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

•November 15, 2012 • 1 Comment

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.

 

 

The Depth of Evadne

•November 15, 2012 • 1 Comment

I have edited my comment-post from last week and made it into a new post here, incorporating this week’s prompt as well.

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When Mary Shelley catalogs the downtrodden state of Evadne’s home (and even Evadne herself), there’s also a part that reads “-yet in the midst of such drear and heart sickening poverty, there was an air of order and cleanliness that surprised him” (109). This is subtle, but since it is used at the very as the final thought of Raymond when he first sees Evadne’s home, it may also be the most important. This line signifies that there is much more to this character than the ragged appearance will suggest.

Similarly, when describing Evadne herself, Shelly writes, “her garb was mean, but her attitude might have been selected as a model of grace” (109). Once again, this positive spin at the end of descriptions hints at something deeper and more significant hidden within the character. Finally, Raymond also calls Evadne his “Princess in disguise” (110). This seems to be the most telling moment of Evadne’s introductory passage. He does not say former princess, as someone who once had power/prestige/etc, but instead uses phrasing which suggests that there is still currently a princess hiding beneath her ruin-like visage.

Furthermore, upon examining the close reading for this week, I think that Evadne also represents a sense of timelessness. When she says, “This is the end of love!-Yet not the end!” Evadne is representing that the past glory of Greece has fallen, yet will still remain (181). She reinforces this idea when she says “The instruments of war, fire, the plague are my servitors. I dared, I conquered them all” (181). Essentially, Evadne is showing that Greece (through her allegorical representation) has been through a number of atrocities throughout history, and has died and reinvented itself numerous times, and yet the ancient art has lasted through it all and not been lost to time. The only crux is when she adds on”till now!” at the end of that sentence. This reflects back to Mary Shelly and how at the time of writing The Last Man she is confused about the future, having lost all her friends and family, not to mention living in the aftermath of the French Revolution, and has trouble believing the past will continue to exist as it has in the future.

While certainly unique, Evadne also ties in very well to the traditional Romantic powerful female figure, albeit not in an obvious way. Most of these other women are impressive in their appearance as great beings, whether they be gods, representations of gods, or other divinely connected beings. Evadne on the other hand is impressive DESPITE her appearance – I think this is an important distinction. There actually is a “Princess in disguise,” and the splendor of one of these great mythological women figures may be hiding beneath her pitiful exterior. I am reminded of Keats’ Moneta in The Fall of Hyperion at this moment, when she says, “What haven? Every creature hath its home; / Every sole man hath days of joy and pain, / Whether his labours be sublime or low” (171-173). Despite their differences, I think Moneta describes Evadne’s situation very well here. Her appearance may be ragged and poor, but that does not exclude her from “days of joy and pain,” and her home is a home whether or not it is an actual haven. Therefore I think Evadne, along with what you have said, also represents the beauty and splendor of Greece hidden behind its outer layer of dirt.

The Demon and The Dulcimer (Revised)

•November 15, 2012 • 1 Comment

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Raymond was looking to build something for the Republic specifically a “national gallery of statues and pictures” (pg 106). At once, I thought of Coleridge’s poem where, “In Xanadu Kubla Khan/A stately pleasure dome did decree” (lines 1-2). He wants to build England into a Xanadu or paradise. Similarly as the Abyssinian maid prompts the creator or Kubla Khan to exclaim, “with music loud and long/I will build that dome in air” (45-46), so Evadne gives a Raymond a drawing that him to a inspires and draws him to her.

From a close reading one can observe how Evadne shares similarities with the Abyssinian Maid. Evadne symbolizes the fallen yet proud Greece from which the apocalypse is released from the, “chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,/As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,/A mighty fountain momently was forced” (17-19). This is similar to her outburst, “this is the end of love!–Yet not the end!”–and frenzy lent her strength as she cast her arm up to heaven, there we meet again. Here we see her blast of apocalyptic vision coming from the abyss. However, it is interesting that this apocalypse leads to heaven. I believe heaven here is represented as the ideal society that Raymond was trying to create and the, “instruments of war, fire, the plague” (181). serve to bring it to fruition. Evadne and the Abyssinian Maid both seem to prophesize that only through the destruction can this ideal society or pleasure dome be constructed. We may see the complementary prophecy realized when Kubla Khan hears the Maid and realizes, “I would build that dome in air,/That sunny dome! those caves of ice!” (47-48). The dome is in air resembling the very heaven of which Evadne spoke.

