The Faith of Our Feminists: A Study in the Novels of Edith Wharton, Ellen Glasgow, Willa Cather

The Faith of Our Feminists: A Study in the Novels of Edith Wharton, Ellen Glasgow, Willa Cather

The Faith of Our Feminists: A Study in the Novels of Edith Wharton, Ellen Glasgow, Willa Cather

The Faith of Our Feminists: A Study in the Novels of Edith Wharton, Ellen Glasgow, Willa Cather

Excerpt

FEMINISM is probably as old as the awareness of sex. Straightway woman discovered her limitation, she set about denying it. The vehemence of her denial is embedded in myth. Athena not only managed without a husband, she scarcely acknowledged a father. For all Homer's mention of a contrary fact, the virgin goddess was self-engendered; and few poets have doubted that she transacted the business of immortality as an independent Olympian.

On the mortal plane the prowess of disjoined femininity found repeated classical expression. The autonomy of the Amazons was as well established as the might of Achilles; the Lemnian women, even to Hypsipyle, rose from the murder of their husbands without regret; and among the Danaids only Hypermnestra demurred at widowhood.

If the Amazon, the Lemnian, the Danaid, tends to disappear in the mists of prehistory, the Roman vestal offers documented challenge to the dominion of Cupid. Desiring neither marriage nor the manus of a masculine relative, the religious celibate enjoyed detached existence, buying and selling property at will, attending processions when she would, going about her affairs with a freedom which exceeded that of the Augusta.

The advantages of the Vestal's state did not escape early Christian women. With only a distant precep-

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