The Company of Women Essay - Critical Essays

Mary Gordon


One of Gordon’s central preoccupations is to examine women’s unquestioning abdication of responsibility to male authority: father figures, priests, lovers, or professors and the male-dominated institutions that each represents. Certainly, Gordon affirms that Father Cyprian has given the five adult women assistance and comfort since the early 1930’s, when each was attempting to cope with traumas such as the death of a husband, father, or child; brutal or abandoned marriages; the sole care of aging parents; and various disappointments. Moreover, his mentorship nurtures their remarkable spiritual devotion, which was already becoming an anomaly for their generation. Gordon shows, however, that it is through these women’s unquestioning surrender of their and young Felicitas’ spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and social lives to Cyprian that very real damage occurs.

While each of the five adult women confesses—sometimes to herself, sometimes to Cyprian—a candid rebellion against his pronouncements, none acts against his advice. For example, Charlotte, who grew up in a large, lively family, knows that she is not providing a normal childhood for Felicitas; however, she entrusts her daughter’s development to Cyprian’s charge, a trust that no one really questions. They also do not question projecting their hopes on the young girl. When Felicitas attempts to establish a life for herself, the radical damage created by the group’s unchecked adoration and trust is obvious. Felicitas’ eventual re-creation of a more holistic life for herself and her child demonstrates the necessity and difficulty of such a task for any contemporary woman. At the same time, however, Gordon extends her commentary on authority by showing...

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