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January Conference 1999

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Theatres of the Mind:
Greek Tragedy in Women's Writing in England in the Nineteenth Century

Lorna Hardwick, The Open University, U.K.

Hiram Powers' Greek Slave

Pierce to the centre,
Art's fiery finger!…
Catch up in thy divine face, not alone
East griefs but west, - and strike and shame the strong
By thunders of white silence, overthrown.

(Elizabeth Barrett Browning Poems 1850)

This discussion examines some examples of ways in which women writing in English in the nineteenth century engaged with Greek tragedy. In particular, it explores how work with translation stimulated other writings, both creative and critical. The investigation is framed by interest in migration, that is in tracing and tracking ways in which ancient myths, texts and images are figured and refigured in receiving literatures and how they appear to generate new extended 'families' of their own.

Most of my recent research has been in twentieth-century aspects of Reception. I have been examining how Greek texts and images can transform and be transformed – in post-colonial literatures, for example. In the course of this work I have been increasingly struck by two things:-

First, that twentieth-century texts and performances have a shifting relationship with the past – not just with ancient Greece but with what has happened in poetry and performance between ancient times and our own. The nineteenth century is a vital part of this hinterland, both directly and indirectly an intermediary between Greek and twentieth-century culture.

Second, the patterns of these relationships are not simply evolutionary. It may be tempting to grasp at a model which suggests that eighteenth-century 'imitation'(Pope, for example) was followed by nineteenth-century 'appropriation' (Shelley, Arnold), and twentieth-century 'dialogue' (Walcott, Heaney). Such a model would sound rather like a Whig theory of Reception perhaps, some kind of 'great chain' or a teleological process. Now, of course the historical moment has a crucial role, but that role is, I think, in revealing and focussing on particular strands in the web which maps the relationships between ancient and modern. It is necessary also to look at those strands which appear at any one time to be less brightly illuminated. That kind of approach reveals something much more like a field of contest – a contest which is marked by struggle within and between writings as well as between writing and the broader socio-political context. This kind of mapping may suggest that the choice of particular Greek plays for adaptation and/or translation at any one time is conditioned not only by the overt subject matter, but also by the contests and ambivalences within the source texts themselves.

My framework is also conditioned by three assumptions, which I discussed in some detail in previous articles. These are :

  1. that for nineteenth-century women writers, translation from classical languages was a means of engaging with and even entering into a male dominated world of scholarship, criticism and sometimes political influence at a time when lack of classical knowledge was seen as effeminate.[1]

  2. that the process of translation itself is also a springboard towards new writing – in poetry, drama and criticism. This affects the reader/audience as well as the writer. Once the translator is recognised as autonomous, she can become a manipulator, even a creator. There is evidence that nineteenth-century female translators were aware of this issue and debated it.[2]

  3. that 'translation' occupies a spectrum which can range from a virtually interlinear rendering to transplantation and transformation. The relationship between the source text and the target text, or as I prefer to call it, the new text, is two-way. Logically and aesthetically the new work tells us about its own time and genre yet it also, because of the process of its generation, turns our attention to the dynamics of the Greek source. The dynamics operate within the text and between the text and its context. Translation therefore implies a formal, discursive and contextual relationship between languages and between cultures.[3]

Here I am more concerned with tracing the dynamics of the migration than with typological and categorisation issues.

It is a commonplace in discussing English language translations of classical poetry to say that the resulting works have a poetic and artistic status of their own – Chapman, Dryden, Pope, and Douglas for Scottish literature too. It is difficult to make quite the same kind of statement with regard to nineteenth-century translations of classical poetry or of any translations of drama before the late twentieth-century. Furthermore, the nature of the relationship between translating tragedy and creating work of independent artistic status contrasts quite sharply in nineteenth- and twentieth-century writing. The writings examined here suggest the beginnings of a cultural shift towards a freer adaptation of Greek dramatic and formal conventions. This kind of adaptation has most recently given us Tony Harrison's film version of Prometheus, for example. In his preface to the screenplay, Harrison looks back to the impetus of Shelley, who sent everything toppling into the 'dust of creeds outworn' (Shelley, Prometheus Unbound 1.697). Harrison goes on to defend his own appropriation of the myth by asserting that if Aeschylus were writing now, he would have written a new play.[4]

