, while Enitharmon embodies both the pangs of reproductive expectations and the glory of motherhood, Evadne in turn represents pure sexuality; despite their dissimilarities, they both seem to possess a fair amount of agency and power within their respective situations. Does this mean that their sensuality is not their captivity, but their freedom? For Evadne, this may be true, but for Enitharmon, this possibility seems less likely, if not impossible.

*I seem to have a different version of The Last Man than others in the class, which may explain for the discrepancies in page numbers. Here is the citation of my edition: Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. The Last Man. Ed. Anne McWhir. Ontario: Broadview Press, 1996. Print.

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~ by apocalypse122112 on November 8, 2012.

One Response to “Lover or Mother?: The Spiritual Beauty of Evadne and Enitharmon”

  1. This is a doozy of a post and it is impressive how much you had to say about Enitharmon. It is good that you are taking advantage of the blog to perhaps crank out preliminary ideas for the paper. I would venture that this is an ideal post. Your close reading is exceptional and my only critic of it is that with is length it approaches summary. Specifically when you mention, “A pivotal scene in the text in which we see Evadne’s widespread effect on her male counterparts occurs when the Lord discovers that the artist commissioned to complete the national gallery is in fact his estranged lover”. In some passages there is just back story that is good for a blog but less good for a close reading. The highlight of this post in my opinion is that you allow it to occupy a very real dimension when you talk about the social implications of some of Evadne’s situation and more even how the comparisons between the two have social implications. An example of which is when you mention, “The sense that a woman’s role is solely that of producing progeny is both limiting and frustrating” For a revision I would just go back through the post and see if there are any extraneous ideas you can get rid of anything that doesn’t contribute to the main idea or central focus.

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