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Through the Looking Glass: Madame Blavatsky and the Occult Mother

  • Diana Basham
Chapter
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Abstract

In the looking glass world of late nineteenth century fiction, the image of one figure repeatedly appears. The image is that of the ‘Occult Mother’ and representations of her are so consistent that we may list her attributes and define her symbolic nature. Whether she appears as Ayesha in both Bulwer Lytton’s A Strange Story (1862) and in Rider Haggard’s She (1887), as Arabella Donne in Hardy’s realist parody, Jude the Obscure (1896),4 as the Duchess of Towers in George du Maurier’s Peter Ibbetson (1892), as Theodora in Disraeli’s Lothair (1870), or as Lewis Carroll’s one-dimensional Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, the ‘Occult Mother’ with her uncanny transformative power is the ‘Monstrous Dweller on the Threshold’ that tentatively separates literary fiction from occult reality during the last decades of the nineteenth century. As Life began consciously imitating Art, rather than vice versa, in the literary aesthetics of the ‘fin du siecle’, and as occultism in general acquired cultural prominence in the decadent 1890s, the construct of the ‘Occult Mother’ became itself a site for this aesthetic and perceptual realignment.

Keywords

Secret Society Occult Power Literary Fiction Woman Question Opposing Identity 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 11.
    Nina Auerbach, Woman and the Demon: The Life of a Victorian Myth (Harvard University Press, 1982), ch. 6.Google Scholar
  2. 20.
    H. P. Blavatsky, The Voice of the Silence (California: Theosophical University Press, 1966), pp. 16–17.Google Scholar
  3. 35.
    Patricia Hollis (ed.), Women in Public 1850–1900 (London: Allen & Unwin, 1979), p. 323.Google Scholar
  4. 39.
    See Mary K. Neff, Personal Memoirs of H. P. Blavatsky (London: Rider & Co., 1937), p. 17.Google Scholar
  5. 41.
    Annie Besant, An Autobiography, 2nd edn (London: Fisher Unwin, 1893) pp. 17–18.Google Scholar
  6. 53.
    James Webb, The Occult Underground (Illinois, Open Court Publishing, 1974), p. 192.Google Scholar
  7. 54.
    H. P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine (London, The Theosophical Publishing C., 1888), Note, p. 136Google Scholar
  8. 78.
    John Symonds, Madame Blavatsky (London: Oldhams Press Ltd., 1959), p. 222.Google Scholar
  9. 79.
    W. B. Yeats, Autobiographies (London: Macmillan, 1966), p. 179.Google Scholar
  10. 86.
    J. R. Vincent (ed.), Disraeli, Derby and the Conservative Party: The Political Journals of Lord Stanley 1849–69 (Harvester Press, 1978), p. 63.Google Scholar
  11. 100.
    Robert Blake, Benjamin Disraeli (Methuen, 1969), p. 419.Google Scholar
  12. 101.
    Louis MacNeice, Selected Poems (Faber, 1964), p. 48.Google Scholar

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© Diana Basham 1992

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  • Diana Basham

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