All in all, I see Evadne as a mouthpiece for Mary Shelley’s apocalyptic vision of her own time. Lord Raymond represents the flawed Romantic ideals of the time that wish to create a paradise but fall so frustratingly short. Mary Shelley believes that these flawed ideals must be destroyed for the true paradise to come to pass. In, “The Last Man” she prophecies the death of Raymond who represents these ideals when she says, “fire, and war, and plague, unite for thy destruction — O my Raymond, there is no safety for thee!” (181)  It seems like since Evadne prophesized it she is saying only a woman can bring about this apocalypse, but I”m not entirely sure.

The Comforts of the Past? (Revision)

•November 15, 2012 • 1 Comment

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. But 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. 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.

However, that same Evadne who receives and brings comfort is the same woman who later delivers a manic apocalyptic prophecy. She cries that she has borne “living deaths” but also that the “instruments of war” are her “servitors.” Once again, Evadne is both a recipient and initiator – this time of death and destruction! This kind of complexity in a female character speaks to Shelley’s portrayal of women in the novel. Women both provide ancient comforts and foretell the destruction of men. Evadne rails that she has “sold [herself] to death” simply to bring Lord Raymond down with her! Perhaps the past is not as sweet as we initially thought, or perhaps Shelley is much more cynical of her own sex than we anticipated. Either way, women have power in this story, power to console those remembering the past and to invoke unending doom upon the earth.

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. However, Moneta isn’t really alive – she lives only in Keats’ subjective experience of the past. Like with the ancient comforts of Evadne, the soothing balm of the past can only go so far for Keats before he faces the cold, harsh reality of a world that is dying of plague.

Revision – Woeful Women: Moneta and Evadne as Shades of the Past

•November 14, 2012 • 1 Comment

I would most readily relate Evadne – a woman we have witnessed falling from society’s highest social graces, as a wealthy Greek Princess, into a lowly place of impoverished obscurity – with Keats’ representation of the goddess Moneta in The Fall of Hyperion.  In Roman mythology, Moneta is revered as the goddess of memory, and in Keats’ poetry, she is summoned as the priestess of the past, the protector of the ruined temple: “and by her voice I knew she shed/Long treasured tears. ‘This temple, sad and lone,/’Is all spar’d from the thunder of a war/’Foughten long since by giant hierarchy/’Against rebellion: this old image here,/’Whose carved features wrinkled as he fell,/’Is Saturn’s; I Moneta, left supreme/’Sole priestess of this desolation.” She represents the mournful shadow of the past, as she dwells among the rubble of the grand temple.  Prior to entering this scene of pain and desolation, Keats finds himself in Edenic pleasure, which makes his transition into a mere memory of those glorious days even more disturbing and sentimental.  Similarly, Evadne embraces the hope of memory as she awaits her death with the promise of nostalgic existence in the afterlife.  In a lamentable, yet also hopeful fashion, Evande says to Lionel Verney, “‘This is the end of love!-Yet not the end!’ – and frenzy lent her strength as she cast her arm up to heaven: ‘there is the end! there we meet again’” (181).  Just as Moneta finds that the ultimate space in which she dwells – amongst the rubble of the temple – a nostalgic memory to a greater time, Evadne regards her final resting place in heaven as the spiritual memorial to her love with Lord Raymond.

