The characterizations of women have, throughout history, been one of the most problematic subjects in literary tradition. An extraordinary dichotomy has existed with women as being both the paragon of virtue and the personification of evil. Ancient Greeks feared women, and poets such as Hesiod believed the female sex was created to be the scourge of the gods and the bane of men (Fantham 39). Romans, on the other hand, incorporated tales of brave and virtuous women as an intrinsic part of their legendary history (219). Many Catholic saints, revered for their piety, were notoriously misogynistic (Dollison 106), and yet the church counted legions of holy women in the rosters of saints alongside their male counterparts. Despite much historical controversy as to the precise nature of women, none of this confusion seems to seep into the writings of George MacDonald, and there appears to be no conflict to MacDonald’s regard towards women in his female characters in The Princess and the Goblin. The character of the Grandmother in particular is one of the most complimentary fabrications of the figure of the mature female in literature. MacDonald created this fascinating construct of femininity by steeping the Grandmother not only in the arcane feminine symbols such as spinning, pigeons, and the moon, but also in his own concept of the ideal woman, as wise and compassionate as she is mysterious.
The introduction of the Grandmother is achieved with the immediate presence of one of the most intrinsically feminine symbols available. Upon wandering up the unknown tower, the young Princess Irene arrived at a door, and when she opened it she found “...
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Fantham, Elaine, et al. Women in the Classical World. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.
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MacDonald, George. The Princess and the Goblin. London: Penguin Group, 1996.
“Obituary.” The Manchester Guardian. 20 Sept. 1905. The Golden Key. 4 Oct. 2002. <http://www.ev90481.dial.pipex.com/obituary.htm>.
Walker, Barbara G. The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects. New York: Harper & Row, 1988.
Willard, Nancy. “The Goddess in the Belfry: Grandmothers and Wise Women in George MacDonald’s Books for Children.” For the Childlike: George MacDonald’s Fantasies for Children. Ed. Roderick McGillis. New Jersey: The Scarecrow Press, 1992.
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