Note: Apologies for any awkward formatting or typos. For full context, this was my English lit senior thesis back in 2016. Many people have asked to read it, but I've never tried to get it published anywhere. I'm proud of it, but it's also a very niche analysis. I've gone through and added sections and tried to space out some of the longer paragraphs. I also went through and bolded some important points; the formatting erased the many, many italics, but I hope it isn't too disruptive.
Also, the translation for Goethe's Faust I'm using is by David Luke, and as someone who can speak basic German, I recommend this version because it captures a lot of nuances and wordplay, especially in Mephistopheles' verses, that I feel other translations miss.
Anyway, to all Faust and Faustopheles lovers: Enjoy!
The story of Faust, in its various incarnations, appears to be a male-oriented, heteronormative myth with an initial glance. On a surface level, Faust’s journey involves a man who indulges himself with magic, spectacles, and women. Much of the plot hinges on Faust’s sexual attraction to women, as well as the fixation on Helen of Troy in works such as Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust, Part Two.
Accompanying characters tend to be overwhelmingly coded as male regardless of humanity or lack thereof, from Mephistopheles to Wagner to Satan to the unfallen angels to God Himself. With this, the figure of Dr. Faust and his struggle with good and evil seem to encompass the image of a heterosexual everyman.
However, though the Faust myth appears male-centric and heteronormative on a surface level, variations of the Faust myth, such as Doctor Faustus, Faust, Part One, Faust, Part Two, and The Devil’s Own Work complicate the characters’ sexualities and gender identities. The queer subtext between characters such as Faust and Mephistopheles and Chantal and Eudoxie, as well as Faust’s thirst for knowledge paralleling the plights of Eve and womankind, ultimately reveal the perceived dangers of social transgression in terms of queer sexual desire and women’s rights.
This paper will examine multiple works from the sixteenth century to contemporary media through a queer feminist lens. It will encompass the examination of letters concerning the historical figure of Dr. John Faustus, Marlowe’s tragedy Doctor Faustus, both parts of Goethe’s tragedy Faust, Roman Polanski’s horror film Rosemary’s Baby, Alan Judd’s novella The Devil’s Own Work, and Emma Tennant’s novel Faustine.
When discussing the transgender nature of Faust, particularly Dr. Faustus, transgender is a combination of two words, “transgressive” and “gender,” and a transgressive identity involves breaking established social norms, such as a strict gender binary. Queer is an umbrella word which encapsulates marginalized gender and sexual identities that are neither heterosexual or cisgender (someone’s current gender identity matches their assigned-at-birth gender). When discussing bisexual characters, such as Goethe’s Mephistopheles, bisexual refers to a sexual orientation where an individual experience attraction toward two or more genders.
Before the chapbook The History of the Damnable Life and Deserved Death of Doctor John Faustus circulated, a German man named John Faustus who wandered and performed alchemy and magic tricks. He allegedly sold his soul to the Devil, which formed the legend of Faust. A series of letters from various individuals, many religious leaders opposed to Faustus’ alleged actions, which range from sex with male school students to cannibalism to raising the dead; more than one of the letter writers accuse Dr. Faustus of sodomy.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, sodomy encompasses “any form of sexual intercourse considered to be unnatural. Now chiefly: anal intercourse.” Sodomy, as defined here, is often associated with homosexuality and male-on-male anal intercourse, though heterosexual sex acts can align with this description, and not all gay men engage in identical sex acts.
The first letter present in Lorna Fitzsimmons’ Lives of Faust, correspondence between Johannes Tritheim and Johannes Virdung, alleges that when Faust became a schoolmaster “he began to indulge in the most dastardly kind of lewdness with the boys and when this was suddenly discovered, he avoided by flight the punishment that awaited him” (23).
Meanwhile, Nuremberg’s entry records report “Safe conduct to Doctor Faust, the great sodomite and necromancer, at Fürth refused” (25).
Furthermore, perhaps speaking of the same instance Tritheim writes of, Christlich Bedencken corresponds with Augustin Lercheimer and states of Faust, “For a time he was a schoolmaster in Kreuznach under Franz von Sickingen: he had to flee from there because he was guilty of sodomy” (38).
