The Traditions in English

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Wrestling With Eve

Questions for Discussion, Writing and Research

1. Read Australian poet Judith Wright’s “Eve to her Daughters” (NALW2 726). Like Smith’s poem above, Wright’s speaker speculates:

Perhaps the whole elaborate fable
right from the beginning
is meant to demonstrate this; perhaps it’s the whole secret.
Perhaps nothing exists but our faults?
At least they can be demonstrated. (53–57)

How does Wright re-imagine Eve as a speaker? How does she re-imagine Adam?

2. Several contemporary women writers have seized upon Adam and Eve’s role as namers of the world. Read American science fiction writer Ursula Le Guin’s short story “She Unnames Them” (NALW2 953). How does Le Guin construe the power to name as an act of colonization in her story? Why does Eve give up her God-given power to have “dominion” over the world? How do the newly unnamed creatures react to their unnamed status?

3. Read Laura Riding’s “Eve’s Side of It” (NALW2 544), a revolutionary text in which Riding imagines Lilith and Eve together constituting the central principle, replacing God and Christ coming out of the void. How does Riding re-imagine Eve as an archetype? And to what end?

4. Compare Christina Rossetti’s poem ”Eve” with her better-known poem “Goblin Market” (NALW1 1089), also a cautionary tale involving forbidden fruit. How does the lusciousness of Rossetti’s banquet of fruit undermine the renunciative point the poem ostensibly makes? What do you make of such a contradiction? What does it suggest?

5. While by no means as popular as the impulse to reckon with Eve, women writers explored the imaginative legacy of other biblical women as well. Read the nineteenth- century American poet Adah Isaacs Menken’s dramatic monologue “Judith” (NALW1 1152). How does Menken depict her biblical heroine? Perhaps even more surprising is Jewish Victorian poet Amy Levy’s poem “Magdalen” (NALW1 1405). It would be a mistake to read the title to mean that Levy is speaking from the perspective of the Christian figure Mary Magdalene, since “Magdalen” connotes a term used for a fallen woman during the period. The poem is interesting for the blame it deflects from the speaker and places instead on the lover who took her virginity and left her in her fallen state. How is the speaker’s move to blame the lover similar to other women writers move to put the onus on Adam rather than Eve?

6. Read the contemporary revisions of the gospel story of Christ’s raising of Lazarus in American poet Sylvia Plath’s “Lady Lazarus” (NALW2 1062). Compare Plath’s take on the story with British poet Carol Ann Duffy’s simultaneously witty and pained poem “Mrs Lazarus” (NALW2 1427). Both poets consider the original story through the eyes of a female speaker. How does each poet take the original story and craft something surprising from it? What similarities and differences can you identify in the two poems?

7. Read British writer Muriel Spark’s short story “The Black Madonna.” How does Spark use the early Christian icon inspiring pilgrimage to satirize the hypocrisy of contemporary Catholics? How does Spark use this image of the sanctified mother of Christ to comment on the mythologizing of motherhood?

8. Read contemporary American poet Denise Levertov’s poem “Abel’s Bride” (NALW2 864]) Since the Bible makes no mention of such a character, what do you make of Levertov’s move to invent her? What does Levertov achieve in doing so?

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