Having narrowly escaped from the Maid of the Alder, the narrator recounts his harrowing time in the forest. Deeply disturbed by the transformation of the white marble woman, he inquires about the exact workings of her enchantment; the hostess' response seems to evoke persistent themes of beauty, enchantment, sublimity, and duality in the Phantastes. Anodos frames his question with the seemingly self-contradictory ideas of beauty and heartlessness:
'But tell me how it is that she could be so beautiful without any heart at all, — without any place even for a heart to live in.'
'I cannot quite tell,' she [the hostess] said; 'but I am sure she would not look so beautiful if she did not take means to make herself look more beautiful than she is. And then, you know, you began by being in love with her before you saw her beauty, mistaking her for the lady of the marble, — another kind altogether I should think. But the chief thing that makes her beautiful is this: that, although she loves no man, she loves the love of any man; and when she finds one in her power, her desire to bewitch him and gain his love (not for the sake of his love either, but that she may be conscious anew of her own beauty, through the admiration he manifests) makes her very lovely, — with a self-destructive beauty, though; for it is that which is constantly wearing her away within, till, at last, the decay will reach her face, her whole front, when all the lovely mask of nothing will fall to pieces, and she be vanished forever.'
1. How does the hostess' response about the nature of beauty relate to other instances of enchantment in the book? (or, in the end, are certain things ever allowed to be enchanting/beautiful? If they are not, what sorts of plot patterns are associated with the impression of enchantment?)
2. How does Anodos' association of heart with outward beauty relate to the Coleridge poem at the beginning of chapter 9 (light from the soul, lighting the earth)? Is his "coruscating" shadow a poison emanating from within him or from nature?
3. How much of the horror in the story is produced by the tendency to see nature more perfectly in a mirror, in a story, or in a poem, and the subsequent regression of nature? Can nature only regress if it is two-sided? (is there any kind of beauty after the regression? where are the hopeful moments?) (The horror reminds me of the Poe story "The Oval Portrait;" a painter becomes obsessed with correctly (realistically, perhaps) rendering his subject, only to realize that, as he finishes, she is dead)
4. Are the moments of reading predominantly fantastic or realistic in effect?
Last modified 3 February 2003