EVE by Pamela Norris


A Biography
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Eve, the “mother of all living,” has taken the flak for the woes of man- and womankind for millennia, and only now is her image being revamped, as recounted in this wide-ranging overview of stories from before Genesis to contemporary feminist thought. Norris, who edited an anthology of Victorian women poets and other volumes, begins by examining the actual texts of the biblical stories of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, where and why they might have originated (to warn against pagan goddesses often associated with serpents?). Although, as Norris explains, Eve “sinks from view” after the first few chapters of the Hebrew Bible, her story is kept alive in centuries of interpretive writing, mostly negative, from Jewish and later Christian theologians. The observation “Sin began with a woman and thanks to her we all must die” sets the tone for commentaries in general; lust and sexual decadence were added to women’s guilt by the early Christian fathers. Hopscotching among the Greeks to examine woman’s role as troublemaker, “helpmeet,” and destroyer, as well as early Christian ascetics, who sought personal freedom by committing themselves to God and good works, Norris also examines “the Second Eve,” the Virgin Mary, whose obedience to God contrasted with Eve’s defiance in eating the apple. The role of the serpent, sometimes seen as another face of Eve, is enlivened with terrifying ancient myths. Poets, artists and modern writers from Milton, George Eliot, Hawthorne, and Calvin to Hemingway and Daphne du Maurier are recruited to illuminate Eve in all her aspects, including temptress, sinner, and servant. Modern women, suggests Norris, can look to the Eve legend more positively: as a “need to challenge boundaries, to make the imaginative leap . . . into a new phase of existence.” With a balance of humor and feminist irony, Norris links fact and fiction, myth and history to provide a sometimes chaotic but often edifying story of the First Mother. (41 b&w, 12 color illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 1999
ISBN: 0-8147-5812-6
Page count: 496pp
Publisher: New York Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1999