These notions of nostalgia are well established in the character of Evadne, yet unlike Moneta (who wholly embraces her role as the goddess of maintaining the memory of what used to be), Evadne is far more fickle, as she also ardently fights against memory when she refuses her desire to return to her comfortable status out of the more pressing need to maintain her pride.  As she explains to Lord Raymond, “This may seem madness to you, yet you also have pride and resolution; do not then wonder that my pride is tameless, my resolution unalterable” (Shelley 111).  Unlike Montea – who possesses both an understanding of the unfortunate present state of affairs, and therefore, a true appreciation for past glory – Evadne wholly accepts her fate as a princess turned beggar, yet lacks an appreciation for her past wealth, made evident by her refusal to swallow her pride and seek refuge in the company of the royals.

Shouldn’t Mary Shelley’s novel be titled The Last Woman?

•November 12, 2012 • Leave a Comment

For this week’s blog post (11/15), students will revise and repost last week’s post (11/8) through a close reading of the following passage from Volume 2, chapter 12 of The Last Man, in which Evadne relates an apocalyptic prophecy to Lionel Verney:

“This is the end of love!–Yet not the end!”–and frenzy lent her strength as she cast her arm up to heaven: “there is the end! there we meet again. Many living deaths have I borne for thee, O Raymond, and now I expire, thy victim! — By my death I purchase thee — lo! the instruments of war, fire, the plague are my servitors. I dared, I conquered them all, till now! I have sold myself to death, with the sole condition that thou shouldst follow me — Fire, and war, and plague, unite for thy destruction — O my Raymond, there is no safety for thee!” (181).

Along with the grader’s comments, use this textual passage to help you expand and improve your previous interpretation.

An Ideal Thwarted

•November 8, 2012 • 1 Comment

Evadne Zaimi seems to resemble Moneta of Keats’ Fall of Hyperion and the Abyssinian woman of Coleridge’s Kubla Khan, however, it is difficult to connect Evadne to previous females that we have read because she represents an amalgamation of ideals connected to the Greek Past. She is a character rich with symbolism towards the Greek past and other women that we have studied throughout the semester, yet she appears to be the only symbolic woman (of the many) that has a tragic ending.

Evadne is portrayed as an utterly pathetic creature in Shelley’s The Last Man being located in a “dwelling of want” (109) discovered by Raymond (who wishes to return her to her greatness), a contrast to the lavish National Gallery that she has designed. She is teeming with idealized imagery as she is described with “dark hair…braided…in thick knots like the headdress of a Grecian statue” (109) and having a disposition comparable to a “model of grace” (109)–symbols suited to Greek ruins rediscovered. Her description of misery and likeness to that of a Grecian statue recalls Moneta from Keats’ Fall of Hyperion. Moneta is described as a figure of sadness standing about the Greek ruins of Saturn’s temple–“Sole priestess of desolation”–as the poet wanders upon her (a striking similarity). Yet, Moneta at least has a beacon of hope in the form of Hyperion rising in the end of the work–a possibility–but the fragmented nature of the work does not resolve the fate of the goddess of memory.

The Abyssinian woman of another fragment, Coleridge’s Kubla Khan, shares the poetic and creative ideals of Evadne the artist. Evadne continually churns out works of complete beauty yet “faulty” (107) in design, a contrast to the Abyssinian woman’s “symphony and song” that would grant the listener the ability to create the perfect “dome of pleasure” in Kubla Khan. Evadne, the daughter of Greece, rich with ideal description was perfect but is now tarnished by shattered dreams–“behold the proud Evadne in her tatters!…the beggar-princess” (112). Her tragic ending in her failed live and loss of will to continue living separates her from the women we have studied, she approaches perfection but her dreams are never truly realized as evidenced by her tragic state.

Evadne’s history and character tie in with the woeful tone of Shelley’s work; that ideals cannot reside in reality. She represents, instead, Shelley’s disenchantment with the Romantic ideal: the revolutionary zeal of change and progress that was present in the contemporaries of her youth is nonexistent here. Essentially, Evadne is symbolic of lost causes, an ideal with high expectations (a Greek princess of a cultured state) but unfortunately fails to realize her dreams and is instead a victim of Love, poverty, and the apparently obsolete ideals of reclaiming a Hellenistic past.