Sexuality and Coming of Age in Two Works by George MacDonald

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Title: Sexuality and Coming of Age in Two Works by George MacDonald
Author: Ware, Stephanie Lynne
Advisors: Tony Harrison, Committee Member
Leila May, Committee Chair
Sharon Setzer, Committee Member
Abstract: This study attempts to follow George MacDonald as he engages in the strange juggling act by which he simultaneously idealizes women and releases them from the grasp of idolizing males, proclaims their purity and concerns himself with their healthy maturation into sexuality. A comparison of Phantastes and Adela Cathcart reveals the complicating role of sexuality in the coming of age process of both males and females. The male protagonist of the fantasy work Phantastes is asked to learn to control his sexuality and to abandon selfishness in love, and he does so in part by understanding that women, too, have sexual natures. In Phantastes, however, MacDonald hesitates between idealizing, and thus desexualizing, women and accepting sexuality as part of women's nature, as Anodos's continuing celibacy upon his return from Fairy Land illustrates. The realistic setting of Adela Cathcart compels MacDonald to address women's sexuality. The novel demonstrates that a woman can fulfill her traditional angelic role even while confronting the demands of her sexuality. Women are fallen angels who must be taught how to live in their fallen bodies without compromising their angelic calling. In order to become the 'angel in the house,' the moral center of the home, individual women must undergo a coming of age process similar to that of the males who struggle so much with handling their sexuality. To mature successfully, and to stave off the selfishness that is threatening to manifest itself in her, Adela, like Anodos, embarks on a journey through fantasy, though she will be borne there through the imagination and words of others. Taken together, these two works by MacDonald manifest both the importance of the image of women's natural innocence in the nineteenth century and a growing awareness of the inadequacy of that image.
Date: 2003-04-16
Degree: MA
Discipline: English

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