Upon first encountering Phantastes, a reader may find the quotations that begin each chapter a distraction, “filler” that is not important to the story that MacDonald tells. Reader beware! David Robb writes in George MacDonald(1987) that “it is clear, too, that memories of other literature have been crucial in helping form Phantastes: an awareness of sources does not merely help us explain the work’s genesis, but can conceivably take us to the heart of it. This applies even to the chapter-mottoes, which are much more intimately related to the rest of the work than is normally the case” (91). The great modernist poet T. S. Eliot in “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (1919) posited the notion that “tradition” is central to the understanding of literature, for originality is centered on the past: “Tradition is a matter of much wider significance. It cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by great labour. It involves . . . the historical sense, which we may call nearly indispensable to any one who would continue to be a poet . . . . the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order” (4). Harold Bloom, in Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry (1973; 2 nd ed. 1997) extends Eliot’s idea of influence to argue that writers fight an oedipal struggle between the strong fatherly past and the son’s (writer’s) attempt to slay that fatherly influence to create new, unique literature that breaks with the past influence, yet simultaneously is a homage to that influence. Bloom suggest that “strong” writers will “wrestle with their strong precursors, even to the death” (5) to create original art. Bloom’s Freudian, and thus masculine, theory has been appropriated by feminist scholars, most notably Susan Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. While MacDonald never cites a female writer to begin his chapters in Phantastes, Gilbert and Gubar quote MacDonald at the beginning of their work—from Lilith (1895). The following selections demonstrate the various literary influences on MacDonald and the dialogue Phantastes has with these influences and contemporary works that MacDonald may be responding to.
- Bloom, Harold. The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry. 2 nd ed. Oxford UP, 1997.
Phantastes Chapter 1: Alastor; or, The Spirit of Solitude, Percy Bysshe Shelley
Phantastes Chapter 2: Heinrich von Ofterdingen, Georg Philipp Friedrich
Phantastes Chapter 3: Man, Henry Septimus Sutton
Phantastes Chapter 4: Ballad of Sir Aldingar, James Kinsley
Phantastes Chapter 5: Pygmalion, Thomas Lovell Beddoes
Phantastes Chapter 5: Romance of Sir Launfal, Thomas Chestre
Phantastes Chapter 6: The Demon Lady, William Motherwell
Chapter 8 Phantastes: Faust, Goethe
Phantastes Chapter 6: Der Zauberring (The Magical Ring), Friedrich Heinrich Karl