Alchemy and The Chymical Wedding

  • Tracy Hargreaves


Lindsay Clarke’s Whitbread Prize winning The Chymical Wedding explored androgynous union by revisiting alchemy, and in doing so, offered a representation of androgyny as an achievable event within a profoundly symbolic schema. The chymical wedding was the ‘ultimate phase’1 of the alchemical process that purportedly transformed base metals to gold, in the elusive pursuit of the philosopher’s stone. In Alchemy: Ancient and Modern, H. Stanley Redgrove distinguished two kinds of alchemists: those interested in material alchemy and the possibility of making cheap gold, and those concerned with mysticism, who believed that ‘the writings of alchemists must not be understood as dealing with chemical operations, with furnaces, retorts, alembics, pelicans and the like, with salt, sulphur, mercury, gold and other material substances, but must be understood as grand allegories dealing with spiritual truths’.2 The literal production of the philosopher’s stone must be read simultaneously as one that is also (perhaps more truly) symbolic or allegorical: ‘[m]etaphysically,’ Lyndy Abraham explains, ‘the chemical wedding is the perfect union of creative will or power (male) with wisdom (female) to produce pure love (the child, the Stone)’.3


Modern Literature Sexual Union Achievable Event Social Strength Symbolic Schema 
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  1. 1.
    Carl Jung, Psychology and Alchemy, London: Routledge, 1953, p. 37.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    H. Stanley Redgrove, Alchemy: Ancient and Modern, London: William Rider & Son, second edition 1922, p. 2.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Lyndy Abraham, Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998, p. 37.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    M.H. Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism: Tradition and Revolution in Romantic Literature, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971, p. 159.Google Scholar
  5. 9.
    Daniel Harris, ‘Androgyny: The Sexist Myth in Disguise’, in ‘The Androgyny Papers’, Women’s Studies 2, 1974, pp. 175–6.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Tracy Hargreaves 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tracy Hargreaves
    • 1
  1. 1.School of EnglishUniversity of LeedsUK

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