One of the world's most enduring literary traditions has to be the Arthurian legend, which gives us the most intriguing figure of Morgan le Fay. Mother, sister, lover, healer, and witch, she's had to be extremely flexible to fit the changing requirements of Arthurian narratives. She's been an ally to Arthur, the wicked witch, and she's presently popular as an object of feminist reclamation. Let's take a trip with the various incarnations of Morgan le Fay, and discern how such a malleable character has sustained the kind of power she has over imaginations across the centuries.
Elizabeth Gaskell's North & South (1855) and George Eliot's Daniel Deronda (1876) are two of my favorite novels. They're both set in 19th century England, and written by women, so those are two big ticks right there. But one of the main reasons I like them both so much is that they're not about navigating comfortable worlds of privilege so much as they are about the clash of experiences. 19th century England wasn't all garden parties and precisely angled fans, after all, but a context full of religious and political turmoil, the beginning of the end for a particular vision of England. In the minds of Gaskell and Eliot, those clashes sent up some sparks of brilliance.
It's time to head back to the nineteenth century, and one Miss Charlotte Brontë. Jane Eyre (1847) is, of course, one of the most widely-read books in the English language. But I wonder about the kinds of readings that are to be had here. And I wonder what I'm getting out of this book that would have gone over the head of Brontë, as a white woman from a colonising nation. These are sensibilities supplied by Jean Rhys' parallel novel Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), as we will see.
Sackville-West was a woman with 'high class' problems — but her story
is interesting nonetheless. Vita was, in addition to her default
socialite status, a writer of prose and poetry, an avid gardener,
Bloomsbury Group associate and lover to quite a few women — the most
famous being, of course, Virginia Woolf. (More after the jump!)