I have been looking to see in what sense nineteenth-century women writers created their 'new play', and which ancient stories and texts offered the necessary cultural flexibility. There was a strand in nineteenth-century thinking which saw drama as an important (or even the only) ideologically liberating form.[5] The role of drama in this respect had implications also for the development of the dramatic monologue (especially by the Brownings and their followers).[6]

Prometheus Bound did have special significance for nineteenth century women translators. Elizabeth Barrett-Browning, Anna Swanwick and Augusta Webster all began with it. Translating the play seems almost to have been a rite de passage. Elizabeth Barrett's first attempt was lacerated by the critics and it took her many years to produce a revised version (1851, produced at the same time as Sonnets from the Portuguese). Swanwick and Webster were praised and both were encouraged to continue with translation as well as other literary work. Prometheus undoubtedly served as a liberating icon, opening the way to reflection and further work on the themes of confinement, imprisonment, oppression and also slavery, gender and prostitution. There has been a corresponding interest in the figure in the late twentieth century, especially in respect of totalitarianism, resistance and change (for example in the work of Tom Paulin as well as Tony Harrison).

Elizabeth Barrett Browning's development of Promethean themes can be seen in her mature work, for instance Aurora Leigh, The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim's Point and Hiram Power's Greek Slave. Jennifer Wallace has explored the implications of the way in which Barrett Browning regarded translation as a mirror 'held in different light by different hands and according to the position of those hands will the light fall'.[7] Nevertheless, even if the mirror is operated with dexterity, Prometheus Bound has limitations as a source text for feminist writers. The female figures in the play were Io, the victim of Zeus and Hera and the ancestor of Prometheus' deliverer, and the Chorus, supportive onlookers. Female writers soon looked for a women protagonist with more potential for the exploration of ambivalence and double consciousness and thus more potential as an agent of enquiry into the problems in women's situation, both in ancient Greece and in their own time.

A prime example of generation of this activity is Euripides' Medea, especially its treatment by Augusta Webster and Amy Levy in the second half of the nineteenth century. Like Prometheus Bound, but in a different way, this play is a crucial example of a changing classical icon. Not only did female writers turn their attention from Prometheus to Medea, but the associations of the Medea icon changed too, suggesting a multiplicity of interpretations. In some respects the unperformed works of Webster and Levy provide a challenge to the staged productions of Euripides' play in the nineteenth-century. In such staging, adaptation tended to 'domesticate' Medea within the 'wronged wife' stereotype (perhaps reflected from the debates about matrimonial legislation in the 1850s) or to anticipate in burlesque form the aspirations of the New Woman, which emerged on stage at the end of the century. In Webster's mirror, from being a suffering wife, Medea became an active subject while in Levy she was unmasked as a construct of racism. In this way, Medea became a catalyst for female writers' rejection of the domination of the male voice and for awareness of the conjunction of the oppressions of gender and race.[8]

In examining these aspects of the work of Webster and Levy, I also challenge the claim of the editors of the Oxford Book of Classical Verse in Translation that there was generally in the nineteenth century ' a kind of accepted inequity in the relation between that past [i.e. antiquity] and this present' and that 'far too many nineteenth-century translations are written on their knees as it were'.[9] Webster and Levy were not reverent; they critiqued the Greeks as well as their own age. In this sense they were examples of the kind of writers who were provoked by translating and began in their related writing to 'question the authority of dominant cultural values and institutions'.[10]

Augusta Webster, née Davies, (1837-1894) is a pivotal figure in my investigation. Although she studied Art and Modern Languages in Cambridge, Paris and Geneva, her Greek was self-taught (initially to help a brother). Following her marriage in 1863 to Thomas Webster, fellow of Trinity College Cambridge, he became a solicitor in London. Her publications included novels, poetry, plays essays and reviews (mainly in the Athenaeum and the Examiner) as well as translations from the Greek. The chronology of her career is interesting in its progression towards independence and acknowledgement of her own voice. Her first collection of poems (Blanche Lisle and other poems, 1863) and her first novel (Lilian Grey, 1864) were both published under the pseudonym Cecil Home. Under her married name, she published several more volumes, verse drama, collected essays and translations. Her play In a Day (1882) was staged in 1890 with her daughter in the lead role. I have written elsewhere about the links between her writing and her work for women's suffrage and education.[11]

