'That Night': Vane's Struggle for Christian Identity in George MacDonald's "Lilith"

Hobbis, Faith Mary (2002) 'That Night': Vane's Struggle for Christian Identity in George MacDonald's "Lilith". MPhil(R) thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This study aims towards a contextualising, and reading, of MacDonald's last work of his life, the fantasy Lilith, in order to justify the argument that his work in general generously repays detailed study, in that it self-consciously addresses and reinterprets post-enlightenment and post-romantic theology in ways which anticipate future developments, both in theological and literary studies, and especially where the two overlap. In addition, the thesis also tends occasionally to point to how such close study may help in the future to clarify the importance of MacDonald's place within the Scottish literary tradition, and may also help to interpret that tradition, in the light of wider philosophical and literary studies. However, such clarification is left to a future study, and the main direction of the argument is concerned to address his writing both in its historic context and in terms of the question of identity raised in Romanticism and later, in twentieth and twenty-first century hermeneutics and theology. Lilith presents us with a man searching in history (specifically in Vane's father's library); in his imagination; and in his action, for a source of meaning. The search however leads him to a reality which breaks in upon him, as it were, taking him by surprise on a journey which seems to take place in another world - one which utterly confounds the laws of reality as he has previously known them. In the process history, identity, notions of time, reality, being, morality and the place of knowledge in understanding are all rigorously questioned and interrelated. In Vane's encounter with the central character, Lilith (known in ancient mythology as Satan's wife), we perhaps have a further development of the way in which psychology and difficult theological questions are related to one another in the encounter between Wringhim and Gilmartin, in James Hogg's The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. The novel, like that of Hogg, leaves the reader with no clear conclusion as to its own concept(s) of reality. However, with intertextual references to the development of certain themes in MacDonald's other works, we can interpret where this strangely dark, last work of his life, may be reflecting the development of his thinking about the way in which the 'Christ-self relates to the idea of identity, and goes on to inform one's concept of reality. The person of Lilith is ambiguous, in that she may be interpreted either as the Church, or as everything which seems to stand against the Church. In her long mythical history she has been seen as Satan's wife - a figure to be feared and shunned; in other forms she appears as the Black Madonna. In the novel she also functions as that within the protagonist's or narrator's character which teaches him about his true relationship to death; she is also a personification of the painful and confusing emergence of Christian identity. MacDonald uses all of this ambiguity to illustrate the nature of the identity of the church, a theme he addresses frequently in his writings; the nature, especially, of its identity in relation to death. The outcome of his concern, however, is that he finds himself exploring not only the nature of Christian identity but, ultimately, the nature of identity itself In much the same way that narratives or works of art tend to escape formal identification with any theory which the critic may introduce, MacDonald's experience of Christianity is that it functions not as a fixed viewpoint, but rather as a continually reinterpreted narrative, discovering, in its course, the identity of the interpreter. Such an experience, for MacDonald, raises in his theology and fiction many of the questions which will be later asked of texts: How is it that things; people; texts seem to have an identity so unique as to render them non-communicable, and yet demand to be interpreted, connected, formed and given meaning and identity in the context of communities? And what is the true nature of the relationship (or conflict) between a community and an individual? In the first section, the study considers briefly the cultural context of MacDonald's work - Romanticism - in terms of his approach to the text of the Bible. This is because the question of the groundedness of identity becomes particularly pertinent in Romanticism, especially in relation to the question of authority; such authority having been previously attributed to the written text of the Bible, frequently without a conscious attempt to explore why that should be. We then move to consider his treatment of nihilism, as it is encountered in that context, and read by Lilith. The section ends with a consideration of MacDonald's thinking about ethics in relation to nihilism. His move is - surprisingly - to delimit the didacticism which emerged in the Victorian church's response to nihilism, and to address the outcome as it occurs. He neither directly attacks the nihilist stance, nor does he seek to embrace it into an Hegelian whole, and so simply submerge the question.

Item Type: Thesis (MPhil(R))
Qualification Level: Masters
Keywords: British & Irish literature, Nursing
Date of Award: 2002
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2002-76034
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 19 Nov 2019 17:05
Last Modified: 19 Nov 2019 17:05
URI: https://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/76034

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