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Women and Nature in Modern Fiction

Author(s): Annis Pratt
Source: Contemporary Literature, Vol. 13, No. 4 (Autumn, 1972), pp. 476-490
Published by: University of Wisconsin Press
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the idyllic aspect of the "green world"with its budding trees and flowers apparentlyexpressingthe first sensual blossoming of the psyche." Collected Poems (New York: Harcourt. Thus the young American Indian fasts in the desert to await the manifestation of his animal self and in Christianitythere is the parallel practice of retreat before con- firmation and of fasting and prayer before the novitiate. "Burnt Norton. 1963). S. XIII. p. here. Eliot.WOMEN AND NATURE IN MODERN FICTION Annis Pratt A considerable portion of mythology. they recur on and off during mature' The first vision most often occurs in a natural setting and is ac- companied by a feeling of ecstasy. 181. religion. 4 CONTEMPORARY LITERATURE . always- Ridiculousthe wastesadtime Stretchingbeforeandafter. an adventure often formalized into a ritual which the individual undergoes in order to be initiated into the mysteries of adulthood. and literature is de- voted to the quest of the youthful self for identity. In literature the quest for self is less often consciously articulated as such until an epiphanic vision heralding the advent of selfhood springs upon the individualin an unexpected moment and in an unsought manifestation: Suddenin a shaftof sunlight Evenwhilethe dustmoves Thererisesthe hiddenlaughter Of childrenin the foliage Quicknow. Although such epiphanies are often first apprehended in childhood.

for the woman who has not fully abdicated. Some who have analyzed the quest for self have assumed that there is a significant difference between the naturistic epiphanies that burst upon the heroine and the hero. The Hero With a Thousand Faces (Princeton: Prince- ton Univ. MODERN FICTION 1 477 . to the heroine nature is "her kingdom as a whole. the whole in the guise of the other. which the heroine already possesses as an extension of herself. Unconquered. Campbell's hero. "for the young girl. "Nature is one of the realms [women writers] have most lovingly explored." continues Beauvoir. The Second Sex (New York: Knopf. worships nature as something (to one side of it) not separate from her first sexual experiences. Press. If to the hero. . The adolescent girl has not yet acquiredfor her use any portion of the universal: hence it is her kingdom as a whole. pp. nature is total existence. p."3 To Beauvoir's adolescent girl."2The quest of the hero. in contrast." a phenomenon which will be reflected in women's writing. inhuman. to Camp- bell's hero. Nature sub- sumes most clearly the totality of what exists. in contrast. The hero is the one who comes to know. writes Simone de Beauvoir. The heroine. "will devote a special love to Nature: still more than the adolescent boy. she also proudly takes possession of herself. in the picture language of mythology. 710-11. the contained and the container. a kingdom and a place of exile. p. It is when she speaks of moors and gardens that the woman novelist will reveal her experience and her dreams to us most initimately. 2 Simone de Beauvoir. Woman is the guide to the sublime acme of sensuous as one of those sensations of "somethingfar more deeply interfused" celebrated by Wordsworth. she worships it. 1949). nature repre- sents what woman herself representsfor man: herself and her negation. perceiving this feminine phenomenon of coextension with nature. nature and woman are corollary goals. 116. The hero comes to "know" woman and through her the natural world."4 One way of deciding whether Beauvoir's and Campbell's analyses of heroine and hero are shallow stereotypes or deeper archetypal re- alities is to compare attitudestowardsnature in female and male fiction.. then. The adolescent girl. 3 Joseph Campbell. when she takes possession of it. 4 Beauvoir. represents the totality of what can be known. is de- scribed by Joseph Campbell as a "road of trials" or initiatory adven- tures that consummate in the simultaneous discovery of woman and earth: "Woman. uses the woman as a portal through which the green world is perceived. woman is a container of truth. 362. 1953).