A common thread in these documents is Faust’s ostracization through society, either through barred entry or fleeing once his sexual proclivities are unearthed. The tale intends to be didactic, meaning it lends moral instructions, albeit in a brusque manner. To sin not only against Biblical statutes, but social ones as well, led to an association with devilry. Fitzsimmons states, “There was no such thing as a trivial decision: you must choose the devil or choose Christ. Loaf at work, and you are acting like a follower of the devil. Rebel against your superior...and you have declared yourself a loyalist of Satan” (45).
This is a social mechanism for those on the sixteenth century pulpit to control social mores and the populations at large. Not only that, but straying from social norms and bucking against those empowered was indistinguishable from being an agent of vice.
In a time where the pulpit spread ideological norms, sodomy acts as a gateway sin; if a man commits a “deviant” sex act with another man, this emboldens him to commit other crimes against man. In Faust’s case, earthly lust shifts into exploring forbidden, perilous arts and powers, such as necromancy and the occult.
Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus
Christopher Marlowe’s Elizabethan tragedy The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus queers the concept of gender to a great extent. Marlowe himself suffered from the same slippery slope argument that potential homosexuality leads to many other evils. Marlowe’s roommate, fellow playwright Thomas Kyd, accused Marlowe of engaging in homosexual acts, which could stem from many sources, such as the then-common practice of sharing a bed with a friend, a homoerotic interpretation of the patronage system employed by several writers in this era, or engaging in other acts of homosociality, or same-sex social interactions that are not necessarily romantic or sexual.
Homosexuality was illegal with the passing of Buggery Act 1533, which, as one might expect, prohibits buggery, so accusing someone of being homosexual essentially accused them of a prosecutable crime. Alongside rumors of homosexuality, Marlowe was also accused of atheism. In a society rife with religious belief in both common life and the political realm, to be accused of godlessness was synonymous with committing deviant acts.
Not only that, but because of the Crown and belief in God being intertwined and the criminalization of heresy, foregoing the accepted religion in action and belief could very well be a death sentence (see: Henry VIII executing Catholics and his first daughter Mary I executing Protestants).
Alongside rumors that Marlowe spied for the government, he experienced the ripple effect of how one can be accused of one alleged sin and then be seen as capable of many others, which resulted in his arrest and potentially his death. Much like the historical Faust, Marlowe has been shrouded in legend, though it is undeniable he suffered from the real life condemnation of homosexuality and became a pariah based on Kyd’s word.
Regardless of Marlowe’s true sexual preferences, he would be aware of the negative repercussions of homosexuality in England, even just based off the accusation he faced. Though one does not need to be queer to write queer relationships or subtext, homosexuality presents itself in more than one of his plays, such as Hero and Leander and Edward II. Marlowe explores the issues of socially unacceptable homosexual relations, the so-called retribution for sexual deviance and defying God’s natural order, such as the rumors of Edward II having a male lover and his alleged murder from a fire poker inserted in his anus.
Doctor Faustus is no different. In Doctor Faustus, though Faustus appears to represent the morality play everyman struggling with cosmic good and evil, a queering of his gender comes in the form of his story aligning more with Eve and her punishment after seeking secret, forbidden knowledge.
In the back of my copy of Doctor Faustus, Alison Findlay’s article “Heavenly Matters of Theology: A Feminist Perspective” argues that Faustus’s plight of falling after seeking God-prohibited knowledge of the body, the realization of nakedness, not only aligns with the burden of Eve, but it also mirrors women’s struggle in that the “radical interpretation of Eden and Eve’s role” allows for a “rebellion against conventional church wisdom” about women and women can “see their own situations represented by Mephistopheles and Faustus” (383).
Therefore, Faustus’s struggle, and that of the Faust character archetype at large, is that of the everywoman rather than the everyman: finding knowledge outside of social sanctions or the pulpit at the risk of punishment. In the Faust letters, there are many references to Dr. Faust not only being ungrounded, but of him learning outside established institution and being tempted to pursue forbidden knowledge, transgressing against the status quo perpetuated by the Crown and those at the pulpits, which connects to women who went against the Church’s teachings and accepted mores that they be chaste, obedient, and silent. This interpretation equivocates, and therefore queers, the stark assumption of Faust as solely heterosexual and male.
To better understand the Faustopheles bond, there is also the contract which acts and its permanence in the intimate pricking of blood, in many ways, like a marriage agreement: the binding of souls. As well as that, there are the implications of Mephistopheles never leaving Faustus’s side, As per the Faustus’s soul exchange contract, Mephistopheles has to be present wherever Faust is, and this aspect will be further explored more in discussing The Devil’s Own Work, which establishes the same dynamic between Edward and Eudoxie, the novella’s Faust(us) and Mephistopheles, respectively.
