Women Who Will Never Die

Yes, literature has a gift: making people and feelings immortal. Over the years, I have stumbled upon many women characters portrayed by writers who were obsessed by their beauty and being. I’ve always felt like I wanted to know everything about these women. What was so special about them? What inspired poets and writers to grab their pens and start writing? Were they worth so much attention? I admire the power of these women, those very peculiar qualities that made them live through the ages in fiction and poetry. Many of them fascinate me, and make me feel a bit envious, too. I think I actually have a number of favorites, and in this list I will only mention three of them (casual order):

 

1. Alice in wonderland. Who was the real Alice in Wonderland immortalized by Lewis Carroll, aka Charles Dodgson? I have always felt some kind of attachment to Alice’s story. When I was little, my mother used to feed me with tales. My favorites were the ones that became Walt Disney’s classics, Alice in Wonderland above all. I watched the cartoon so many times I actually still know the words by heart. Alice Liddell Hargreaves was an unrestrained child, naive and innocent at times, but also incredibly aware of the world around her. Alice’s father was the Dean of Westminster School and was soon appointed to the deanery of Christ Church, Oxford. Dodgson/Carroll met the Liddell family in 1855. The relationship between the girl and Dodgson has been the source of much controversy. Dodgson entertained Alice and her sisters by telling them stories, and used them as subjects for his hobby, photography. There is no record of why the relationship between him and the Liddells broke so suddenly, but what remains are some very beautiful pictures of the little Alice (and a WONDERful book!).

“Lastly, she pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in the after-time, be herself a grown woman; and how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood: and how she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long ago: and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days.”

 

2. How not to wonder about Beatrice’s life? We have no pictures, of course! (Yes, paintings!) What we have is Dante’s description of her, which appears in La Vita Nova. When he first saw her, she was dressed in soft crimson and wore a girdle around her waist. Dante fell in love with Beatrice at first sight, and he describes her with divine and angelic qualities. One afternoon, while Beatrice was walking the streets of Florence, she turned and greeted him. On the very same day, Dante had a dream about Beatrice, who became the subject of his first sonnet of La Vita Nova.

To every captive soul and gentle heart

into whose sight this present speech may come,

so that they might write its meaning for me,

greetings, in their lord’s name, who is Love.

Already a third of the hours were almost past

of the time when all the stars were shining,

when Amor suddenly appeared to me

whose memory fills me with terror.

Joyfully Amor seemed to me to hold

my heart in his hand, and held in his arms

my lady wrapped in a cloth sleeping.

Then he woke her, and that burning heart

he fed to her reverently, she fearing,

afterwards he went not to be seen weeping.

                            from La Vita Nova – A ciascun´alma presa e gentil core

 

3. Traveling back in time, there’s another woman who got my full attention. Her name is Lesbia, and Catullus was the poet who fell deeply in love with her (her real name was probably Clodia Metelli). I still remember how much passion my Latin professor put during that class in high school, commenting each and every word from this beautiful poem below. I seriously think this and other ancient poems were what motivated me to classical studies.

To every captive soul and gentle heart

into whose sight this present speech may come,

so that they might write its meaning for me,

greetings, in their lord’s name, who is Love.

Already a third of the hours were almost past

of the time when all the stars were shining,

when Amor suddenly appeared to me

whose memory fills me with terror.

Joyfully Amor seemed to me to hold

my heart in his hand, and held in his arms

my lady wrapped in a cloth sleeping.

Then he woke her, and that burning heart

he fed to her reverently, she fearing,

afterwards he went not to be seen weeping.

                                         from How Many Kisses

 

Who are your favorite women in literature?

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