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

Medea at the Fin de Siècle". Revisionist Uses of Classical Myth in Mona Caird's The Daughters of Danaus Ann Heilmann "Myth is history that is not over," Catherine Clément asserts in The Newly Born Woman, adding that if "women begin to want their turn at telling this history, if they take the relay from men by putting myths into words ... itwill ... be a history read differendy" (6). The uses that thefin-de-sièclewriter Mona Caird made of this "history read differendy" in her artist-novel The Daughters of Danaus (1894) is the subject of this essay. Many of Caird's writings invoke mythology - Christian and Classical — as a means of historicizing the social and sexual condition of lateVictorian women in relation to earlier patriarchal structures, thereby bringing to light the legacy of their legal, theological, or cultural metanarratives in shaping and constraining contemporary women's lives. Thus in her Preface to The Wing ofA^rael(Í889) Caird refers to the biblical Azrael as the "Angel of Death, of Fate, of Destruction" who "separates the soul from the body" (1: xiii); as her novel about the demise of individual female talent implies, fragmentation and alienation was the prize women had to pay in marriage and the family. In The Pathway of the Gods (1898) Christian martyrdom and grisly visions of the Roman Coliseum serve to problematize the construction and self-representation of the New Woman as victim: the modern woman, Caird suggests, submits to being defined by and contained within mythical paradigms at her peril. One that Wins (1887) interrogates the biblical myth of Lilith - the "other" woman, the rebel who defies man-made law — in the figure of awoman painter, inverting the Madonna-Whore trope by ending the text on Victorian Review (2005)21 A. Heilmann the reconciliation of older and youngerwoman, "Lilith" and "Eve" (i younger painterwho has married the older artist's ex-lover). The tide of Caird's Edwardian novel TheStones of Sacrifice (1915) transports the reader to an archaic, pre-Christian age, inviting analogies between contemporary expectations of female self-abnegation and the ancient ritual of human sacrifice. With its titular allusion to the female Sisyphus myth1 and its dislocations between contemporary and primitive time (Surridge 2005) The Daughters of Danaus draws on Greek mythology to depict the futility of women's endeavors within the parameters of patriarchal family structures. In this feminist revisionist novel the visitations of fate and the wrath of the gods are translated into contemporary reality, a context which Caird remythologizes in order to present her heroine Hadria Temperley as an outstandingwoman whose tragic failure to realize her artistic potential exemplifies what the text calls the "curse that has been laid upon our mothers dirough so many ages" (450). Euripides' Medea and a replica Greek temple form the backdrop of two scenes in the early part of the text (Caird 19-22, 95) which, togetherwith characters ' invocation of Classical myth, establish a connection between Hadria's dreamy, artistic nature and the figure and fate of Medea. In this essay I argue that in rewriting Classical myth by reconfiguring Medea as the thwarted woman artist, Caird sought to dismantie the foundation stories which monstrified the feminist rebel and to encourage her late-Victorian readership to empathizewith this figure. In drawing on the Medea myth Caird radicalized what by the close of the century had become a new cultural paradigm. For although Euripides ' Medeawas not performed in Britain in full translation before 1907 —when both the play and its vision of the wrathful woman warrior came to be identified with suffragette drama and iconography - much of Victorian drama and fiction was, from the 1830s through to the 1890s, suffused with representations of (infanticidal) Medeas. Edith Hall and Fiona Macintosh have drawn attention to the popularity of early to mid-Victorian burlesques which contextualized the Classical myth within emerging nineteenth-century legislation that established women's rights as mothers (Infant Custody Act, 1839) and 22volume 31 number 1 Medea at the Fin de Siècle: that the shortened form of "The Haunted and the Haunters" could stand on its own, possessing the requisite conceptual and narratological integrity of a successful short...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 21-39
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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.