Webster's translation of Aeschylus Prometheus Bound was published in 1866, the first year in which she published in her own, or rather her husband's name. The frontispiece announced that the play had been edited by Thomas Webster. In contrast to the Prometheus Bound of Elizabeth Barrett, the work was immediately well received. The Westminster Review spoke of 'fidelity to the original without losing its spirit'; it was 'done faithfully and conscientiously' (Contemporary Review); 'a really marvellous performance…a certain poetic majesty..discloses itself in the choral positions and monologues' (Illustrated London News). The Nonconformist was more gnomic 'we have been quite amazed at the extent to which she has complied with the severe conditions imposed on herself'. Her verse translation of Euripides' Medea followed in 1868, this time with no indication that she relied on her husband's editorship of the text. Again the critics were favourable. The Westminster Review even adapted its earlier phrasing and this time coupled' fidelity' with 'beauty'. The Athenaeum patronised, 'It is surprising how closely and correctly she has reproduced the original, expressing the full force and delicate shades of meaning line for line, and almost word for word'. [12]

Some key aspects emerge from the Reviews – Webster's attention to close translation, combined with the ability to render poetic equivalence, self discipline and just a hint (before its time no doubt) of the performative nature of her work. Her scholarship helped her to achieve status, to get her views listened to in other contexts and to enlarge the readership for her poetry. However, in addition, her acute analysis of the Greek texts helped her both to focus on the ways in which constraint, oppression and social struggle had been represented in the drama of a very different historical context, and to consider the extent to which the medium of Greek tragedy and its constituent forms could communicate the inner life of the protagonists. From the Greek she could contemplate the extent to which tragedy gave a voice to the intelligent and the resourceful, especially if they were at odds with the powerful. It is the strong and colourful figures to which she returns, those who can withstand, struggle and achieve some measure of control over their feelings and their lives.

Webster's fidelity to the text meant that in her Prometheus Bound she was not writing (to allude again to Harrison) the play Aeschylus would have written had he been writing in the nineteenth century. She distances the Greek play from her own society by using slightly archaic language although some anachronisms creep in – 'sin', for example in the Chorus' comment at line 284 (Aeschylus line 268), and her treatment of lament is constrained by translating the Greek as 'alas!' and 'woe is me' (line 73, Aeschylus line 66). But her imaginative sense combined with her scholarship enables her to speculate about what was not made explicit in the ancient texts of Prometheus Bound and Medea and to explore the resulting implications in her original work. To these silences she gave a voice in two ways. We can see this first in her treatment of the sexually oppressed or 'fallen'in her own society, as in her major work A Castaway, in which against the grain of convention she gave a vigorous and independent voice to the prostitute. She set prostitution alongside other occupations such as journalism or marriage and thus exposed the ambiguities and hypocrisies of nineteenth-century social values and conditions.

Secondly, appearing in the same volume, Portraits (1870), she exploited the dramatic monologue form as a means of constructing imagined responses by women from canonical Greek texts. Circe and Medea in Athens remove the masks of literary history as well as nineteenth-century convention, and use the experiences known from the Greek as a springboard for exploration of situations – sexuality, revenge and the emotional and material realities of loneliness which are not bounded or contained by epic or classical dramatic form or by space, theatrical or historical. In Medea in Athens, for example, the epithet 'ruined' is transposed to the de-heroised Jason, converging the gazes of the nineteenth-century and the fifth BCE. Webster's realisation of Medea and of Circe leaves them in control of the narrative, the language and the emotions it creates. Medea's final words in the monologue, after she has heard of Jason's death, visualised it and faced her memories, seal both her victory over Jason and her own control over her emotions and her subsequent history :

'Go, go, thou mind'st me of my sons
and then I hate thee worse; go to thy grave
by which none weeps. I have forgotten thee'.

In Circe, Webster's technical skill initially creates an erotic island, romanticised in post-Keatsian diction. She builds up the allure, then shatters it by the enervating Tennysonian power of ' the sickly sweet monotony' – 'I am too weary of the long bright calm' – 'Give me some change'. Circe's combination of contempt for the men who come to her and her longing for a fulfilled relationship shift the moral balance sheet in gender relations, revealing a double standard inherited from Homer and reaffirmed in the nineteenth century. The final sentence in Lilian Doherty's Siren Songs: Gender, Audiences and Narrators in the Odyssey (1995) could also serve as a testimony to the effects of Webster's portrait –'I would be a Circe with a difference; one who puts the once and future reader on guard against the Siren Songs of the Homeric Text itself'.[13] This effect is achieved by the nexus between Webster's interest in exploring Greek thinking about the female personality and her determination to unmask the hypocrisy of the assumptions of her own age. In her poetry she could 'translate' figures and situations between chronologically and socially distanced cultures, thus creating a dynamic of mutual interrogation. The Greek texts and the values encoded in them are raw material in which the gaps, silences and prejudices are ruthlessly identified and pressed into service as gadflies for her own creative work.

