Gagné, Laurie Brands
GagnÉ, Laurie Brands
Writer and educator. Trinity College of Vermont, Burlington, associate professor of humanities and director of Peace and Justice Program.
The Uses of Darkness: Women's Underworld Journeys, Ancient and Modern, University of Notre Dame Press (Notre Dame, IN), 2000.
Writer and educator Laurie Brands Gagné is an author whose work often focuses on spirituality and women's issues. She has published numerous articles on these and associated subjects. As an educator, Gagné spent twelve years teaching a course on the "Woman's Journey," noted reviewer Annette Lucia Giesecke in Utopian Studies. In The Uses of Darkness: Women's Underworld Journeys, Ancient and Modern, Gagné reconsiders three ancient tales of women's journeys and offers a "hypnotic, rambling monolog that describes the author's journey towards achieving an edifying sense of self-knowledge," observed Giesecke. "Operating at the intersection of literary criticism, psychology, and theology, Laurie Brands Gagné analyzes three ancient tales as 'women's stories of the underworld:'"; the story of Eros and Psyche, the myth of Demeter and Persephone, and the legend of the Descent of Inanna, reported Margaret Hallissy in Christianity and Literature. Gagné's goal, Hallissy stated, "is to establish the thesis that stories of women's descent into the underworld are unlike men's," in that men's underworld descents involve great and heroic deeds, whereas women's stories of heroic journeys and similar fraught adventures "involve a different, more subtle process of 'discovering new life through the surrender to passion, losing that life through the loss of the other, and coming through loss.'"
Gagné provides close analysis of the journey motif that underpins the three texts. In the "Descent of Inanna," the title character is an ancient Sumerian goddess, mother of two adult sons, who journeys to the underworld to witness the funeral rites of her brother-in-law. In the myth of Demeter and Persephone, Demeter enters the underworld in search of her daughter, Persephone. In the myth of Eros and Psyche, the supernaturally beautiful human woman Psyche is wooed by the god Eros, but when she presumes to change the terms of their human/god relationship by lighting a lamp to see her lover's face in the darkness, Eros becomes angry and leaves her. The devastated Psyche then begins her journeys, wandering in search of her lost lover. The story's theme is that "a woman's overdependence on a man's approval [is] such that, when his approval is withdrawn, her world shatters," Hallissy observed. In what Giesecke called "a very personal story and a very personal interpretation of a variety of works of literature," Gagné then considers the stories in terms of how differently ancient and modern women deal with issues of love, loss, and death, and how patriarchal images of God as a stern male authority figure have generated shame and guilt that "damaged the modern woman's sense of self," Giesecke noted. In considering these issues, Gagné not only explicates them within the three myths, but also reconciles these issues within herself. "The author's journey evidently led her to great personal happiness, and retracing the author's footsteps may be of help to others in need of a similar sort of salvation. In this respect," Giesecke concluded, "the book is a success."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Gagné, Laurie Brands, The Uses of Darkness: Women's Underworld Journeys, Ancient and Modern, University of Notre Dame Press (Notre Dame, IN), 2000.
Christianity and Literature, winter, 2002, Margaret Hallissy, review of The Uses of Darkness, p. 275.
Utopian Studies, spring, 2001, Annette Lucia Giesecke, review of The Uses of Darkness, p. 304.*