Victorian Women Writers, Radical Grandmothers, and the Gendering of God

Victorian Women Writers, Radical Grandmothers, and the Gendering of God

by Gail Turley Houston


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Victorian Women Writers, Radical Grandmothers, and the Gendering of God by Gail Turley Houston

If Victorian women writers yearned for authorial forebears, or, in Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s words, for “grandmothers,” there were, Gail Turley Houston argues, grandmothers who in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries envisioned powerful female divinities that would reconfigure society. Like many Victorian women writers, they experienced a sense of what Barrett Browning termed “mother-want” inextricably connected to “mother-god-want.” These millenarian and socialist feminist grandmothers believed the time had come for women to initiate the earthly paradise that patriarchal institutions had failed to establish.
Recuperating a symbolic divine in the form of the Great Mother—a pagan Virgin Mary, a female messiah, and a titanic Eve—Joanna Southcott, Eliza Sharples, Frances Wright, and others set the stage for Victorian women writers to envision and impart emanations of puissant Christian and pagan goddesses, enabling them to acquire the authorial legitimacy patriarchal culture denied them. Though the Victorian authors studied by Houston—Barrett Browning, Charlotte Brontë, Florence Nightingale, Anna Jameson, and George Eliot—often masked progressive rhetoric, even in some cases seeming to reject these foremothers, their radical genealogy reappeared in mystic, metaphysical revisions of divinity that insisted that deity be understood, at least in part, as substantively female.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780814212103
Publisher: Ohio State University Press
Publication date: 01/28/2013
Pages: 208
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Gail Turley Houston is professor and chair of English language and literature at the University of New Mexico.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

List of Abbreviations xi

Chapter 1 Introduction: Antecedents of the Victorian "Goddess Story" 1

Chapter 2 "Gods of the old mythology arise": Charlotte Brontë's Vision of the "Goddess Story" 24

Chapter 3 Feminist Reincarnations of the Madonna: Anna Jameson and Ecclesiastical Debates on the Immaculate Conception 49

Chapter 4 Invoking "all the godheads": Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Polytheistic Aesthetic 73

Chapter 5 Eve, the Female Messiah, and the Virgin in Florence Nightingale's Personal and Public Papers 98

Chapter 6 Ariadne and the Madonna: The Hermeneutics of the Goddess in George Eliot's Romola 121

Afterword 143

Notes 145

Bibliography 155

Index 171

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