Through the Looking Glass: Madame Blavatsky and the Occult Mother

  • Diana Basham


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.


Secret Society Occult Power Literary Fiction Woman Question Opposing Identity 
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© Diana Basham 1992

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  • Diana Basham

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