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Living Streams: Continuity and Change from Rabelais to Joyce

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Gerald Gillespie

This book examines how a long line of imaginative writers, starting from Rabelais and continuing over Cervantes and Sterne down to such modernists as Proust, Mann, Joyce, and Barth, has reaffirmed the picture of an enduring Western civilization despite repeated crises and transformations. The humanist capacity to recapture a sense of European greatness as exhibited in Antiquity was paralleled by and continued in the guise of newer vernacular works, achievements regarded as vital forms of a shared cultural rebirth. This was amplified most notably in the tradition of the ironic encyclopedic novel which surveyed the state of successive phases of culture. The evolving heritage and revitalization of the arts constituted main subject matters in the series of major self-conscious epochal movements, the Enlightenment, Romanticism, and Modernism, which Postmodernism reflexively now struggles to supersede.

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Chapter 5: Some Shape Shiftings of the Divine Feminine in Nineteenth Century Literature

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CHAPTER FIVE

Some Shape Shiftings of the Divine Feminine in Nineteenth Century Literature

Humanist savants such as Desiderius Erasmus understood that the Virgin Mary, as Mother and Wife of God and Queen of Heaven, had taken over many attributes of high goddesses of antiquity. The Renaissance poet Edmund Spenser could make skillful use of these well-established mythological relationships in The Faerie Queene (1589 ff) for purposes of national and political allegorizing centered on the self-styled Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I. By the second half of the seventeenth century, in works like Oedipus Aegyptiacus (1652 ff), the anthropologist Athanasius Kircher was elaborating in structural charts the multiple family resemblances between Eve and Mary on the one hand and figures such as Isis, Venus Urania, Aphrodite on the other. Giambattista Marino’s cosmological epic Adone (Adonis, 1623) presented the consummate Baroque celebration of the divine queen and all-mother Venus. Her biblical counterpart, and another herald of Mary, John Milton’s Eve in Paradise Lost (1667), has the sinuous beauty and the implicit cosmological functions already brilliantly expressed in Sandro Botticelli’s painting La nascita di Venere (The Birth of Venus) in the late fifteenth century. Poetic fascination for the complex archetype of the Virgin Mary, exemplified in Dante’s Divina Commedia at the start of the fourteenth century, reached a new pinnacle when the non-Christian Goethe closed Faust II (1832) by celebrating the Virgin Mary as divine queen and proclaiming the glory of the “eternal feminine” (“das Ewig-Weibliche”).

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