In her prose writings Webster did comment both on her approach to translation and on what modern scholarship would call 'the personal voice' in poetry. Her prose criticism was published in journals such as the Examiner, from which a collection was published in 1879 as A Housewife's Opinions. These vigorous and apparently down-to-earth essays, ranging over domestic and social subjects, appear to be cocking a snook at the claim articulated by Sarah Sewell in Women and the Times we live in (1865) that 'women who have stored their minds with Latin and Greek seldom have much knowledge of puddings and pies'.[14] Webster could write about a leg of mutton with the best – and use it as a mechanism for discussing household divisions of labour and the virtues of co-operative purchasing. This ability to link the unexpected with the conventional has its counterpart in her poetry. There is a delicate balance between the 'masked' Webster and the unmasking of both contemporary and ancient society in her dramatic monologues. It is her translations which mediate between the two.

Some of her essays drop hints about the theatre of her own mind. In Imagination she likens imagination to 'the wings of the mind' and then speaks of the view of practical people that the mind is a bird whose wings should be clipped.[15] More discursively, in 'Poets and Personal Pronouns' (p.150f. in the same volume) she uses the phrase 'theatre of events' to describe the highest powers of the creative imagination in the 'intensified portrayal (sic) of the men and women and events of history, legends and tales'. In her view, creative skills had to be at their greatest when invention could not be entirely limitless. Her emphasis is on the capacity of poetry to draw the reader into the inner life of a figure. She ridicules the view that a poet might be thought merely to be concerned with him or her self, and in her essay 'The Translation of Poetry' (pp. 61-65) she describes translation as a process which must combine the 'letter' and the 'spirit' of the source text and not choose between them (p. 61). Her view was that ' in poetry the form of the thought is part of the thought, not merely its containing body'. This, I suggest, is why she used the dramatic monologue as an extension of her translation of Greek texts. In so doing, she helped to shift the iconic status of Medea. Medea ceased to be a Victorian object – a wronged wife, an alien, but became a thinking, speaking, feeling subject. Webster unmasked both the ways in which Greek texts had been appropriated and some aspects of the source texts, which had themselves energised these appropriations.

Amy Levy lived 1861-1889. She published her first poem at the age of 13 in The Pelican, a feminist journal. From 1876-9 she attended Brighton and Hove High School for Girls where she studied classics.[16] In 1879 she entered Newnham College, where she was the first Jewish student, but left after four terms. Her first volume of poems, Xantippe and Other Poems was published in 1881.[17] The title work is a dramatic monologue spoken by the wife of Socrates. It is important for its articulation of the imagined distress and anger of Xantippe, because her desire for equality of esteem and intellectual parity with her husband and his circle was not taken seriously.

Levy's next volume of poems, A Minor Poet and other verse, was published in 1884 . This volume is crucial to the argument in this paper because it also contains her dramatised version of Medea, in two scenes, described on the fly leaf as 'after Euripides'.

At this time, Levy's associates included Clementina Black, the suffragist who later campaigned for equal pay for women and founded the Women's Trade Union Association, the novelist and philosopher Violet Page (Vernon Lee), Eleanor Marx and Olive Schreiner. She was also secretary of the Beaumont Trust, which her father had set up to raise money for education in the east end of London. Michael Field (i.e. Katherine Bradley and Edith Cooper) noted in their diary that Levy was ' a delightful, silent smoking-companion', 'she was deaf and often quiet'.[18] Clementina Black wrote that Levy was also subject to 'fits of extreme depression'.[19] In 1889 Levy completed a third volume of poetry (A London Plane-Tree and other verse) and soon afterwards she committed suicide at the age of twenty seven.

