The Monstrous Mother
Image: Pregnant woman with numerous children in tow. Head of a dog or dragon.
Power: Chaos, Desire, Power
Symbology: Emblem of lust, uncontrollable femininity, locus of male fear of sexuality and reproduction, female body that evokes the initial fall from grace, womb is equated with tomb.
Errour in Spencer's The Faerie Queen
Sin in Paradise Lost
Criticism in Swift's Battle of the Books
Dullness in Pope's Dunciad
The Monstrous Mother illustrates how women obtain authority and power from reproduction and fertility and the male's fear of that feminine power that they can't tap into. These mothers are "bad mothers" because they both reproduce often and steal men's vitality and because they are physically/psychologically damaging to their children. Not only this, but the sex manuals of the time warn men that they should maintain moderate sexual activity while being wary of the power and insatiability of the woman's sexual drive. The Monstrous Mother is an empowered woman who refuses to be sexually or socially passive and violates the codes of appropriate feminine behavior.
"The female body is a convenient site for Chaos, as it is located between the created and the uncreated. The chaos of the female body in these works is signified by the womb and its products, which embody darkness and void; the womb also generates anxieties attendant upon the inability to fill or illuminate such a space. The darkness of the maternal womb echoes the primordial darkness that is a precondition of divine creation, which invokes light. As light is established as a masculine positive associated with order and reason, darkness is construed as its devilish opposite: a feminine force associated with chaos and the imagination. Accordingly, the maternal body is situated in darkness throughout these works: Errour lives in a darkened cave (itself a metaphorical womb) and shuns the light as do her children. Sin, as a denizen of hell, exists in darkness visible; Criticism, though less clearly identified with physical darkness than with perpetuation of intellectual dimness, lives in a den. Dulness, the daughter of Chaos and Night, not only lives in darkness, but is a purveyor of darkness, as she parodies divine creation by reversing it. In her reign, "universal darkness buries all" as she induces the world to sleep, and into the realm of the unconscious and the imagination where reason loses its hold on artistic and intellectual accountability. Like the Platonic caves that they invoke, the shadowy wombs and dens of the monstrous mother function as images of entrapment and intellectual deception."
1994. "The Monstrous Mother: Reproductive Anxiety in Swift and Pope." ELH. Vol. 61, No. 4, Winter. 829-851.