Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

American Madonna: Images of the Divine Woman in Literary Culture

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

American Madonna: Images of the Divine Woman in Literary Culture

Article excerpt

American Madonna: Images of the Divine Woman in Literary Culture. By John Gatta. Religion in America Series. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. 179 pp. $39.95 (cloth); $18.95 (paper).

This book's cover art perfectly encapsulates this study of nineteenthcentury Protestant authors' use of the Madonna motif: the central figure is not, as first glance might suggest, the sinless Virgin Mary but rather Hester Prynne, the adulteress of Nathaniel Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter. The essays in this volume explore the literature of both well-studied and overlooked American authors. Gatta considers not only Nathaniel Hawthorne's vision of a morally ambivalent madonna and T.S. Eliot's ideally redemptive madonna, but also the maternal virgin in the writings of Margaret Fuller and Harriet Beecher Stowe; the eroticized virgin in Harold Frederic's work; and the inspirational "dynamo" madonna of Henry Adams.

Gatta focuses more on the mythic expressions of the madonna as "archetypal expression of psychic femininity" (p. 8) than on the effect of this piety on historical women. Nevertheless, this project is strengthened by the ways it pulls together what seem to be inimical historical forces, in literature and in life. …

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