The Comforts of the Past

In Mary Shelley’s The Last Man, Princess Evadne represents a time long gone, a remnant of an ancient Greek civilization that only exists in ruins. Raymond finds her in a “tattered” and “broken” home, reminiscent of actual Greek ruins like the Parthenon. Evadne has obviously fallen far from her previously powerful position, but I was struck by how often the words “compassion,” “comfort,” “support,” and “consoling” appeared in this section of the text. When Raymond initially comes upon Evadne, he immediately offers her “a thousand things” of emotional support. However, Evadne is not only a recipient of comfort. She recounts in her story that she was forced to “support the failing spirits of her husband” as he lost his mind upon arrival to England.

As Evadne represents the fallen Greek empire, this bifurcated identity between a woman who is comforted and a woman who comforts is interesting. Raymond does not attempt to “reason or declaim” her fallen state or disgrace, but rather he merely offers sympathy and understanding. For the Greeks (and for those who lamented the fall of Hellenism), the only consolation available was Raymond-esque sympathy, not denial of the reality of Greece’s fall. Evadne cannot deny the reality of her misfortunes as she relates them in great detail, all the while refusing to “sell [her] nobility for life.” This could represent a refusal of the Hellenists to relinquish the small scraps of what they remember of Greece’s Golden Age. However, Evadne also comforts her insane husband, a representation of the balm that this memory can provide to those who choose to dwell on it. The fallen Greek empire not only needs consolation but can provide consolation to those who remember it.

I found several parallels between this passage about Evadne and the description of Moneta in Keats’ The Fall of Hyperion. Like Evadne, Moneta “comforts those she sees not” (270) although she herself is plagued by an “immortal sickness which kills not” (258). She both needs comfort and can provide comfort unknowingly to many. Moneta’s eyes are half-closed, representing this lack of awareness of who she affects but also a divided existence between the present and the past. Evadne also experiences this divided existence between two times, demonstrating that the Greek civilization is still alive and well as it soothes the hearts of those who remember it.

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~ by lostinthekeys on November 8, 2012.

One Response to “The Comforts of the Past”

  1. I enjoyed the well rounded nature of this post. It had the comparison between Moneta and Evadne on multiple levels. You also quite successfully described your ideas and opinions which were interesting and novel. You touch on some ideas that I feel Mary Shelley was trying to communicate to us through this book. Specifically, when you state, “Evadne represents the fallen Greek empire, this bifurcated identity between a woman who is comforted and a woman who comforts is interesting.” I think you observation takes you a bit into the social context of her work, and my suggestion for your revision is that you expound on that observation. Does Mary Shelley see herself in Evadne perhaps? Does she see women in general as Evadne? It is just something to think on.

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