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  • Valerie Kennedy.
  • Women Writers and the Dark Side of Late-Victorian Hellenism!
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Skip to main content. You're using an out-of-date version of Internet Explorer. By using our site, you agree to our collection of information through the use of cookies. To learn more, view our Privacy Policy. Log In Sign Up. Lesbian Hellenism: a "mere parenthesis"? Jess Moody. Most studies of this area have been focused on male homosexuality and writings, and where lesbian engagement has been examined it has often been limited and subsumed ithi a ide dis ussio of o e s se ualit.

The e has also ee a li ited e a i atio of the links between these male and female gendered discourses of homosexuality and how that might be affected by gendered classical receptions, and power relations between men and women in classical scholarship including access to higher education studies and to sites of knowledge such as the British Museum. The Decline of Hellenic discourse Such assertions have directed interest towards the rise of sexology and the creation of the invert , with much more limited attention paid to the intersection of a pre-existing discourse: one which was not primarily forward-looking to a scientifically progressive future, but one which looked historically further back to a classical period for depictions and conceptions of same-sex desire.

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Studies of sexology are increasingly beginning to look at its origins and influences, particularly looking at how literary and historical sources were used e pi i all in sexological writings2, such as within Havelock Ellis and John Addington Symonds' Sexual Inversion However recent historical criticism has been somewhat cautious in examining female homosexuality and the Hellenic: either choosing either to subsume lesbian desire within a wider discourse of female sexuality sometimes in an attempt to prevent unwarranted la elli g of desi es , or asserting that o e ite s ould ot ha e had the sa e e a ples 1 Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality: Volume 1, the Will to Knowledge, trans.

Cook otes that fo so e iti s Helle is offe the pote tial to ei igo ate national life. Differences in the female same-se o te t of Helle i te ts a d mythology and differences in access to su h k o ledge e e ot, I a gue, a a ie to o e s ability to use the Hellenic to construct their own framework nor to appropriate where useful, the power, authority, or sometimes deviant connotations, that the male homophile discourses provided. Such an investigation ultimately aises uestio s as to the su ess of su h a discourse, and highlights the need for an awareness of the gendered distinctions that come into play with the rise of sexology, and how potentially the lesbian Helle i ulti atel ight p o e —in its own right — to survive beyond the commonly assumed demise of Victorian Hellenism.

Methodology A number of methodological approaches could be useful in investigating this this intersection of o e s iti g at a spe ifi pe iod i histo , togethe ith a o te tual a a e ess of ho access and use of certain discourses were dependent on a specific knowledge for example, Classical literature and myth, sexology, sexuality, history , : indeed both literary criticism and psychoanalytical approaches have provided some of the strongest focus on specific materials or autobiographical materials.

However the approach which I believe would best illuminate some of the gendered issues regarding women writers, the classics and sexuality is to focus on power structures and the interrelation of different terminologies, discourses and frames of reference. In acknowledging Foucault s o t i utions to examination of different historical discourses regarding sexuality, methodologically we can still critique the content of so e a gu e ts as to the eatio of the ode ho ose ual particularly by looking more closely at the pre-scientific or the pre-cursor to the scientific sexological writings of the nineteenth century.

Whilst Fou ault s History of Sexuality clearly focusses on sexuality rather than key gender relations, in looking at the power relations surrounding the production and reception of discourse we can begin to understand the educational and societal hegemonies surrounding women and specifically women who desired women , and in the complex relationship with male homophilic discourses, the possibility of hete oge eous aspe ts to both the production and reception of texts6. In order to focus discussion I will examine specific texts through close reading, but also — building on the work of Sara Mills Discourses of Difference7 for Foucauldian approaches to gender historically — by considering the write s other works, diaries, and letters, in order to understand at the surrounding and pre-existing discourses and forms relating to the classics and sexuality.