Would we find that the relationship between heroine-hero-natureand hero-heroine-nature conforms to that suggested? The question is crucial to the determina- tion of whether there is a "myth of the heroine" as descriptive of the development of the human psyche as the "myth of the hero. Sarah Ore Jewett's "A White Heron" (1896) and James Joyce's epiphanic episode in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) describenaturisticvisions in the developmentof a nine-year-oldheroine and a sixteen-year-oldhero. Some premonition of that great power stirred and swayed these young foresters who traversed the solemn woodlands with soft-footed silent care. [she] still watched the young man with loving admiration. the heroine is perceived by a weir among lilies: "Meadow-sweethung from the banks thick with weed and trail- ing bramble. The Country of the Pointed Firs (Garden City: Doubleday." hitherto taken as definitive.. a boy. while she is driving her cow home through the Maine woods. nature represented in a real or figurative water bird. In both there are a girl. She had never seen anybody so charming and delightful. and there also hung a daughter of Earth . stiller and 5Sarah Ore Jewett. Sylvia accompanies him on his quest. The epiphanic moment for both Sylvia and Stephen is accompanied by a view of the ocean. 1956). The lyric description of Richard's first meeting with Lucy in Meredith'sThe Ordeal of Richard Feverel (1859) provides a typical example.. and although Jewett's piece is not a fully developed novel there are a number of points which afford a striking comparison to the episode in Joyce. and an identification with the vehicle of the vision-bird and bird-girl-with a passage through that identity to a fuller understandingof the self. 166."5 The advent of the Prince Charming and his stirring of the heroine's latent femininity would itself be the moment of epiphany in the usual fairy tale or narrative. shoot. Sylvia meets a young stranger. and although she "could not understandwhy he killed the very birds he seemed to like so much . in each case the youthful self has turned aside from the normal expectations of parents and peers in quest of a special identity. and stuff a great white heron that he believes to be in the locality. a sense of soaring aloft. an ornithologist. 478 1 CONTEMPORARY LITERATURE . asleep in the child. p. was vaguely thrilled by a dream of love.particularlyin the female and male Bildungsroman. the woman's heart. .. an apparition of a hawk or hawks. He is determined to find.

an arrow of potency and grace. One suspects that if Sylvia had been the princess of the fairy tale in which a toad turned into a handsome prince. 148-49."7and the climb to the sky for such heroines of mythology as Psyche was similarly rewarded by the gift of "immortallove. the porcupine turns into "a heavenly youth . perceiving him and nature as separate aspects of her psyche which in some way endanger each other. The bird. preferringthe toad. Although fascinated by the stirring of her womanhood. 171.stiller grew Nature. heron. she would have been disappointed.she is incipiently pluckable. but associates him with his Dedalian ancestor as a portent of his own identity. is a sacramentallyminded young man who sees outward things as vehicles of inward states. valu- able for its heronness. 53-55. Like Sylvia. The normal mammalian expecta- tion is a bit of coyness before consummation. pp. a dazzling dawn vision of hawks. pp."6 The heroine is coextensive with the meadow-sweet: like the lilies she "sways"."8but the little heroine is not inter- ested: the boy with his gun is too much like a "red faced boy" who tormented her previously for her to follow him. when she climbs an enormous pine tree to look for the heron's nest. 7 Campbell. If a symbol is 6 George Meredith. His attitude towards nature is thus of a different quality than hers: he is not so much finding a freedom or refuge in it as plumbing it for usable aesthetic images. [who] had seduced her to his supernaturalhome. in contrast to Sylvia. 1950). MODERN FICTION 1 479 . Sylvia is reluctant to show the young strangerwhere the heron nests: she differ- entiates between boy and bird. and she does not want a vehicle out of her green world. as at the meeting of two electric clouds. he sees a hawk. a vehicle only of its own particularityand what she perceives as the freedom of self in nature in contrast to canine servitude. 8 Jewett. could have been perceived as a portent to point her back to the stranger. The Ordeal of Richard Feverel (New York: Random House." Jewett reminds us as she describes Sylvia standing all scratched and torn before the stranger that she "could have served and followed him and loved him as a dog loves. p..the irony in Jewett's story exists in the tension between this expectation and what actually happens.. sun. and ocean. When the heroine of an Arapaho Indian legend follows a porcupine up a tree. Stephen Dedalus. To her a heron is a heron. She experiences her epiphany. Campbell informs us.