When examining the role of women on Doctor Faustus, Findlay asserts Mephistopheles plays the role of the submissive housewife. However, one can argue, as John D. Cox’s article “The Devils of Dr. Faustus” does, that Mephistopheles’s appearance of submission is ultimately feigned by the devils and himself as a demonic strategy – a show of submission that is designed to “turn” Faustus, or win his irreversible submission to them [the devils in the long run” (120). Mephistopheles’s dominance stems from his ability to craft spectacles so elaborate Faustus cannot repent and leave his side, which will culminate in the Helen of Troy scene before Faustus’s death.
Furthermore, Mephistopheles dismisses the possibility of a heterosexual ceremonial union beyond lustful dalliances with “If thou lovest me, think no more of it” (148). With that, one would be remiss not to continue exploring the dynamic of Faustus and the ever-present Mephistopheles, which consists of the further queering of gender identity in the appearance of Helen of Troy in Act 5, Scene 1.
Before that, it is best to define gender performativity and its role of queering identity. In her book Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, Judith Butler describes the concept of gender performativity, an idea that disrupts the gender binary and the heteronormative axis, as well as “destabilizes the natural categories of identity and desire” (189).
Essentially, gender is performed, not innate, and possesses a fluid nature.
In Doctor Faustus, this first comes in the form of the “wife in the devil’s name” (143) Mephistopheles brings to Faustus as a jest. One cannot escape the metatheatrical implications of this gender play in a period when an all-male cast would present every character, and this transgressive nature of the theater caused unease and accusations of homoeroticism and lewdness under the mask of performance because men would play woman and then portray heterosexual romance between the characters.
Given that Marlowe would be cognizant of Elizabethan theatrical conventions, this troubling of gender is intentional. Furthermore, angels and demons in the play are all masculine or undetermined. The Seven Deadly Sins, meant to delight and distract Faustus, though perhaps given genders in stage performances, are gender-indeterminate in the text, much like the endless swarms of fallen angels.
Therefore, the devil-wife, described as dressed as a woman, has an ambiguous identity where they may be male, genderqueer, or even agender. Mephistopheles possesses a close camaraderie with Lucifer, whom he followed and whom, along with Beelzebub, assists Mephistopheles when Faustus falters and says Christ’s name.
As an aside concerning Mephistopheles’s orientation, Mephistopheles sacrificed Heaven for Hell (a matter he laments to Faustus and even states as a mistake he would not replicate), as did many angels in numbers John Milton would describe as innumerable, and the fallen angels are either coded masculine or ambiguous. This calls into question the homosocial nature of angels, especially the fallen ones willing to sacrifice divine love for their devotion to Lucifer. Emily Kolpien, in her thesis “Queer Paradise Lost: Reproduction, Gender, and Sexuality,” states, “In a way that is quintessentially queer, Hell is capable of being many things at once, of inhabiting multiple spaces that are usually thought of as binaries, such as masculine and feminine and creative and destructive” (16).
Hell itself, as a legion upon legion of fallen angels damned souls, occupies spaces both male, female, and ambiguous areas neither male nor female and not explicitly heterosexual.
In terms of this and Helen of Troy, the Helen Faustus kisses cannot be even the ghost of the historical Helen of Troy because it goes against the established logic of the play. Because infernal powers are a weaker perversion of the powers of God and Christ, neither Faustus nor Mephistopheles can fulfill Faustus’s initial desire to “make men to live eternally / Or, being dead, raise them to life again” (24-25).
Instead, they conjure up convincing, incorporeal ghosts, and though spectators may look, they cannot come too close to shades (or spirits, as per the stage directions) such as Alexander the Great or his paramor because it will break the illusion that the spirits are actually tangible, whole embodiments of the dead, which they are not because only God and Christ have full power over life, death, and Creation.
Still, the stage directions in Act 5, Scene 1 indicate Faustus kisses Helen multiple times, and he proclaims with charged eroticism, “And none but thou shalt be my paramour!” (109), alluding to an extensive sexual relationship before Faustus’s death. Therein lies a complication. If the Helen of Troy Mephistopheles “gifts” Faustus is a shade like Alexander the Great or even the Helen the scholars see, then Faust would be unable to kiss her or engage in intimacy, which begs the question of who Helen of Troy is if she is not the true Helen’s ghost.
