In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviews Yopie Prins. Victorian Sappho. (Princeton, NewJersey: Princeton University Press, 1999), xiii + 279pp. "What we call Sappho" was "perhaps, never a woman at all," as Yopie Prins points out in Victorian Sappho (8). Yet the "tenth muse" ofantiquity, the figure who is to the lyric poetry what Homer is to epic, has been "transliterated, translated, transformed to produce yet another signature, in many languages over many centuries"(12). In this historically and rhetorically nuanced study, Prins places her own signature on the respective fields ofVictorian and Sappho studies, justifying the superlatives on the back cover characterising Victorian Sappho in Isobel Armstrong's words, as "one ofthe most scholarly and imaginative books on Victorian poetry to emerge in the past decade;" inJoseph Bristow's, as "a brilliant discussion" ofthe "lyric shapes" of Sappho in Victorian culture. Much more than a reception study of the "Nachkben or afterlife" (13) ofSappho in England — and to a lesser extent, America — in the nineteenth century, Victorian Sappho contributes to the history and theory oflyric, studies ofVictorian homoeroticism, analyses ofboth Classical and Victorian poetic technique, and ampler understandings ofthat contested Victorian cultural category, the "Poetess." Prins rightly takes issue with one ofthe most influential recent studies ofSappho's reception,Joan Dejean's Fictions ofSappho: 1546- 1937, both for its assumption that the English reception ofSappho merely recapitulated the French, and for its relative neglect of the impact ofSappho on the "critical understanding oflyric" (14). Invoking "Victoria alongside Sappho" in her tide in order to suggest how "figurations offemininity" led to the "feminization ofVictorian culture" (15), Prins traces how Sappho becomes an "ideal lyric persona" (14) inflecting the "Victorian gendering oflyric as a genre simultaneously feminine and dead" (51). More originally, she "nominates" Sappho as a "point ofdeparture for a lyric tradition . . . that does not locate the signature within the subject" (22). Through her treatments ofMichael Field and Swinburne, Prins also explores the more indirect ways in which Sappho emerged as a figure for lesbian or homoerotic desire in Victorian Review Reviews Victorian England. While the "association" ofSappho with "lesbian identity" is a "particularly Victorian" legacy, Prins emphasises the extent to which this identity must be mapped against the uneven and gradual "public articulation oflesbian as a social category in Victorian England" (94-5). Sappho may have circulated in the underground of Victorian pornography as a flagellating dominatrix (152-3). Yet many translators and scholars of her works either inscribed them within a matrix of heterosexual desire, or cast her as a chaste schoolmistress purely adored by her young female devotees. Thus, even though Dr. Henry Wharton retained the female pronouns for the objects ofSappho 's affections in his influential 1885 edition, Sappho: Memoir, Text, SelectedRenderings, anda LiteralTranslation, he nevertheless "describes Sappho's circle ... as ifit were an English girls' school or London ladies club" (59). Since a principal feature ofPrins' deconstructive approach is denying the logic oforiginary figures and events, she deliberately avoids the chronological approach "that often shapes reception studies," opting instead to proceed in a "series ofdifferential repetitions" suggested byJacques Derrida's "Signature, Event, Context" (15). The punning logic ofher innovative structure is apdy modelled instead on the rhetorical and grammatical tropes that figure so prominently in her illuminating analyses ofSapphic texts and their translations. The four chapters of Victorian Sappho each propose "a variation on the name" ofSappho, "demonstrating how it is variously declined: the declension ofa noun and its deviation from its origins, the improper bending ofa proper name, a line ofdescent that is also a falling into decadence, the perpetual return ofa name that is also a turning away from nomination" (13). Chapter One, "Sappho's Broken Tongue," a tourdeforce oftextual insight and historical imagination, uses Sapphic riddles and Prins' own riddling logic to tease out the paradoxes of presence and absence, voice and silence, speech and writing, intense subjectivity and absence ofagency in Sapphic fragment 31 (entided the "Ode to Anactoria" in some translations). This is the lyric ofburning desire often approached as Sappho's signature poem, written in a 104volume 29 number 1 Reviews period that saw the "historical emergence oflyric subjectivity in archaic Greece" (28-9). Although Sappho and her contemporaries were "among the first to inhabit the...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 103-110
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.