the girl stirs the hero's masculinity and provides the catalyst for his ecstatic moment of self-discovery.Stephen'shawk is nearly all symbol while Sylvia's is nearly all hawk. one might expect that in the male genre the hero's at- titude toward nature might parallel that of Stephen Dedalus." a "living en-soi" of the "brutishlife of subjection to given conditions"?10If this were the case. We are left from this comparison with a number of questions con- cerning epiphanic naturism in the development of the hero and of the heroine. That neither of them have any more to do with the human beings who led them to their epiphanies is perhaps significant: boy and bird-girl are. . Where Sylvia turns from the young stranger to nature. to engage in freely chosen projects" in contrast to the heroines' lot of "immanence. like Sylvia. respectively.a metaphor one half of which is concrete and the other half of which indicates something abstract. . After his vision of the hawk-ancestor Stephen. Rising like an Irish Aphrodite out of the waters. In Jewett and Joyce. Where Sylvia's naturistic epiphany led her to a heightened perception of existence. albeit based upon quidditas or particularity. In the male Bildungsroman. Stephen perceives natural objects as vehicles for conceiving an essence. 9 James Joyce. 171. then. Her physical concreteness is taken not for its own sake but as portent of something besides herself. nothing more than spur and vehicle for the young self in quest of identity."9but the climax of his epiphany comes not within his solitary naturism but through the mediation of a female apparition not unlike Meredith's Lucy." a fulfilling of "the need to transcend . 10Beauvoir. alone amid a waste of wild air and brackish waters. "pure"but with a green "sign" of incipient sensuality upon her thigh (seaweed). p. 480 CONTEMPORARY LITERATURE . pp. feels "alone and young and willful and wild- the typical pattern for the hero to know and for the heroine to be known? Are the heroes characterized by what Beauvoir described as "transcendence."a "living pour-soi. but do the heroines of the female genre follow a pattern comparable to Sylvia's? These questions can only be answered by an analysis of comparable examples from the male and female Bildungsroman. xxix and 63. of a metaphysical aesthetic. translator's note. we are dealing with two differenthabits of mind with regard to nature. 1959). A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (New York: Viking. Stephen turns through nature-and-girlto a vision of something else.

correspondingly. It had something to do with the trees standing up in the golden white light. secret happiness came to her. A Life (New York: MacMillan. is of the opinion that marriage to Paul would constitute "self-sacrifice" and holds back from it. What is surprisingis that when she finally meets the Spinoza-minded lover. She is more concerned with the "reality" of her own freely chosen writing life than with "losing Richard. however. Paul makes himself a vehicle for Miriam Leiver's naturism. It had come before with a certain sharp white light flooding the fields.. p. She could never tell when it was coming. and he is equally ambivalent as to what extent and in what manner he wishes to share it with the opposite sex. The natural world is as revelatory to Paul Morel as it is to Mary Olivier." more devoted to the psychic development initiated in moments of adolescent naturism than risking this freedom in a marriage. she rejects him after a period of lovemaking and mutual devotion in favor of the solitary life."'2Her intellectual convictions. Miriam. 1919). It is not surprisingthat Mary spends the years before her fortieth birthday struggling between her desire for self-determination and the maze of roles which her family and suitors expect her to conform to. MODERN FICTION | 481 . which in turn initiates their relationship. 12Ibid. because he is all tied up with his mother. to an intellectual belief in pantheism which frees her from the patriarchalChristianityof her family and enables her to con- front them from a perilous stance of self-determination. nor what it would come from. Turning in adolescence from the web of mascu- line values enmeshing her. May Sinclair'sMary Olivier. a Life (1919) and D. p. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers (1911) are both narrativesof how young artistsemerge from intensely Oedipal family situations and as Kiinstlerromansare not unlike Joyce's Portrait. built upon her earlier naturistic ecstasies. He cannot reach out for her sensually.H. Mary begins to prefer nature to people: "By the gate of the field her sudden. are too much however even for those suitors who pretend to admire them. Like Sylvia. Mary turns away from her lover and towards a natural "reality"that she finds less dangerous to her selfhood than love. flooding the room. 226. Her idea of a suitable lover is one who would have the body of various men whom she has admired but "the soul of Shelley and the mind of Spinoza and Immanuel Kant. 93. Mary Olivier."" These moments of naturistic epiphany bring her. The short-circuiting of a healthy relationship re- l May Sinclair. as she matures.