Given the play establishing women-performing demons as an occurrence, Helen is either a male (or gender-indeterminate) demon or even Mephistopheles himself in an elaborate illusion. It falls into Mephistopheles’s motives to craft a convincing illusion, rather than a prank, to reward Faustus for failing to give himself to God.
At the same time, regardless of Helen’s first appearance, which could be a separate, untouchable shade (or even Mephistopheles, since Mephistopheles her in is ambiguous phrasing and is absent in other versions), Mephistopheles always stays by Faustus’s side. In the instance Helen appears after Faustus’s confrontation with the old man, though Mephistopheles is present before she appears the second time, there is no mention of Mephistopheles being a separate presence after Faustus sees her with the “twinkling of an eye” (86), a reference to visual trickery to obscure Faustus’s perception.
“Helen” being Mephistopheles or another male or indeterminate devil is not only an equivocation, or disruption, of the gender binary, but it marks Mephistopheles’s control, given this as the culmination of Mephistopheles’s several successful attempts to distract Faustus from repenting with ravishing spectacles.
One might object to the notion of Faustus’s potential sexual interest in male-identified individuals because of his open lust for a wife, and then his dalliances with myriad women Mephistopheles brings to his bed. However, a prurient interest in women does not negate an interest in men; with the existence of bisexuality, these attractions need not be exclusive.
Granted, when the conversation leads to Goethe's depiction of Faust and his relationship with Mephistopheles, a conversation will arise on the unhealthy dynamic of Faust and Mephistopheles’s partnership and whether this undermines the queer representation. Nevertheless, when Faustus and Mephistopheles first meet, Mephistopheles says as an aside, “O, what will not I do to obtain his soul?” (73), and he proves the lengths he would go to do just that by breaking gender conventions.
Goethe's Faust, Part One and Two
In Faust, Part One, the thread of Faust yearning for a heterosexual union and Mephistopheles’s unraveling of that ambition. Even so, the question remains as to why Mephistopheles would trouble himself to bring Faust and Margaret together, especially given Margaret’s innocent and religious nature. If anyone were to wrest Faust away from damnation, it would be a pious, pure-hearted maiden, and if one wants a person to themselves, to pair them off to another is antithetical. However, Mephistopheles maneuvers the situation so Faust and Margaret are intimate quickly into their relationship.
However, therein lies the trick. Mephistopheles engages in the active corruption of Faust and Margaret’s relationship and encourages fornication, a perceived sin and the satiation of premarital lust over spiritual unity. Faust “deflowers” Margaret, and the reckless union, sped along by Mephistopheles, results in the destruction of Margaret’s life with the deaths of her mother, brother, newborn son, and herself. Faust, through Mephistopheles’ urging, takes Margaret’s innocence and her stability, and therefore revokes the potential sanctity of the union.
Faust, instead of Faustus’s wanton intentions, craves and seeks an experience that surpasses his own ennui, a transcendent moment “Where love and beauty are / Far beyond speech” (46), He chases the Feminine to transgress his current status, and Mephistopheles works to undermine Faust's salvation guide him away from the Eternal Feminine. Mephistopheles succeeds in this instant.
Alongside that, Faust also sees the potential consequences of sleeping with a woman, the multiple deaths, the destruction, and the grief, so in the moment, Faust loses the fight to achieve the Eternal Feminine and finds himself, according to Mephistopheles’s plan, closer to the infernal masculine. Regardless of Goethe’s personal views, the narrative of Faust’s romantic life aligns with the conservative ideals of the time that sex before marriage is sinful and homosexual desire comes in the form of a tempting demon who leads men astray, which will be further explored in Faust, Part Two.
Faust, Part Two is integral in terms of Faust finding fulfillment in Eternal Womanhood and the exploration of Mephistopheles’s sexuality and his feelings for Faust. For example, to start off, Faust, Part Two is explicitly more women-centric than other Faust myth adaptations. The narrative is rife with female characters who possess agency. Not only does Helen have far more lines than her previous incarnations (albeit easy enough when said incarnations were silent), but she also explores the consequences of the constant kidnapping and rape she endured.
Whereas previous Faust myth incarnations feature male-identified angels and demons, Faust, Part Two contains the appearances of numerous pagan goddesses. When she dies, Helen invokes Persephone rather than Hades. In another instance of gender performance, Mephistopheles transitions when he adopts a feminine masquerade when he takes the single eye of three women and changes form.
