PSYCHE'S SISTERS: Re-Imagining the Meaning of Sisterhood by Christine Downing

PSYCHE'S SISTERS: Re-Imagining the Meaning of Sisterhood

Email this review


Exploration of the complex, ambivalent relationships between biological sisters in an effort to better understand the concept of feminist sisterhood. Searching for the deeper ""mysteries of sisterhood,"" Downing (Psychology/San Diego State; The Goddess, 1981) begins with examples of biological sisters in Grimms' fairy tales, Greek and Roman literature, and some biblical and ancient Near Eastern materials. She follows with much hastier coverage of discussions of sibling interactions in the work of Adler, Freud, Jung, and several other psychologists. Oddly, though, we read almost as much about mothers, fathers, and brothers as we do about sisters. Moreover, Downing seems to be unaware of the continual rewriting of the Grimms' tales, which she accepts as purer folktale than they are, and her analysis of the Sumerian goddess figures of Ereshkigal and Inanna is based on recent books that melded several quite separate legends together into a single narrative, thus misleading her on cause and effect. Over one quarter of the book dwells on Greek and Roman literature, bogging down in a multitude of characters and explanations of family genealogies that do not offer enough to the study to justify their lengthy presence (except for a gem of analysis on Helen and Klytemnestra). One cannot help but wish that there was more of Downing and less of the House of Atreus. Beyond all these problems, Downing--who does understand a great deal about sisters and expresses this understanding with perceptive sensitivity--offers some very interesting insights into how sisters--not despite differences and difficulties but because of them--share a very special relationship, often challenging each other toward greater personal growth. With patience and fortitude the reader may find this uneven book not unlike an archaeological excavation--a lot of laborious digging compensated for by the joy of finding an occasional treasure.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1987
Publisher: Harper & Row