p. p. seem abstractions. fretting. When she bent and breathed a flower. a force em- anating from the center of her own psyche. the heroes pass through a similar series of relationships with women who 13 D. 16 William York Tindall."15Having re- duced Clara to a vaguely representativebubble.allegorical personifications. Watching from a distance (he cannot swim). 1958). "Whatis she. What does she mean to me. is devalued. in an unnaturally independent naturism on the part of the heroine: "To her. To the male hero. 358. p. 142. is walking along a beach after a swim. Woman." William York Tindall once remarked of Joyce's women. H.suits. Lawrence. There seemed a sort of exposure about the action. therefore her appreciation of nature. Here's the seacoast morning. big and permanent and beautiful. By this figure the foolish boy does not mean woman's figure but woman as figure or symbol. Sons and Lovers (New York: Viking. Clara. a vehicle and not an existence in and of herself. Paul re- marks. 92. Todd and "poor Joanna" of The Country of the Pointed Firs. also appears in his thoughts as 'the figure of woman' as it appears in liturgy. 14Ibid. always unsatisfied. The male author seems to be looking at a female phenomenon and disapprovingof it: Jewett's mature heroines. "These girls. "at once less than girls and more. 1959). flowers appealed with such strength she felt she must make them part of herself.. the heroine must be submissive.or images. At one point in Sons and Lovers. In other classic Bildungsromans.. and animals without incurring their author's disapproval. in contrast. in Lawrence's understanding. A Reader's Guide to James Joyce (New York: Noonday. it was as if she and the flower were loving each other. Paul leaves her behind (after literally murdering his mother) to venture towards the city in quest of an identity which has had as its preliminaryphase a trial-by- woman. But what is she? It's not her I care for!"14 Clara is not a "she" but an "it" to Paul. like a bubble of foam represents the sea. Pointing to nothing beyond themselves. and temporary as a bubble of foam.. trees. Paul's other lover."13 Paul finds Miriam's naturism as distasteful as her earlier mysti- cism. 482 1 CONTEMPORARY LITERATURE . the natural objects comfort the women after the tribulationsof love. and he is particularlyput off by the enclosed relationshipbetween girl and flower which puts him on the outside. Paul hated her for in Joyce and Lawrence. there is she. have a similarlyintimate communicationwith herbs. after all? She represents something. something too intimate. after all? . Mrs. generally an 'image' to Stephen.

in Samuel Butler'sThe Way of All Flesh (1903) and in SomersetMaugham's Of Human Bondage (1915).Thisis the case.was flowingout again toward MODERN FICTION | 483 .Is there.escaped. but it is on the surfacepractical:in farmingshe not only manipulates the landin orderto becomeeconomicallyindependentbut also "buys" Jason out in revenge. ThereDorindaOakley'ssexual desirefor Jasonrises simul- taneouslywith the renewalof a childhoodlove for nature.must be subdued. It is hardto imagineCatherineEarnshawsolvingher problemsby replantingthe Heathor MaggieTulliversolvinghersby engineeringa dam over the Floss. In Meredith's The Ordeal of Richard Feverelthe trial-by-woman takeson the qualityof an ultimateordeal. To this extentGlasgow'sbroomsedgeis similarto Emily Bronti's WutheringHeightsor to George Eliot's river Floss: a naturalforce which in its variationsprovidesa corollaryto the developmentof the charactersand.then.for example. since she can only begin to exist after comingto termswith the bio- logical "immanence"of sexual maturity." If thepagesof themaleBildungsroman arelitteredwiththe bodies of women passed throughin the hero's quest for identity.but when natureentrapsher in unmarriedpregnancythe landbecomesthreaten- ing. this is preciselywhatshe does to the broomsedge.Dorinda'sdecisionto apply new methodsof farmingto the land occursduringa lyricalepiphany. recordstheir fate. She is aware of the exploitativeside of her naturism. but as Dorindabecomesself-determining. an adherenceto the Beau- voirian patternin novels of female developmentas there is to the Campbellarchetypein the male?Rememberingthat the development of a woman'sidentitytakes many moreyears than that of the male.however. At the denouementher relationshipto natureprevailsas the ultimate realityin her life: "Thespiritof the land was flowinginto her. BarrenGround (1925). or turnedinto images before the hero's developmentcanbe completed. andher own spiritstrengthenedand refreshed.andquellsit to nurseJasonthroughhis last illness.there are heroinesenough in the female genre who perceivelove and men as phasesin theirquestsfor self-determination andless importantto them than the "reality"of nature. in its ultimatedestructiveness. with the hero left afterLucy'sdeath incapableof anythingbeyond a "strivingto imageher on his brain. One of the mostfully developedexamplesof a femininenaturism is Ellen Glasgow's"vehicleof liberation"(her term).let us considerwhetherthe dichotomyremainsas markedin the female as in the male Bildungs- roman.