Goethe even pokes fun of what Helene Cixous, in “Laugh of the Medusa” constitutes as the “phallocentric tradition” (879) of male-dominated language that leaves women without voice and no command of language, a concern also invoked by Findlay when exploring Faustus’s parallels with Renaissance-era women writers.
After Helen vanishes and Mephistopheles makes a mention of Helen’s part is Faust’s life before her absence, Mephistopheles states in an anti-Petrarchan fashion, “Poets will come nevertheless, / Your posthumous glory to profess; / Fools, kindling further foolishness” (179). This is a caustic and deconstructive look at male writing and how “tradition” would depict Faust and Helen’s relationship as glorious to Faust and focus on his emotions despite Helen’s moments of assertiveness and the repeated claims of equality and mutual submission to one another.
To continue further on the lessened phallocentric language, there is a diminished emphasis on the devil-constructed contract, which binds Faustus’s body and soul to Mephistopheles, the infernal masculine, and makes them inseparable, which, of course, all changes when in the conclusion of this narrative, Faust and Mephistopheles are separated for an eternity.
However, the crux of queer sexuality in Faust, Part Two stems from Mephistopheles’s dealings with the angels in his final scene and Faust’s ascension to Heaven. This scene confirms Mephistopheles as openly bisexual, and much like Faust’s plight represents women striving for sovereignty and the consequences of society bearing down on their attempts to strive or obtain knowledge outside of an accepted source, like a university, Mephistopheles suffers for his transgressions. The angels’ rose petals inflict him with boils like Job in an inversion of power, and, during his final speech, he is isolated and forlorn, as well as doomed to eternal disgrace.
Mephistopheles bisexuality becomes more than subtext with his yearning toward male angels whom he describes as sounding “boyish-girlish” (11686) and looking like pretty, “nice boys” (11763). He yearns to kiss them all because they possess a beauty that ”Seduces woman and seduces man!” (11782). The angels are not constrained to one form of gender expression, which presents a gender-fluidity, though Mephistopheles continues to refer to the angels as male.
Despite all the souls Mephistopheles admits to taking throughout the centuries, Mephistopheles describes the loss of Faust, whom he bickered with and misinterpreted through the years, with, “I’ve lost my greatest, most precious prize. / The lofty soul who pledged himself to me—” (11829-30).
Mephistopheles spends his time bickering and misinterpreting Faust's aspirations, and though Mephistopheles complains often about Faust’s decisions, they never separate for long. After all, Faust spends the rest if his mortal life with Mephistopheles, for better or worse. Complaining indeed becomes a ritual in their bond, to the point that, which Faust leaves forever, Mephistopheles asks “Who will I complain to?” (11832) Indeed, with Faust stolen by Heaven, Mephistopheles is bereft, disgraced, and afflicted with “absurd infatuation” (11839) and a “strange love-madness” (11842).
The same-sex attachment in the Faustopheles partnership explicitly comes from Mephistopheles. Faust rejoins Margaret, the Eternal (Divine) Feminine, and escapes damnation in the masculine. Essentially, Faust's heterosexual desire, much like his salvation, is reaffirmed after Faust is almost led astray by the demon of errant homosexuality. Despite this, the presence of queer sexual desire dismantles the assumption that the Faust myth appeals to only a man with a heterosexual identity.
While Faust finds wholeness in Womanhood, it can also be argued Faust reunites with Margaret in a pure, heterosexual union, the one Mephistopheles schemed to prevent, in a culmination of “Local Man Saved From Big Ol’ Queer Demon.” Much like how gay people (mainly lesbians) in literature had to conform or die, a similar fate of like women like Edna in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, who commits suicide, Mephistopheles suffers for his actions and his attraction. He is never able to reunite with Faust or the Godhead. If, according to Doctor Faustus’s Mephistopheles, Hell is everywhere escaping God’s love, Mephistopheles and his affections are doomed to Hell.
As well as that, it can be argued that, in terms of positive queer representation, the narrative is heteronormative and carries unfortunate implications, to say the least. In terms of positive and healthy queer representation, Mephistopheles’s and Faust’s relationship carries problematic aspects, even beyond the eternal damnation. In multiple adaptations from the English chapbook to Faustus, coercion, instances of threatening to inflict severe physical harm should Faustus consider repenting and calling on God or Christ. The relationship between Faust and Mephistopheles has always been one of manipulation and abuse.
