hroughout the course of Phantastes MacDonald renders a series of encounters between Anodos and a series of women on whom the protagonist becomes painfully fixated. Immobility and invisibility of the women feature as reoccurring themes, as does Anodos' ability to rouse them to life with his song. Despite the fact that Anodos expresses a fair degree of wonder, awe, and even fear in the presence of these women, his initial fascination always derives from gazing at these women, which he admits during the course of the song when he says, "With a presence I am smitten." Not with a person, only a presence. This dynamic of the creator (Anodos) and the created (the woman) comes through most saliently in Chapter 15, when Anodos' song causes a statue-woman to materialize out of thin air after Anodos takes it upon himself to conjure this invisible woman in the place of fantasy.
As soon as I saw [the empty pedestal,] I seemed to feel a presence which longed to become visible; and, as it were, called to me to gift it with self-manifestation, that it might shine on me. The power of song came to me.
As Anodos sings, he observes "a real woman-soul was revealing itself by successive stages of embodiment, and consequent manifestation and expression." The woman materializes upward from the base of the pedestal, and throughout the song Anodos evokes imagery indicating that woman's status is far above his own. He likens her to "temple columns," describes her as a "holy mystery" and "new world deity," describes her "queenly majesty," and marvels as her "presence greater yet than written."
Throughout this entire magnificent materialization, the woman does not speak. Anodos makes a point of articulating her silence when he says, "Dumb art thou? O Love immortal, More than words thy speech must be." But by saying this, Anodos is in essence putting words in her mouth. We have to wonder if this woman actually does feel love immortal, or if Anodos is simply putting words in her mouth. Once the statue woman has fully materialized, Anodos admits, "Unable to restrain myself, I sprang to her, and, in defiance of the law of the place, flung my arms around her, as if I would tear her from the grasp of a visible Death, and lifted her from the pedestal down to my heart."
The moment Anodos acts with abandon towards this woman, she finally speaks and runs away. She tells him, "with a reproachful cry," that he should not have touched her, and she flees. More than once in this story Anodos engages somewhat intemperately and wantonly with women when he repeatedly attempts to embrace White Lady and then again when he shatters the little girl's crystal globe. Cosmos exhibits similar behavioral patterns in the story of the enchanted mirror. The text of Phantastes, although reverential in theory towards women, at the same time reveals an obvious abandonment of consideration for women in moments of passion, carnality, and longing.
1. What are the implications of Anodos' songs giving live to/creating/reactivating/liberating various women from immobility or invisibility?
2. The plot of Phantastes contains a number of episodes centering on a man's obsession for an idealized woman; however, all of these encounters are discrete and unsustainable. In this text, does Geroge MacDonald characterize woman as unattainable goddesses, or objectify women by illustrating them as vessels for obsession rooted exclusively in physical attraction?
3. As in Jane Eyre the power balance between Anodos and these women remains in flux. What precipitates the change when it happens?
4. Do Anodos' interactions with various women within the fairy world reflect socially acceptable modes of male/female interaction? Do they diverge, or does MacDonald intend these encounters to serve as commentaries on the mores of Victorian sexuality and romance?
MacDonald, George. Phantastes. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2000.
Last modified 11 February 2004