though desirable in itself. presently. threatens self-destruction. but probably not as many. 1954). she knew. 1933). This brings us full circle. the heroine of the female genre being more likely to view herself as coextensive with the green world and the hero of the male genre to view his heroine and the green world as coextensive parts of each other but rightfully subordinate to him. I dis- covered. light out for the terri- tory. If this type of naturism were limited to women. then. 524. a role of splendid refuge from the self-destructive lures of masculine expectations? In neither Dorinda's nor Mary Olivier's case are we dealing with a celibate separatism. it should be noted. similarly put off by female expectations. This was the permanentself. however. then. male as female novelists who would have remarked as did Ellen Glasgow in her memoirs that "If falling in love could be bliss. 17Ellen Glasgow.' old Matthew had said to her. p. We are not dealing. There are numerous." Mary Olivier. but with heroines who have a healthy taste of sexuality before they choose solitude. naturistic ecstasy exists separately from and may preclude sexual 16Ellen Glasgow."l7 One cannot fall out of love with everyone. with absolute sexual categories but with situations and attitudes more common to the female than to the male Bildungsroman. and Barren Ground. we would have to conclude that it plays a differentrole in novels where as in Pilgrim- age. . p. "the other. that nature plays the role in the de- velopment of the heroine that Beauvoir describes for it in the case of the adolescent girl. Barren Ground (New York: Doubleday. 244. The Woman Within (New York: Harcourt." although the perception of nature is different. 'put your heart in the land. 484 1 CONTEMPORARY LITERATURE . Their situation is most disparate in the fact that biological and social expectations concerning the sequel to sexual initi- ation are such for the woman that continued sexual relationship. This was what remained to her after the years had taken their bloom . and the other side of "men as trial" occurs for the heroine as for the hero. that falling out of love could be blissful tran- quillity. however. to the point where hero and heroine see their sexual counterparts as opposites. 'the land is the only thing that will stay by you. Although in "A White Heron.' "16 Should we conclude. Protagonists in both are initiated into naturistic and sexual ecstasy.She is thus more likely to turn away from the male than the hero from the female because her very identity is threatened.