If the theory that Helen in Doctor Faustus is Mephistopheles or any other demon, rape by deception because Faustus, in his fervor and devotion toward Helen, reveals no signs of knowledge toward this ruse, and he had previously acted with revulsion when presented with his “wife” in Act 2, Scene 1. In the vein of respectability politics, the interpreted queer subtext of Faust and Mephistopheles’ relationship is far from “positive” same-sex representation in its many incarnations, as one might expect when half of the dynamic involves a fallen angel who answers to Lucifer.
The exploitation then stems from the consequences of dealing with the Devil rather than Mephistopheles’s sexuality, though at the same time, it is curious that demons represent marginalized queer identities; it is telling that the subversion of gender and sexuality of stems from depictions of the Devil or, in the Faust characters’ cases, people who suffer from either a lack of empathy or an uncanny capacity for ruining others’ lives (or both).
Rather than dismantling a queer interpretation, Faust’s narrative affirms a discomfort toward non-heterosexual and non-cisgender transgressive identities, though much like with Christopher Marlowe, some suggest Goethe was either gay or bisexual. Even so, regardless of Goethe's hypothetical sexuality, his works, like Marlowe’s, explore the social and cosmic consequences of homosexuality, which include isolation and perpetual lackness, not just of love, but in a religious sense, unity with the Godhead. Sodomy was still considered a sin in the nineteenth century, though it was not formally criminalized in Germany until 1871 with Paragraph 175, which prohibited homosexual male acts, sex work, child sex abuse, and bestiality, thus equating homosexuality and sex work with acts of abuse.
Therefore, prejudices toward homosexuals, especially in social issues-driven Victorian times, permeate the zeitgeist of his time along with Biblical justifications for this societal repression.
In the nineteenth century, many European countries other than Germany formally criminalized and prosecuted homosexuality, predominantly male homosexuality, as can be seen in events such as Oscar Wilde’s imprisonment in 1895. Regardless of presentation, nothing can negate the present queerness and its moral relevance in dissecting how society isolates and penalizes certain identities.
Other Faustian Stories I Had to Analyze Because My Professor Made Me (And Paradise Lost)
In America, the exploration of wholeness and women’s agency is society does not exist in a distant vacuum, In Washington Irving’s “The Devil and Tom Walker,” all that remains of Walker’s aggressive wife after she searches for the Devil is a heart and liver, the vilest parts of her body, and she is thus, much like Faustus, disassembled and incomplete.
Though female-fronted Faust adaptations are rare, movies as recent as Roman Polanski’s 1968 horror film Rosemary’s Baby explores the a Faustian scenario where the woman is the blood contract and therefore relegated to an object and herded around. Despite attempts at agency, Rosemary exhibits the plight of the Faustian Woman, described in Naomi Lowinsky’s article “The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Faust as Jung’s Myth and Our Own” as one who seeks “opportunities for knowledge and worldly power, for sexual freedom and agency” so she can escape “the dusty old institution—the kind of marriage that has rigidly defined gender roles” (188), though at the price of innocence.
This struggle to escape the confines of strict gender binaries in a heteronormative marriage follows the story of Eve as well as Faust. In her thesis on how Milton’s Satan in Paradise Lost falls from grace because of his growing feminization and gender imbalance, Kari Wiest’s “Milton’s Feminized Satan: A Study of Gender Imbalance in Paradise Lost” asserts Eve’s enforced gender role “of giving into her superior, Adam, with ‘meek surrender,’ saying that ‘to know no more / Is woman‘s happiest knowledge and her praise’ as he can take care of her in the ‘right way’ and she will bow to his supremacy” (18).
However, Eve eventually goes against God, the ultimate patriarch’s commands, and so too does Rosemary subvert her status as the obedient wife through her efforts to find out the truth of her pregnancy and her refusal to take medication after she is told she lost her child. Despite her trauma and loss of trust and innocence, Rosemary’s resistance toward the overwhelmingly male forces that seek to control her body and reproductive rights parallels the rise of second-wave feminism and sentiments that shortly predate the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision on abortion rights.
Contemporary works continue to queer the identities of Faust and Mephistopheles, and while homosexuality is not a crime where these works’ authors live, the stories continue to explore homosociality and navigating—and subverting—the gender binary. In Alan Judd’s 1991 novella The Devil’s Own Work, the story of a narrator who watches Edward, an old friend, sacrifice his soul for writerly renown. Before his friend’s death, the narrator discovers his wife, Chantal, engaged in an affair with Edward.
