The Feminine Perspective
I’ll break this up into a number of discussions, because it’s a lengthy book with a myriad of topics to discuss. Today, I’d like to begin with the obvious feminine perspective and reverence to the sacred feminine. On my first reading of the novel I thought it was brilliant, not only for the writing itself but in the author’s ability to take such a well known patriarchal saga and tell it in a new light with deference to its women. That’s not to say that the women are all viewed as good or right, but that their unique vantage point is brought to the front.
Take Morgaine, who history and most retellings cast as the evil adversary. This Morgaine is fully fleshed out, her story is compelling and motives are explained. This Morgaine is not the petty seductress but instead, she herself has been manipulated into her position and the way in which she manages these situations for which she has little power become the crux of women’s fortitude in a male dominated society. I found it revealing, too, that the goddess and priestess used their religion to permit them some form of power over their lives, which were otherwise largely out of their control… but I think the conversation of religion should be relegated to one whole discussion, possibly the next one.
Then, too, the depiction of all of these characters as being more in depth, where even their negative traits and actions are understandable, may have more to do with the sensibilities of society at the time of this novel’s writing than it does in truth have to any feminine characteristic. No longer can we paint one evil character with no means or motive other than evil – to make them breathe we need to understand them and how they came about.
The women here all come with their personal sets of baggage and position. Beauty is often depicted as superior, but obviously so because of the male dominated world rather than its actual credit. What I mean to say here, is through Morgaine’s eyes, beauty is enviable because the world believes it so and she wishes to be viewed as such. I also noticed fatal flaws in those characters deemed beautiful; dreadful unhappiness or an inability to flourish in some way. The two most powerful and knowledgeable of the main female characters are Morgaine and Vivien, both of whom are viewed as small and fairy like, and often called ugly or at least not beautiful. While both of these characters have some semblance of power, they are still very much at the mercy of other forces in many things, such as Vivien’s inability to have true love and her driving need to manipulate those around her for what she believes is the greater good.
Then you have Ingraine, who is both beautiful and inherently good, but whose life is smothered in guilt. When you take a careful look at Ingraine you realize that the powerful women of her life have taken away her choices, and most likely her hope for true love or happiness. Yes, she spent most of her life completely in love with her husband, but that love was the result of a spell more than fate… We find that it wasn’t in fact her fate to be with him, but Vivien’s doing… That love led her to withdraw from all other things, most notably her own children. Her reverence to the new religion led her to forever blame her childbearing problems on her own actions, which were again largely out of her control. But for me, looking at her love for Morgaine prior to her first husband’s death, and then her removal from them after, I can’t help but see her life as very sad and unfulfilling.
Morgause is another of great beauty, but she has no love for anything but power and herself. And then we have Gwenhwyfar, who is both beautiful and good, but is tormented for her entire adult life by the love of a man who she cannot have and the inability to have children which she desperately wants.
Of course, the non beautiful characters have no easy road, either. So I wonder whether the real distinction here is between beauty and non beauty, so much as it is a testament that these outward things have no real bearing on our trials in life. Beauty will not make the road lighter. What do you all think of the feminine portrayal here, or any of the topics above?