deeper than vision. and a mixtureof fear and fascination. I felt pure ecstasy."20 All of the elements of the naturistic epiphany are here-dazzling sunlight. as it were. pp. after anguish. His right arm. 166. deeper than sense. a union deeper than knowledge."19Gatheris doing something quite differentfrom Jewett. like Dorinda. 1954). appears as a death spirit. 18 Ibid. A Memoir (Chicago: Henry Regnery. in that golden August light.reciprocity. free spirit which breathes across it. In her first epiphany "the Genius of the Divide. Alexandra. Gather changed the final draft so that it became a psychological crisis leading to Alexandra's acceptance of her gentle friend Carl as a lover. the Great. 239-40. p.. 20 Ibid. like bronze. I knew blessedness.2'Nature thus becomes an enabling vehicle bearing the heroine towards sexual fulfillment. O Pioneers! (Boston: Houghton. p. 65. and she knew at once that it was the arm of the mightiest of all lovers." remarked Ellen Glasgow of her lover. and his head was bent a little forward. a sense of levitation and of skimming over the earth. or felt. turns from the weak men around her to farm the land. bared from the elbow. was dark and gleaming. 61. His shoulders seemed as strong as the founda- tions of the world. just as for the hero the goddess always carries the dual potentiality of creation and destruction: "His white cloak was thrown over his face. In Willa Gather'sO Pioneers! (1913). the love of Alexandra and Carl being contained. p. 19Willa Cather."'8An epiphany not unlike the youthful one "in and out of time. In a single blinding flash of illumination. "I sank into an effortless peace. must have bent lower than it ever bent to a human will before. 1956).. or beheld. which in turn leads to further stages in the evolution of the female psyche. The history of every country begins in the heart of a man or a woman. Lying there. Light streamed through me. "When Gerald died. Sinclair. in other fiction it serves as a prelude or accompaniment to love. I was a part of the spirit that moved in the light and the wind and the grass. MODERN FICTION | 485 . I knew. or Glasgow in personifyingthe land itself as a life spirit that later. and for one instant of awareness. after Emil's death. in the arms of the vegetal spirit. In at least one female Bildungsromanthe "spiritthat moved in the light and the wind and the grass"appears to the heroine as such to con- duct her towards an earthly lover. Willa Cather. Although she ended the original version of the novel with this vision." the moment of mature naturistic ecstasy differs in that it results from the fullness rather than from the advent of sexuality. 21 See Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant. if but for that one instant.

for example.p.22He is not extolled for his masculinity. and often ful- filled only at death."23That in her core the human individual is neither male nor female but androgynous seems implicit in the passage from Glasgow's memoirs as in Gather's dream-vision. 437. Symbols of Transformation(New York: Pantheon. however. . a concept based." while the woman's animus. one would term him her muse. . it should be noted. Gather's"Genius"is. This is not the same dynamic underlying Joyce's use of the stream of consciousness. correspondingly. In The Waves (1927). providing him with rebirth and the elixir of immortalitywhile at the same time threat- ening him with death or disease. Molly Bloom. one would gather. on the Jungian theory that "the feminine belongs to man as his own unconscious feminity . always fleetingly. in the same way that Gretchen is for her Ewisweiblichkeit in Goethe's Faust: his primary quality is his naturism and the power that it representsas the enabling vehicle of the heroine's personality. she described the phenomenonof human beings more or less happy to the extent that they come together. 23 Carl Jung. of course. is possessed within her psyche as her "brother-beloved"or "ghostly lover. 1956). Through her use of subconscious revery. their subconscious minds (seeped in green world mem- ories) lapping up against each other. In Gather's "Genius of the Divide" we have the female equivalent to the "earthGoddess"who plays the role of "matrix of destiny" and "motherof life" in the myth of the hero.the immortal lover. Virginia Woolfs Voyage Out (1915) also explores the dynamics of the naturistic and sexual epiphany: Rachel and Hewet are united within each other's revery in a heart of light as if they formed a new being that is continuous and androgynous rather than discontinuous or sexually separate. Campbell has described the apotheosis of the hero as a moment of recognition that he contains both male and female principles within his fully realized selfhood. Woolf developed naturistic reveries into a continuous stylistic technique in her later works. This is not to say that the narrative pattern of a quest through 22See Campbell. since bird-girl. 303. an expressionof Alexandra'sinner powers or buried animus: were she an artist rather than a farmer. the anima. It is not coincidental that Hewet in The Voyage Out is an articulatefeminist. and Anna Livia Plurabelle reinforce a dominant tone of sexual divisiveness with their fluid countertones. p. he is one of the happy few in twentieth-century fiction who achieve apotheosis by breaking out of their biological boxes. 486 CONTEMPORARY LITERATURE 1 .