However, the significance lies not in the narrator or Chantal’s relationship with Edward, but in Chantal’s implied relationship with Eudoxie, Edward’s lover, as well as the further queering and feminizing of Mephistopheles, continued from Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus and Goethe’s Faust, Part Two with its openly bisexual devil. Eudoxie, the female Mephistopheles, is triumphant in corrupting Edward and dismantling a cinder-pocked marriage.
Before the reveal of Chantal’s affair with Edward, the narrator takes note more of Chantal’s dynamics with Eudoxie. The narrator mentions that though Chantal always possessed an “interest” in Edward, she never acted on her “interest” until “She had been seduced—I use the word deliberately—into it by Eudoxie.” The narrator takes great pains here to emphasize his diction choice of “seduction,” which takes on a sexual connotation. In the same instance, while mentioning Eudoxie “pimping” for Edward as a means of dominance, the narrator says Eudoxie “enjoyed herself at the same time” (85).
Concerning Chantal’s seduction, the Oxford English Dictionary describes seduction as, “In wider sense: To lead (a person) astray in conduct or belief; to draw away from the right or intended course of action to or into a wrong one; to tempt, entice, or beguile.” More explicitly, Merriam Webster defines seduction as “the act of seducing; especially: the enticement of a person to sexual intercourse.” What Eudoxie “enjoys” about Edward’s sexual relations with other women remains ambiguous and offers multiple readings. To enjoy something means to derive pleasure from it. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the one of the primary definitions of “pleasure” is “the indulgence of physical, esp. sexual, desires or appetites; sensual or sexual gratification. To take one’s pleasure: to have sexual intercourse.”
Indeed, one could argue enjoyment can encompass emotional gratification and does not necessarily indicate a sexual relationship. After all, Eudoxie’s charm is not solely sexual, given her ability to get along with Chantal and the narrator’s daughters. Eudoxie embodies an innate magnetism, and her enjoyment could simply be derived her own satisfaction from acting as Edward’s procurer of women.
That being said, there are acts such as sunbathing topless with Catherine, Chantal’s sister who similarly enjoyed sexual relations with Edward, which displays a comfort in communal nakedness around women, and though Chantal’s distress after Eudoxie gives her farewell may be attributed solely to Chantal’s relationship with Edward, the narrator elaborates far more on Chantal’s rapport with Eudoxie than Edward, and the hinted comfort Eudoxie has with flaunting nakedness around another woman suggests a polyamorous arrangement is possible. Before Edward and Eudoxie travel, despite the moral implications of extramarital sexual intimacy, the affair offers Chantal a reprieve from a heteronormative domestic life.
Overall, The Devil’s Own Work offers another instance of a bisexual Mephistopheles, but with a female-presenting one. Eudoxie, though representing the sexualized temptress archetype, is active and powerful, and it is intriguing that a male-coded fallen angel Mephistopheles often fills her feminized role of a woman corrupting a man by leading him to sin. Interestingly enough, Eudoxie’s inclusion, in whatever manner, in Edward’s affairs follows the implicit voyeurism in Doctor Faustus because, since Mephistopheles, also a procurer of women, can never leave Faustus’s presence, he witnesses all of Faustus’s bedroom activities.
Much like with Goethe’s Faust, Part One, the transgressive machinations of the tempter unravel a mundane, heteronormative relationship while Eudoxie and Edward’s relationship acts as a subversion where it at first seems like Eudoxie is at Edward’s whim, but like Marlowe’s Mephistopheles, the submission is a mask that covers Eudoxie’s underlying her sovereignty over Edward. Much like Doctor Faustus’s Mephistopheles is contractually obligated to always be with Faustus, Eudoxie is bound to Edward’s presence, and therefore present and perhaps even active in his sex acts with other women.
Not only that, but the consummation of the bond in The Devil’s Own Work, which is similar to a marriage contract where two individuals tie themselves together for life, manifests in sexual intercourse, making the voyeuristic undertones more explicit. Going with the argument that Helen of Troy is Mephistopheles, Eudoxie embodies Mephistopheles’s ability to perform the feminine and his attractions to Faust, though Eudoxie’s performed femininity does not come late in the text.
Meanwhile, while Judd augments Mephistopheles’ tremulous gender identity, Emma Tennant’s 2011 novel Faustine, continues the thread of transgressive gender and Faust as the everywoman with not only a female Faust, but female Fausts. The story invokes second-wave feminism and portrays a rare case in Faust adaptations of explicit homosociality involving women rather than men.
