Mary Gordon’s second novel, The Company of Women, followed the first, widely acclaimed, Final Payments (1978). In both novels, Gordon deals with the theme of being the offspring of a deeply religious Roman Catholic family in a secularized American society. In both novels, daughters must come to grips not only with their strict religious upbringing but also with the issues of “choice”—whether to remain virginal, to use contraceptives, or to consider abortion.
In The Company of Women, Gordon sets up two spheres of womanhood, each centered on charismatic yet domineering males. In the early sections, the “company of women” centers on the austere and commanding figure of Father Cyprian, who sees the main character, the child Felicitas, as the group’s only hope for the future. Father Cyprian’s influence over Felicitas is broken by her youthful rebellion against his authority and, by extension, that of the Church. However, Felicitas leaves one “company of women” only to find herself in another, that of Sally and Iris around Robert.
The novel suggests that any company of women centered on a patriarchal male figure will succeed only insofar as the women form their own independent “company.” It is the women who hold one another together in both “companies,” and by holding together they attain a collective authority that enables them to survive the conditions under which they find themselves....
(The entire section is 544 words.)