Therewas a slow integration. thenit was suddenlyinescapable. Martha Quest (New York: New American Library. the basic "adventure"for Dylan Thomas' early prose heroes.that is. for example. It was not. The epiphany differsfrom Sylvia's in that it contains a negative as well as a positive side: in this it resembles the sense of underlying threat in Dorinda's attitudetoward the broomsedge and the deathly side of Willa Cather's muse.duringwhich she. 13. in the major female novelists. became one. Children of Violence (1952- 1965).naturism towards a vision of the organic world cycle implemented by love is unique to female fiction: it provides. its sensations.and sufferedgrowthlike a ferment.and the sun-warmedtrees. reaching its fullest expression not only in Richardson and Woolf but also in Doris Lessing's five-volume Bildungsroman. . crop up in Martha's dreams. however. whatwas futile in her own idea of herself and her place in the chaos of matter. in moments of intensity and despair as her quest from marriages and childbirth through divorces and solitude unfolds. MODERN FICTION | 487 .and nothingcouldhavefrightenedit away. she consciously re- jects the labels "ecstasy. and the great dome of blue light overhead. experiencing such a moment in adolescence. and the slopes of shivering silverymealies. Martha reaches the center of her psyche in a love affair with Thomas Stern. From this centre she now lived-a loft of aromaticwood from whose crooked window could be seen only sky and 24Doris Lessing. .and her eyes stared. Landlocked. she knewfutility. however.her fleshwas the earth. In the last African novel. order and chaos are so mixed that. Martha Quest's naturistic epiphanies occur first in childhood as states of mind in which joy and pain. ."She describes a room in a shed "built at the bottom of a large garden"where they make love as "filledwith a deep forest silence. 1952). p. illumination": There was certainlya definitepoint at which the thing began. The epiphany on the African veldt does not always recur in an external setting..24 Lessing's readers will notice here the germ of Professor Watkins' com- plex naturism to be developed in Briefing for a Descent into Hell (1971). shudderingtogetherin a dissolution of dancingatoms..while space and time kneadedher flesh.and the movinggrasses.and the stones of earth underher feet. It is much more fully developed.. She felt the riversunder the groundforcing themselves painfully along her veins. coming to "know"at the same time as she is "known. For that moment. and the little animals. swelling them out in unbearablepressure. fixed like the eye of the sun.

The Four-Gated City (New York: Knopf. and Lessing. together: and above these. most scathingly in the authors' delineations of alternate female char- acters playing inauthentic roles and tempting the heroines to do like- wise. an essentially resigned. Cather. being January. 1969). in a shed whose wooden walls grew from lawns where the shining arc of a water sprayer flung rainbows all day long although. cool and alert. Both Jack and Thomas Stem go mad while Martha. the currentsof the automatic body were one now. a surge like the sea. Martha is nonetheless involved in a certain instrumentalism.. watching and marking.the boughs of trees. it rained most afternoons. above a brick floor hissing sweetly from the slow drippingsand wellings from a hundred growing plants. It is interesting that not only Jewett. feel themselves dissolving into each other. swept over by "Great forces as im- personal as thunderor lightning or sunlight or the movement of oceans being contracted and heaped and rolled in their beds by the moon. absorbed into the whole. 59. 98.. 470-71. Her vision bears no relation to the "Yes" of Molly Bloom.are very often means to each other and in turn to a visionary naturism that has no precise parallel in male fiction.. and through him enters the final phase of her quest through the portals of sexuality: "Sex. heart.. submissive. which is. at the beginning of The Four-Gated City. 27Ibid."27 Sexual and naturistic ecstasy. 26Doris Lessing. and im- manent affirmation. pp. like Anna of The Golden Notebook and Charles Watkins of Briefing for a Descent into Hell. first achieved by the heroine in early naturisticepiphanies. p. who reminds her of Thomas. becomes a touchstone by which she holds herself together in the face of destructive roles proffered to her by society. like Rachel and Hewet. not yet swung up. but the mind above. 488 CONTEMPORARY LITERATURE . Communion with the authentic self. Models for false selves are constantly being brought forth. reciprocated. Similarly. Landlocked (New York: New American Library."2 In their love Thomas and Martha. not an immolation of the self but a passage into something containing it and yet beyond."26 More appreciativethan Paul Morel of her lovers.a using of them. but even George Eliot use canine analogies to describe "normal"courtship 25 Doris Lessing. undergoes a similar insanity leading towards a final naturistic epiphany. throughout the history of the twentieth- century female Bildungsroman. Martha makes love with Jack. Body. 1965). her brain. however. p..