This should permit greater understanding as to how those texts were produced and received, particularly looking at any strengths or weakness particular discourses may have through their interrelation, reliance, or deviance from dominant discourse. The focus will be not only on discourses of lesbianism utilising the classics, but specifically looking at legitimising aspects — we will examine this further in the final section, but for the methodology this means focussing on discourses of a positive element, often beyond political or legal tolerance to a point of celebration, and a positive spirit of reiteration.

We explore then a specific female genealogy of the content, and thus what history held as attractive for a discourse for women. After viewing such a e a ple, e ill e a i e o e ite s access to such male-dominated classical knowledge, and how and why female reception and reiteration of the Classics gave place to a powerful female discourse. In the third section we bring some of these issues more closely together to examine the effectiveness and use of the Hellenic in both lesbian and male homosexual discourse, including the question as to how much male Hellenic discourse ould e appropriated a d e t apolated by women in identifying and legitimising any same sex love.

To do so we will bring in the writings of John Addington Symonds, not only to illuminate any key gendered difference in lassi al ho ose ual dis ou se, ut also as a ta gi le idge to the i easi g s ie tifi sexological discourses. The term is used is the widest sense, including women whose same-sex desires or experiences may have co-existed with heterosexual relations.

This purposely sets a wide te i olog tha that of the i e t of sexology, acknowledging ironically too that the Greek understanding of same-sex desire focussed on acts as opposed to the o st u ted ide tit of the ho ose ual as des i ed Foucault9. I also use lesbian here in acknowledgement of those debates in historical scholarship as to how to attempt to reclaim and re-e a i e o e s desi es in history and spe ifi all se ual desi e, e o d the Fade a -esque o a ti f ie dship10 whilst refraining from either applying modern concepts and labels of sexuality in such a way that we fail to reflect changing historical understandings about desire, intimacy, and sexual acts Whilst Be ett s use of the adjectival les ia -like is att a ti e i all that it wishes to encompass12, the strategic use of les ia he e I feel is app op iate if being understood in its widest sense, and consciously acknowledging that — u like ho ose ual — the word itself invites us to begin to look at the classical, in its very allusion to Lesbos and Sappho as classical paradigm.

Where necessary in discussing classical material, capitalisation will depict the historical inhabitant of Lesbos, or adjective relating to the Greek island. In engaging in an examination of legitimising discourses I a k o ledge that legiti a will inherently have different implications for women and men during a period when homosexual acts by the latter were subject to criminalisation in this time period in a way in which women were not. For the purpose of this investigation I will actively seek to identify discourses which present, recognise and produce a knowledge of lesbian desire as tolerant, positive, or celebratory.

It is in this respect that I believe we can learn much not only of the inter- relationship between male and female homosexual discourse, but specifically also how certain classically-influenced discourses might counter the future sexological discussions by reframing the associations it bears a ele atio of the legiti ate , athe tha a pathologi al o si pl medicalised defen e of de ia e f o o s.

Were women to approach Hellenic studies seeki g si ila e a ples of same sex desire between women the question then becomes not only whether they would be able to find such written portrayals of such relationships — a genealogy, a precedent - but would they be of value to them in a successful counter-discourse to the norms of female heterosexual marriage and childrearing?

Where today a large body of criticism currently exists discussing the histo iog aphi al halle ges of fi di g the hidde les ia i a ostl ale-dominated and written history and how, or if, to identify her as such , the challenges faced by female writers or scholars of the late nineteenth century in a similar tasks are hard to conceive. In an incisive piece on the work of Michael Field the pseudonym of poets and playwrights Katharine Bradley and Edith Cooper a d thei use of G eek lo e , Chris White summarises bluntly that for women, the o l histo i al e a ple of fe ale sa e-sex desire clearly available to writers of the late nineteenth century was Sappho of Lesbos Bristow London: Routledge, , pp.

