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Title: Daughters of Dionysus :women writers and the dark side of late-victorian hellenism
Authors: Olverson, Tracy Dawn
Issue Date: 2007
Publisher: Newcastle University
Abstract: This thesis examines the relationship of women writers to Hellenism in the latenineteenth century. In recent years critics have tended to focus on women's exclusion from the study and interpretation of classical literature and culture. Yet, I contend that the proliferation of Greek subjects in women's literature from the middle of the century onwards, suggest a collective movement into the classical tradition by women writers and scholars, rather than comprehensive exclusion from it. Indeed, this thesis focuses on the 1880s, when Hellenism was, once again, a la mode. As my title indicates, I propose that women"s contributions to 'Victorian Hellenism' can be conceived of as subversively Dionysian. Dionysus, the paradoxical Greek god of drama, of irrationality, gender confusion and fervent female rites, can be seen to personify the seditious Hellenism of the women writers in this study. Concentrating on the 'dark side' of Victorian Hellenism, I analyse the appropriation of transgressive, violent female figures from ancient Greek literature and myth, by Amy Levy, 'Michael Field' and Emily Pfeiffer. In so doing, I reveal the extent to which Hellenism was employed as a means to protest against and comment upon contemporary social and political institutions. I suggest that these women appropriated classical female figures in order to challenge the authority of ancient cultural models, by resisting and revising accepted paradigms. Furthermore, I demonstrate that women writers employ transgressive figures, not just as figures of rage, but as exemplars of women's strength, ingenuity and intellectual abilities. This thesis tracks the various trajectories of influence and the interplay of interests in women"s Hellenic writing of the late Victorian period. The writers in this study wrote using a variety of forms and techniques and they differed in terms of their subjects and their intentions. For instance, in 'Xantippe, ' Amy Levy exposes the gendered nature of Hellenic discourse, whilst in her closet drama 'Medea, ' I suggest that Levy combines her interest in feminism with her concerns about racial and religious intolerance. In contrast, 'Michael Field' focuses on the issues of sexuality and gender. In the volumes Bellerophon, Callirhoe and Long Ago Bradley and Cooper can be seen to explore the concepts of (female) desire and pleasure, as suggested by ancient paradigms. Emily Pfeiffer, on the other hand, finds the literary counterparts to her own frustrated desires for social and political equality in the figures of Cassandra and Clytemnestra. Pfeiffer also compares the oppression of women in the ancient Greek world with the struggles of modem British women for social and political emancipation in her fascinating travelogue, Fýying Leaves from East and West. What these writers have in common is that their Hellenism is woman-centred. Consequently, this thesis not only demonstrates the heterogeneity of 'Hellenisms' in women's writing of the late-nineteenth century, but also highlights the progressive political potential of the discourse of Hellenism for women
Description: PhD Thesis
Appears in Collections:School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics

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