June 30, 2016

A feminine mode pervades these figures, a mode characterized by the experiential rather than abstract, by the spirit rather than discursive reasoning.

Karl Stern, in his philosophical work “Flight From Woman,” argues that 300 years of scientific revolution have de-feminized and de-humanized society. To Stern, femininity is not strict role-playing but a form of knowledge. He defines masculine knowledge as scientific and rational, and feminine knowledge as intuitive and poetic--not irrational but trans-rational. Masculinity objectifies in order to know; femininity knows by union with another. For example, the Virgin Mary inaugurated the salvation of humanity by her acceptance of God's initiative. Her contemplative union with God, rather than an objective analysis of God, characterized her decision. Her feminine mode saved the world.

Stern says that when society discards the feminine mode of knowing, it morphs into an ambitious, cruel organization, instead of becoming a loving organism. For Stern, a masculine and feminine polarity is "anchored in the absolute," and women who abandon their femininity become "eminently phallic" or "masochistically submit to" this organizational apparatus. Stern upholds Eve, mother of all the living, and the Virgin Mary, whose "yes" made redemption possible, as types of feminine wisdom lost to our present society.

Many women saints revered in the past would not pass muster as useful or ambitious enough in current culture. Their popularity was based on their modesty and the positive influence they had on others. Two fourth-century bishops called their elder sister Macrina "Teacher," honoring her skill in their childrearing. Macrina's modesty was renowned; she once refused medical care for a wound on her breast, because she could not bear to have her nakedness exposed to a doctor, or even her own mother. Macrina prayed herself for healing and subsequently was completely cured.

During the reign of Emperor Hadrian, a widow named Sophia encouraged her three young daughters to endure persecution to death after their refusal to worship the goddess Artemis. She admonished them, "Your heavenly Lover, Jesus Christ, is eternal health, inexpressible beauty and life eternal. When your bodies are slain by torture, He will cloth you in incorruption and the wounds on your bodies will shine in heaven like the stars." These are stories of romanticism, of virtue, not of worldly logic.

I once considered romance novels a genre of escapism. Perhaps not. Perhaps they are instead a subconscious lifeline to a forgotten world, a world that remembers the feminine wisdom of abandonment, trust, and union in love with others. If Dame Cartland’s books champion that wisdom, I hope a billion more sell.