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THE ETERNAL WOMAN

Hermann Hesse & the idea of Woman

the eternal woman

‘There is much that is immortal in this medieval lady. The dragons have gone, and so have the knights, but still she lingers in our midst. She reigned in many an early Victorian castle, and was Queen of much early Victorian song. It is sweet to protest her in the intervals of business, sweet to pay her honour when she has cooked our dinner well. But alas! the creature grows degenerate. n her heart there are also springing up strange desires. She too is enamoured of heavy winds, and vast panoramas, and green expanses of the sea. She has marked the kingdom of this world, how full it is of wealth, and beauty, and war – a radiant crust, built around the central fires, spinning towards the receding heavens. Men, declaring that she inspires them to do it, move joyfully over the surface, having the most delightful meetings with other men, happy not because they are masculine, but because they are alive. Before the show breaks up she would like to drop the august title of the Eternal Woman, and go there as her transitory self.’

- E.M. Forster, A Room With A View

It just occurred to me, finishing Hermann Hesse’s The Prodigy the other day, that the old bastard never wrote about a woman, not to my knowledge. A dozen or more young men telling the same story of spiritual enlightenment a dozen or so different ways. Hesse’s been a big influence on me, a writer who’s meant a lot, and those tales of enlightenment really inspired me in spite or even because of the repetition. But maybe he should have tried writing a story about a woman, just once?

Because women are interesting, as interesting as men, and the world needs to be reminded of that time to time.

In Hesse’s novels, women recur in more or less the same role: necessary, but flat, like just an idea of Woman, even when they take different forms (like in Narziss & Goldmund). Women do not benefit from being mythologised. Hesse, in his novels, writes as though there were an unbridgable gulf between the sexes I just don’t think there is. It seems he doesn’t understand women. Maybe he doesn’t, but what’s not to understand? So maybe a woman’s unknowable to a man, maybe the sexes are alien to each other, but surely only as much as anyone is unknowable to an individual. I’m frequently baffled by the behaviour of members of ‘my own’ sex. The only people I really understand are the people I’ve chosen to make my friends. The institutionalised & much made-of idea that the sexes are different (apart from biologically) becomes ridiculous, to me at least, when one considers the extent of differences between individuals.

This one is for my male friends, and my female friends, whom I don’t tend to think of as a gender. But if they must be, let them be a sex unto themselves! And I would rather be defined by my association with them than by something as arbitrary as a vagina or silly as a penis (or lack thereof).

* If this has been of interest to you, you might also like to read related post, ANAIS NIN: the search for god / invention of a woman (fragments)

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