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Madonnas and Maidens

Sexual Confusion in Lawrence and Gide


Richard T. Driskill

In Lawrence's Sons and Lovers and The Rainbow, and Gide's L'Immoraliste and La Porte étroite, the authors explore the destructive effects of cultural «icons,» narrowly codified gender roles, upon sensitive young European women at the turn of the century. Through an intricate subtext of allusive imagery, postures, language, and «mythical» patterns, Lawrence and Gide imply that a patristic Christianity had somehow enlisted certain strains of Romance to fashion a pervasive cultural code that encouraged young women to be virginal, passive, and receptive to suffering. The young female protagonists look to their roles as Madonna, Maiden, and Martyr as an escape from a provincial world that offers little to their «overbrimming» souls. Ironically, it is their Knight-Christs, the «mentors» who propose to teach them about the higher world, who imprison them further. Pretending to elevate them to the status of Spiritual Muse to inspire the male quest for selfhood, the lovers demand of their Madonna-Maidens a passivity whereby suffering is their only «heroic» act.