Wednesday: Showalter, Woolf, Eliade, Tillich

Demeter rejoiced, for her daughter was by her side.

On a return flight from Glasgow today I read Elaine Showalter’s introduction to a new paperback edition of Mrs Dalloway. I mustn’t have read Woolf’s famous essay called Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown, for I hadn’t come across the sentences of Woolf that she quotes.

Showalter writes, “Woolf warned, readers would have to get used to ‘a season of fragments or failures.’ They would have to be patient, to tolerate the spasmodic, the obscure.’ But their patience would be rewarded, for, she predicted, ‘we are trembling on the verge of one of the great ages of English literature.'” It was surely true of Woolf’s writing, but turned out to be a spasm not an age. Soon enough we would return, not that we truly left, to the age of the nineteenth century novel, now mostly packaged in shorter and shorter bites for the consumption of weary workers seeking solace.

At home I came across another quote that made its mark. In the third of his journals, Mircea Eliade cites Paul Tillich as saying: “At whatever age one loses one’s mother, one remains an orphan forever. This is not the case with the death of the father.” I know from Tillich’s biography that he repressed his mother’s death and did not speak of her to anyone. My father refused to talk of my mother after her death, and I was, I think, ten or eleven years of age before a kindly aunt first raised the subject. Tillich biographers, Wilhelm and Marion Pauck wrote, “He sought her forever after in every Demeter or Persephone he pursued.”

A Woman Divided

Elaine Showalter makes a link in The Female Malady between the diagnosis of schizophrenia and the idea of a woman dividing herself in two by being both the surveyor and the surveyed, quoting from John Berger’s Ways of Seeing: “A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself.” Berger goes on to use the example that at her father’s funeral the woman sees herself weeping.

Kate Zambreno
Heroines