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

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. Following her reunion with a former love Lord Byron later in the first volume, we discover that she wholeheartedly blames herself for her husband’s suicide: “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. Further, it can be argued that her beauty is rooted deeply in her eroticism more than any other effect she possesses over men. Formerly characterized 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. 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). 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! (A Prophecy, Plate 5, line 5). Here, sexuality is divorced from reproduction in so far as the latter is Enitharmon’s concern, rather than sensual pleasure. 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.



~ by apocalypse122112 on November 15, 2012.

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

  1. This is an interesting post that could nonetheless have been further improved by taking the time to do a close reading of the passage on Evadne’s apocalyptic prophecy (as indicated in my prompt). Yes, Enitharmon represents sexual reproduction and Evadne represents “pure” sexuality without reproduction. And yet, in her apocalyptic prophecy, she is giving “birth” to a worldwide plague, which consumes the world soon after her death. In turn, this plague is personified as a “She” that dominates men’s world in much the same way as Enitharmon does during her 1800-year sleep, which also unleashes plague and destruction.

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