In addition to her poetry, she published three novels. Of these, Reuben Sachs: A Sketch (1888) is set in London's Jewish community and adopts a sharply mocking tone to issues of wealth, race, culture and class. Another, The Romance of a Shop (also 1888) is about four orphaned sisters who establish a photography business, against the then conventions. I mention these works both to show the intensity of her literary activities in her last years, and to establish her critical engagement with the society and traditions in which she had grown up. A further work, A Ballad of Religion and Marriage, of which an edition of twelve copies was printed after her death, envisaged the abolition of religion and marriage and the freedom of women to live as they wished.

In the dramatic monologue Xantippe, Levy's choice of form superficially places her in the tradition established by the Brownings and adapted by Webster to the feminist cause. However, I think there are some important features which anticipate her dramatisation of Medea. These are, first, the careful placing of the work in relation to the Platonic dialogue, and especially to the literary-historical context of the Symposium and secondly, and arising from this, the way in which the poem explicates and challenges the verdict of history on Xantippe. In this sense, the poem functions as a kind of prequel, analogous perhaps to Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) with its creation of the early life of Bertha Mason, who became the first Mrs. Rochester in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre (1847). Xantippe was to become, if not the mad woman in the attic, at least the shrew in the gunaikon.

Levy grounds the exploration of feeling and aspiration in the historical context of ancient Athens – both in the poem's sub-heading 'A Fragment' and in her ruthless exposure of how the young Xantippe was disposed of in marriage and then excluded from male-centred intellectual life. Even Socrates' apparent praise of Aspasia, Pericles' companion, is shown turning into the denigration of women in general :

Woman's frail –
Her body rarely stands the test of soul;
She grows intoxicate with knowledge; throws
The laws of custom, order, 'neath her feet,
Feasting at life's great banquet with wide throat.'

Enraged, Xantippe dares to challenge but is silenced by the combined contempt of Socrates, the young Alcibiades and Plato. The epithet is 'black-browed Xantippe'.

The poem is permeated by paradox, which culminates in Xantippe's retreat into the conventional practices of Athenian women :

I spun until, methinks, I spun away
The soul from out my body, the high thoughts
From out my spirit; till at last I grew
As ye have known me, - eye exact to mark
The texture of the spinning…
...tongue to cut
With quick incision.

The poem is in one way a prelude to Medea in that it examines the physical and intellectual oppression of a confined woman who in this case develops 'a sort of fierce acceptance of my fate'. Xantippe was further confined by history's stereotype. Her single physical act of resistance in the poem is to fling the wineskin and its contents on the marble 'where it lay/spouting red rills and fountains on the white'. Such violence is presented as the natural result of her treatment. Equally, Jason's betrayal of Medea is anticipated in Xantippe in the lines 'but he [sc. Socrates] kept his love/ For this Athenian city and her sons; And, haply, for some stranger –woman' (an allusion perhaps to Diotima). In terms of literary technique, Levy's Medea is also anticipated by the inclusion in Xantippe of substantial dialogue within the dramatic monologue form. These exchanges draw on the dramatic structure of some of the early Platonic dialogues. The Symposium in particular contains dialogue within a structure that frames a series of encounters between (male) perspectives.[20] Levy also emphasises the agon between Xantippe and the men and so puts in place some elements of the dramatic form developed in the Medea.

Xantippe was collected with Medea in 1884 and reprinted in a second edition in 1891. Medea was described in the author's parenthesis as 'A Fragment in drama form, after Euripides' and the text was preceded by a quotation from Euripides. In terms of literary history and allusion, the dramatic setting of the first scene in front of Medea's house in Corinth roots the work in the Greek tragedy but, in contrast to the dramatic monologue Xantippe, the sense of prequel is handled differently. In her version, Levy does not address the antecedents of Medea but rather makes changes in focus, character, language and form which combine to anticipate later interpretations of the play. In so doing, it seems to me that she both translates the situation into a nineteenth-century social context and also anticipates significant aspects of twentieth-century critical discussion of Euripides' play.

Levy introduces a new character, Nikias, and pares the action down to the minimum. There is no Chorus. This means that direct social and 'moral' commentary on the action is lacking and more emphasis is placed on the reader hearing and remarking the language and perspectives adopted by the characters. There is a strange sense in which the new character Nikias, although his role is direct (and odious), functions as a kind of social commentator, drawing out the sub-text in Euripides and stating it in the idiom of the nineteenth century. For example, when the text is close to the language and events in Euripides, Nikias gives it a gloss, almost as the voice of a contemporary audience.[21] The effect of his comments is seen on Aegeus, initially sympathetic to Medea and then progressively hostile.

