Insurrection in Red Ink: The Literary Murder of a 20th Century Goddess
Type of DegreeDissertation
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The 20th century literary archetype of the Maternal Goddess had its most locatable beginnings in the late Victorian landscape of poetry and prose. Although goddess imagery had been historically manipulated to serve Victorian sensibilities, its morphology can be traced back to the rise of Christianity and patriarchy. Victorians, such as Coventry Patmore and John Ruskin, reappropriated the Maternal Goddess image to include angelic and queenly characteristics, specifically within the domestic sphere. Yet, by inscribing the Maternal Goddess upon the written page, these authors opened up the archetype to further interpretation within the early 20th Century. Modern authors, both English and American, worked to disengage the Maternal Goddess from the physicality of womanhood by situating the maternal essence of femininity as an unviable, and even detrimental, state of being. Negotiating between foundational truth systems, the writers of the early 20th century laid bare the binary relationship between maternity and creativity. Modernist authors further fragmented those conditions within the unitary frame of womanhood, creating a new and radical amaternal female within fiction which reflected a specifically patriarchal anxiety at the demise of the Maternal Goddess. As the later 20th century gave way to Postmodernism, the women writers of the time effectively overthrew the reign of the Maternal Goddess. Depicting maternal essence to be a dystopic and phantasmatic myth of institutionalized motherhood, these authors lay to waste the romanticized mythology of the Maternal Goddess. As Postmodern authors were also in literary conversation with the opposing premises of feminism, specifically essentialism and constructivism, the late 20th century became a site of contestation over the feminine body. In effect, both literature and theory became the markers of the end of an era that valorized the Maternal Goddess and policed women as her rightful commonwealth. The end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st centuries have resurrected, through the forum of popular culture and feminist theology, the goddess archetype in pre-patriarchal forms. This resurrection is evidence of a possible renaissance in culture, literature, and theory that reclaims the feminine body as both sacred and powerful for the women of the 3rd millennium.