I’ve already expressed my conflicted fondness of George MacDonald, and this one in particular I have much conflictedness over because I feel I could like this one if it was largely rewritten with a much less sexism and rambling. Theoretically I could like a deconstruction of the story of Lilith, but MacDonald rolls it straight and that really grinds on my feminist sensibilities.
To start from the beginning, I’ll summarize the extrabiblical myth of Lilith. So in this apocryphal version of Genesis, God makes both a man and woman from earth, Adam and Lilith. Except Lilith was uppity and didn’t submit to Adam, so God pulled a do-over and made Eve from Adam’s flesh so she would be properly submissive. (Tangentially, Lilith is supposed to be the mother of the djinni and IIRC also vampires.)
But really, doesn’t Lilith seem like the more sympathetic character? The first feminist, who is of course vilified and discarded by The Man. (Tangentially, I feel the same sympathy about Vashti. She got the shitty end of the stick and then is completely ignored because she had served her plot function.)
But moving back to MacDonald. Structurally Lilith is near identical to his other “romance,” (meaning in this context that it’s a fictional novel, not that it has a love-dovey plot), Phantasties. Basically our wandering, somewhat-questing hero is some young, poetic dude who rambles around in a fantastical setting. In Phantasties, it was explicitly Fairyland, but it almost might as well be in Lilith, though it takes a more sci-fi approach in explaining it as a different dimension.
In any case, our hero is very much not genre-savvy, and he comes off as a bit of a dipshit in taking metaphors too literally, even if the metaphors are given shape in that dimension. It makes the pacing drag.
So let’s just get down to what really pisses me off, and that is good woman = maternal. Lilith isn’t quite Madonna-whore territory, but I could call the dichotomy mother-bitch, as in, those who are not maternal be heartless bitches. Little to nothing in the middle. Part of why this is problematic for me is that this whole maternal veneration thing isn’t really about women as people; it’s about women as support structures to children, husbands, and families in general. It’s depersonalizing, even dehumanizing. If a woman’s value comes from her relation to someone else, then she herself is not really valued.
And then there’s that bit of asinine theology floating around about women being redeemed through childbearing. Because apparently Jesus is less powerful than a pregnancy carried to term. Or maybe women just don’t grow proper souls until they pop out a baby. To that theology, though it typically isn’t expressed so baldly, I invoke the Lilith Stare:
Are her looks more terrifying because of what she as the first feminist symbolizes, or is it her utter indifference to the squabbling of petty patriarchs and natalists? Haha, that is a trick question, because of course the answer is THE EYES FUCK JEEBUS SHITTING NIGHTMARE FUCK.
The abyss also looks into you, indeed.
But MacDonald does seem to buy into the idea that a component of female salvation is baby-cooking. Part of the goddamn horse’s redemption cycle in The Marquis of Lossie is producing a foal. And I also find his emphasis on submission to be a bit disturbing, because an emphasis on submission is usually part of a load of power-grubbing, kyriarchal bullshit.
But it does fall in with the rest of MacDonald’s emphasis on hierarchy. Which is why I ultimately cannot like MacDonald, though it gives me the sads.