carries her through its restrictions towards its opposite. First. The second problem is thus the dated nature of the solutions which many of the heroines take to resolve the dilemma of femininity. Jewett's pointed firs. as it immanence." as I have termed it. The natural object does not. woman is expected to conduct herself in a less than human fashion.expectations. p. although an attributeof the biological or vegetal cycle of existence. which seems less unnatural.for solace. If the publication dates of the female novels treated are examined. It is less capable of abstraction than transcendentalisminto a Goethian idealism or prac- tical scheme of economics like the philosophies of Emerson and Thoreau. there is an elision from naturism into something that it contains. to some childhood nostalgia about fields and flowers: in the novels we have treated. In this naturism she does not grow backwards. This "transcendentalnaturism. translator's note. MODERN FICTION 489 . however. There are two final problems raised by our research into the at- tributes of female naturism. differsfrom transcendentalismin that it tends to be more particularistic than systematic."28the immanence sought by the heroine of the female Bildungsroman. 63. such as confinement or restrictionto a narrow round of uncreative and repe- titious duties. indicate less of an overspiritthan an underspirit. Desiring only to be human. Where Beauvoir used this term to describe "the opposite or negation of transcendence. Among the earlier group the only instance of 28 See Beauvoir. as well as in Jewett's other fiction and in the passionate apotheoses of Emily Bronte's Catherine Earnshaw and George Eliot's Maggie Tulliver. for example. it will be found that they all fall between 1896 and 1927 with the exception of Children of Violence. and thus she turns to nature. "point" from what is below to some metaphysical "above" in Joyce's manner. a transcendence. more existential than essential. I should reiterate that I did not set out to define the nature of the sexes in any preconceived fashion but to compare their development in the male and female Bildungsroman:the categories that I have sketched are not absolute but merely tendencies in the fiction of a specific historical period. there is the possibility that we have come full circle back to the same old set of stereotyped assertions allo- cating earthiness and personalism to the female and "transcendence" and abstract thought to the male. a spirit indwelling in the natural object but part of a con- tinuum extending through and beyond it.

Lessing'sfictionbringsbiologicalsexisminto focusas one amongother importantsocio-economicfactorswhich eventuallycause Englandto destroyitself and a new world.sexualreciprocityis in The Voyage Out. how- ever.however. tryingon a seriesof masks in her questfor a humanisticlife pattern. deriveslargely from a specific bio-historicalcontext. tends to use men in much the same way the hero uses women: there is no continuoussexual be born.MarthaQuestbringsus one phasebeyondseparatismandsuggestsnew possibilities."definingmarriageas a form of self-immolation. where the heroineconven- iently dies before having to try to live with the hero.Evenshe. namelythe lack of widespreadand effectivebirthcontrol.and earlydeath.the convictionthatone cannot developfully as a womanin a love relationshipand also developas a human being. The either-or attitudetowardselfhoodand marriage.The senti- ment thatindulgingone'ssexualnatureconstitutesself-sacrificeis not exaggeratedfor a womanwhenthe aftermathof sexualinitiationcon- sists of an endlessor at best lengthyseriesof childbirthsand miscar- riages.who was afterall in her fortieswhenshe decidednot to marryRichard.infantsto raise.of a worldbeyondsexuallydivisiveselfhood. There have been few signs in moder Britishor American fiction. Universityof Wisconsin 490 1 CONTEMPORARY LITERATURE .was re- spondingas does Beauvoirin giving a negativeconnotationto "im- manence.dependenceuponmen.waste of one'sprimeyears.Maritalcustomsconformto this biologicalcontextbecauseit is convenientfor economicallypatriarchal societiesto maintainthe culturallag.a world where men will begin to foster their "feminineconsciousness"and women their latent transcendenceso that an androgynousand more fullyhumanlife stylecan emerge.possiblybut not inevitablybraver. On her pilgrimagefromman to man. ThusevenMaryOlivier.even though it is desired.