The novel focuses on women’s kinship with other women, but there exists a rift that hinders any true solidarity: the need to cement one’s sex appeal and how this clashes with the goal to escape heteronormativity. Tennant captures the clashing views of women’s roles in society during the mid-twentieth century and onward. The narrator, middle-aged Ella, grows up with several women at once, ranging from one who believes women should be domestic and not without a (male) significant other to others who attempt to break social expectations.
However, in the case of Muriel, Ella’s missing grandmother, she spends time writing about makeup and cures for appearing old, which embitters her and makes her seek the Devil’s help to prevent old age. Growing old is deemed as a woman’s greatest sin and “the worst thing that could happen to a woman in a free, consumerist society” (46).
Throughout the novel, Ella is judgmental of other women’s looks, and her yearnings follow Faust’s fixation on reclaiming his lost youth, freezing a moment in time, transcending their current circumstances in the womanly fight for autonomy, or independence. The women in Faustine who accept Satan’s offer regain youth for twenty-four years, much like Faustus’s twenty-four years of debauchery, win not only youth, but acclaim (much like Edward) and beauty at the expense of Hell.
Although at the same time, these preventive measures against aging are a regression and adheres to the American societal belief that women do not age well, and therefore they must make great sacrifices to preserve what beauty they can. However, the text itself is critical of the social standards of beauty that lead women to feel obligated to preserve their youthful looks through any means possible.
Therefore, much like the chastisement of the Fausts’ attempts to unearth forbidden knowledge, Faustine admonishes the attempts by women to transgress their current circumstances where they are neither too old, too plain, too poor, or too unremarkable. Even so, the fixation on beauty and the constraints created by the pressure to achieve perfection lead to damnation, so perhaps the sin is society’s doing and not solely on those women who find themselves striving in Faustus’s skin.
Still, even Ella’s name indicates the damnation she will undergo; Ella means beautiful, light, all, and other. While these, except for “other,” appear to be benign meanings with positive connotations, there is another being who professes to be the most beautiful angel created and a light-bearer. Indeed, given the Devil’s own pride, light, and beauty, Ella aligns herself with Satan in more ways than one.
Nevertheless, the transgressor is condemned to Hell, so no matter the success the women of Faustine aspire toward, their efforts are aligned with Lucifer (pride) and Mammon (greed), and therefore they fall. Essentially, despite these women’s agency, Faust’s struggle aligns itself with the feminine once again, and women suffer from an unremarkable status because of lost youth, or they are like Eudoxie: beautiful, ageless, and damned.
Given the evidence laced throughout multiple Faust myth adaptations, offers more than an exclusive narrative. In the vaulted Gothic tower and out, the myth begs for transformative explorations of Othered identities in relation to Hell-invoking societal reactions toward homosexuality and the gender divergence.
Contemporary times have shifting views of gender and religion, such as New Age pagan religions and the embrace of Baphomet, a masculine figure who appears as a horned black goat while also possessing female secondary sexual characteristics (read: breasts). It will be intriguing to see if more artists take the queer nature of the Faust myth and choose to “queer it up” even more in the future.
It will also be curious to determine how these adaptations align with LGBT rights and the feminist movement. The social consequences of homophobia and transphobia still affect people today and can lead to pain, injury, trauma, grief, and even death for LGBT people, as evidenced recently by the Pulse Club massacre of queer Latino people on June 12, 2016, during Pride Month.
Given recent arguments whether transgender men and women should be allowed to go into public bathrooms without inspecting their genitalia, the society-wide isolation and ensuing desperation that comes with striving while possessing a marginalized gender or sexual identity has not disappeared; this is despite the recent success of marriage equality.
Faust’s story with his mercurial gender identity and Mephistopheles’s same-sex attraction allows for one to explore the struggles of women and LGBT individuals alongside a heteronormative society’s beliefs of what constitutes as a sin worthy of arrest, aggression, death, and an eternity in Hell.
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“Seduction, n.” Merriam Webster. Web. 24 November 2016.
“Sodomy, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2016. Web. 3 November 2016.
Tennant, Emma, Faustine. Faber & Faber, 1992.
Wiest, Kari Anne, “Milton’s Feminized Satan: A Study of Gender Imbalance in Paradise Lost” (2014). Masters Theses. Paper 303.