Receiving Sappho We have already touched on the histo iog aphi al halle ges of ide tif i g the les ia in history, and the difficulties of unrecorded lives and experiences. Sappho is no different, and in this respect she can also symbolise all these challenges of the historical figure of female same- sex desire. Fragments of Greek poetry understood to have been written by Sappho, a poet from Lesbos, have been subject to changing scholarship on the context of her life, particularly in relation to the readings of certain love poems or poems of desire and whether they were directed to male or female subjects.

Secondly, that following classical male sources Sappho was often primarily portrayed not only as the doomed lover of male Phaon17, but also as a lover of women in an all-woman community. Yopie Prins for example has detailed how scholarship on Sappho in the Victorian era was sa itised male reception into a purposefully heterocentric reading throughout the Victorian era of 15 Margaret Williamson , Sappho s I ortal Daughters Cambridge, Mass.

Sometimes such sanitation takes the form of o e ta to t ue translations, offering the reader a a epta le o te t fo he writing, such as the focus on the mother-daughter relationship, or an innocent tea he -student relationship At other times the writing is a more forceful e- ite , exchanging female pronouns for male to make a heterosexual reading Ruth Vanita notes that such re-writes were even perpetrated by men acknowledged as promoters for male homosexuality such as J.

Women Writers and the Dark Side of Late Victorian Hellenism

This is not to say though that there was no understanding of Sappho as such a symbol of female homoerotic desire. Indeed, Judith Bennet has argued that Sappho is one of the sources of a much longer understanding of female same sex lo e, oti g that les ia specifically derived from the poet of Lesbos has o side a le a ti uit , and traced its use as a term which oughl sig ified hat it oughl sig ifies toda from antiquity, Byzantium, through the tenth century, and at least into the early s in English Certainly, alternative ways of understanding Sappho existed and were part of the knowledge accumulated by the writers we will examine, but the complexity of this long history serves to enrich the inheritance reaching our women writers through various influences and disciplines.

An example of one such influence may come from looking at the classical scholar Jane Harrison s o k i the s. Isobel Hurst notes that Harrison attempted to 18 Holt N. We will examine later ho i telle tual o e e e e po e ed to a ess a d produce their own knowledges of the Hellenic, but before examining the Victorian revival of Sappho by of Michael Field we will examine the power of Sappho by the turn of the century in in ultimately being used as the most radical symbol of female same-sex desire after the turn of the century. Sappho lives again? The two pieces provide an interesting sense of continuum of focus around Sappho as well as intriguing questions as to what can be considered to e o t i uti g to dis ou se.

We will then see how the poets Bradley and Cooper writing together as Michael Field had used similar materials and messages to slightly differing effect. It is first acknowledged that Vivien, though Anglo-American, chose to live in France and write in French, and had a multitude of influences from French discourse on same-sex sexuality that may not have been such a part of the English literary cannon — Faderman notes for example Baudelai e s Songs of Bilitis 25 and other decadent poetry which I would argue is somewhat circular, since these still contained the Sapphic i flue e of Baudelai e s structure, and the Hellenic background of the decadent movements she mentions I believe the theme of Sappho specifically though can create a line of discourse between the two literary cultures: firstly, in having a shared source from the Greek and in the second section we will examine the differences access to the Greek language made to such formations of same-sex identity , but also accepting the reality of the very close social as well as literary ties between the Paris and London homosexual and literary circles in the early twentieth century Lau a L.

In reading Psappha Revit there is then a sense already of a mutual reception and exchange of ideas among: Our friends, with breasts white as springtime snow, Know in what strange and suave manner Sappho used to bend Atthis to her will. We know that love is strong and cruel And our lovers have the white feet of Graces.

Our bodies are for theirs a sisterly mirror […] We repeat those words of Sappho when we lie Dreaming under a sky shot with silver The striking declaration that some of us have kept the rites at once both evokes a sense of community and of pride, of which the reader may be part through the use of the first person plural. Furthermore the communal action is one of tradition-keeping, with rites and altar , the burning a sense of continuing passion, of a movement still passionate and living.

