The Grandmother in the Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald

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The Grandmother in the Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald

The characterizations of women have, throughout history, been one of the most problematic subjects in literary tradition. An extraordinary dichotomy has existed with women as being both the paragon of virtue and the personification of evil. Ancient Greeks feared women, and poets such as Hesiod believed the female sex was created to be the scourge of the gods and the bane of men (Fantham 39). Romans, on the other hand, incorporated tales of brave and virtuous women as an intrinsic part of their legendary history (219). Many Catholic saints, revered for their piety, were notoriously misogynistic (Dollison 106), and yet the church counted legions of holy women
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Many ancient cultures, particularly Egypt and Classical Greece and Rome, viewed the industry of spinning as so important and so fundamentally attached to women that deceased female relatives would often be buried with their looms and spindles, clearly displaying “the age-old convention of the noble wife as spinner and weaver” (Fantham 157). The imagery of the Grandmother spinning also alludes to Clotho, one of the three mythical Greek fates, whose very name means ‘spinner’ and who spins out the thread of life for every living human being (Bulfinch 896). As symbologist Hans Biedermann notes, spinning is associated with fate and was often “considered to be the task of supernatural females” (317). Biedermann goes on to observe that the imagery of the spinner was later adopted by Christian artists, who frequently depicted holy women such as the Virgin Mary, St. Margaret, and Joan of Ark along a distaff or spindle (317).

Irene’s Grandmother is a beautiful representation of the symbol of the spinning woman. Not only is she busily engaged in the most historically appropriate female industry, but she is also weaving an impossible material, spider-webs, into an impossible threat which serves to protect Princess Irene in times of trouble. The magical material that the thread is made of and its connection

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