The title of this post is from Angela Carter’s The Passion of New Eve – the full quotation runs:
“Mother is a figure of speech and has returned to a cave beyond consciousness”
Today is my mother’s birthday. Perhaps, then, it is little coincidence that this particular quotation has presented itself to my mind when its relationship to me is considered on a very introspective, familiar and local scale. I’m thinking in simple terms here: I’m spending weeks at a time away from home in longer bursts than ever before, and during that time the presence my mother occupies is a figurative one; I talk about her, she is anecdotal, she is a character we as a student community can commonly identify with and she is therefore unifying.
I’m aware of the underlying cliché of leaving home and the subsequent plethora of new responsibilities/ exploration of identity/ making sure I have sufficient clean knickers, but clichés exist because often there is some truth in them (even a cliché of say, a film, is still a truth within that medium, whether it resembles actual reality or not). Hence, it’s been important to me to put a few leagues between myself and home to grow, make half hearted attempts at transgressing the image my mother has helped to shape to prove I’ve developed (cough blue hair cough) and establishing a routine that she will never be fully involved in.
The quotation suggests a physical, perhaps mental, absence that has worked for some people. I asked myself who Jane Eyre would be, if not an orphan? Her parents, supposedly well off had they lived, might have indulged her, aligning her with her cousins and perhaps making her a worthier candidate of her Aunt’s love. She would surely lose, then, her staggering independence, her formal and emotional education at Lowood and the poetry of her revelations in the attic at Thornfield, with panoramic views stretching before her inspiring her will for “liberty!”
Only, my mother isn’t absent. Thinking about this in the pool today I kind of feel like my mother is a part of my psyche. She occupies the portion of my mind that deals with some aspects of morality, she triggers self preservation at road crossings, or is the filter over my eyes that sometimes encourages me perceive things in light of my life at home. The latter is particularly true of mealtimes; when faced with Lenton’s lumpy excuse for jam roly-poly, a pang of mum-sickness is a given.
Carter wanted to do away with the mother because it was important to abandon outmoded ideologies and tenacious 60s gender politics in particular. It’s important to me that I extend beyond the sphere of my mother’s existence and it is inevitable that some of her values will transcend with me, but equally inevitable that some will be scrapped. I like the thought of her return to “cave beyond consciousness”; it makes me think of the alien time before my birth and to imagine my mother as somebody I don’t know, who doesn’t need me, who can shelve the notion of being a mother just for a week or so before the next phone call or visit… it’s exciting.
Many people fear resembling their mothers. I have no wish to be her clone, but when people identify me as my mother’s daughter, when they see her reflected in me, I cannot help but feel astonishing pride to be so intrinsically associated with a woman so selfless, so loving, generous and wise.
Happy Birthday, Mum.