Such a movement is, I would argue, beyond reception, in which Karla Jay has referred to Vivien as the heir of the Sapphic tradition32 , a d Gu a has fo ussed o Vi ie s anxiety of authorship 30 Vivien, A Woman Appeared to Me, p. A passing on suggests something worthy of doing so: these rites and religiosity are important in framing the discourse around Sappho and same-sex desire as established custom, and defies any sense of shame or of a edi alised a e a e o u atu al ess is alli g o a se se of traditional religion and all the authority that that evokes.

Contrast this with even male homosexual apologist J. The passions which for a moment had flamed into the gorgeousness of A t… e ai ed a e e fu a e of se suality, from which no expression so the divine in human life could be expected 35 Those expressions nevertheless have been derived and articulated by Vivien, expressions which bear repetition.

Indeed it is arguably the words of Sappho themselves rather than her mythical persona which convey the most power to her as a symbol, and thus her usefulness to 33 Adrienne Cecile. Foster Tallahassee, Fla, , p. In utilising classical works in her own writing Vivien assumes part of their authority, and it is worth considering the effect of such citation. The refrain of Sappho lives again has been interpreted as relating to the reclaiming of Sappho from such male interpretations as Symonds above. I would argue that it also - as ith efe e e to the ites - speaks as a calling cry, evoking that the age of Sappho — associated with her ways of practices loving, and of writing of such love — is may once again exist: that women may not only live as precedent provides we love, as they once loved in Mytilene but write about it as well, thus e laud the ….

Equally the refrain our bodies are a sisterly mirror speaks to the female-female love38, but also, when followed with we repeat the words of Sappho speaks to a kind of mimesis, a citation directly of Sappho as authority. Arguably it is conscious speaki g , a d a k o ledg e t of the po e of a legiti isi g dis ou se, a plea to o ti ue to replicate, to repeat the discourse. But what type of same-sex desire is Vivien trying to perpetuate here — what are the rites of Sappho as she sees them?

First and foremost it appears to be a clearly sexual and physical desire: Sappho lives and reigns in our trembling bodies The unapologetic nature continues, speaking of the joy of sexual satisfaction: our mistresses a ot disappoi t us… […] we laud them, our hearts overflowing and resounding Strikingly following such celebration of satiation there is also immediately an awareness and a defiance of public criticism of such enjoyment: we who never heed insults of passersby.

Synthesis: an Anglophone Journal of Comparative Literary Studies

To her, Sappho offers a passion for women which she does not share for men, and which she sees as a viable —if not preferable — alternative way of living and identifying. There is the question as to whether Sappho was a source of such certainty for all who utilised her as a symbol of lesbian discourse, and who cited her discourse through citation, and if in fact, 39 Symonds, Studies of the Greek Poets, p. To illustrate, we turn to the slightly earlier writings of Michael Field. We see this citation not only through the use of her original Greek fragments emblazoned in orange-gold as a passionate evocation from the page of the poet , but the archaic head of Sappho 41 even graced the front cover, undeniably seeking recognition and understanding, the conservative together with new content inspired by her writings.

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Many look for indications of the lesbian in their poetry and plays, but perhaps the closest look at whether they strategically wrote the ho o-politi al is i Ch is White s e a i atio. Her role as ustodia of a d p ote to of o e s o u it of aids f o men sits intriguingly between and not necessarily exclusively from either end of the spectrum. Seller Inventory IQ Shipped from UK. Seller Inventory BUB.

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Seller Inventory n. Book Description Palgrave Macmillan. Seller Inventory ING Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan , This specific ISBN edition is currently not available. View all copies of this ISBN edition:. Review : ' Buy New Learn more about this copy. About AbeBooks. Examining the appropriation of transgressive, violent female figures from ancient Greek literature and myth by late Victorian writers, Olverson reveals the extent to which ancient antagonists like the murderous Medea and the sinister Circe were employed as a means to protest against and comment upon contemporary social and political institutions.

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