Medea's initial soliloquy immediately directs our attention to her own feelings of frustration and inexplicable apprehension. In a departure from Euripides, she does not yet know of Jason's treachery so the emphasis is on the dichotomy between her experience of the prosperous buoyant trading city (described in terms of a mercantile Empire) and her inner desolation and hunger. The language through which this is expressed sets up the polarities which are to be exploited later in the drama : fair/dark; proud/meek;marble-smooth/blood; plenty/hunger.

These contrasts are developed by Nikias in his description of Medea :

I like not your swart skin and purple hair…
Give me gold hair, lithe limbs and gracious smiles
And spare the strangeness.

This overtly racist language is found in other nineteenth-century literary texts (for example, in the anti-semitic narrative voice descriptions of Trollope's character Ferdinand Lopez in The Prime Minister, 1876). It exemplifies Levy's determination both to unmask the sub-text in Euripides and to demonstrate how the nineteenth century might voice the sentiments. It serves to contextualise Jason's words to Medea in their agon. He rejects her as wild, a sorceress. Taken together, these are rather like verbal descriptions of the emerging stereotypes in Pre-Raphaelite painting. [22]

When Jason explains his reasons for rejecting Medea in order to marry Creon's daughter (a sequence which follows Euripides closely), Nikias again provides an oblique Chorus/ commentary by describing Jason in Aryan terms :

how firm his lithe straight limbs;
How high his gold-curled head, crisped like a girls.

The homo-erotic language, is reminiscent of that in which the philosophers' circle is described by Xantippe.

Medea, in contrast, is described as though she were a Fury :

O ye gods
She is a pregnant horror as she stands

At the end of the first scene comes the dramatic turning point. Medea cries that she 'was not born to serfdom' :

I have knelt
Too long before you. I have stood too long
Suppliant before this people.

The word suppliant recalls both the Greek expectation that refuge sought should be granted, and Aeschylus' exploration in the Suppliants of the potential for violence when women are unjustly treated. Medea's suffering is attributed to the whole people, not just to Jason, but nevertheless her killing of the boys is presented by Nikias as an act of individual hatred. She is 'unmothered' and Aegeus, too, now adopts the language of racism describing Medea as 'dark, evil, black…festering plague in the fair city'. In an oblique allusion to the Oresteia minus the Eumenides, Jason draws back from incurring pollution and consigns Medea to the Furies. The tragedy is compounded by the fact that in Levy's work there is then no Eumenidean-type refuge in Athens for Medea. The late nineteenth-century reader, aware of the contrasts with the source text, could be jolted into an enhanced critical awareness of the way in which, just as Greek tragedy overflowed into the cultural context of the polis, so in nineteenth-century refigurations, tragedy reverberated with contemporary implications. Perhaps Levy hoped that her readers would experience an awful sense of self-recognition at the impact of Nikias' attitudes.

At the end of the drama, there is a further significant change from Euripides. Medea is not triumphant, Jason is not degraded. Medea does not escape with divine aid. Her final pathetic soliloquy is made as she leans against a rock, alone, outside the city, prostrated by the city's 'hissing hate'. She sees herself not only as a victim but vanquished, the antithesis in nineteenth-century terms of Tennyson's Ulysses or Webster's Medea. Her striving has been fruitless. Her final words 'Thus I go forth/ Into the deep dense heart of the night – alone', seem to prefigure the final despair of Levy's A Cross Road Epitaph.[23]

In Medea, Levy adapted dramatic form and Euripides' tragedy to explore the causes of female violence, to challenge both Greek and Christian gendered ideologies.[24] She also explored the contemporary racist implications of the Greek/barbarian polarities which Euripides set out in his tragedy. In so doing she anticipated aesthetically (rather than theoretically) a good deal of recent critical discussion about the orientalising appropriation of Greek culture by the western intellectual and imperial traditions.[25] She also signalled a late nineteenth-century shift in the iconic status of Medea, no longer represented only as the wronged wife but as a wild woman, a violent outsider, in whose construction gender and race stereotypes combine. In Xantippe we can hear something of Levy's own voice. In Medea the monologue is integrated into drama and in this social context both Greeks and Victorians are unmasked.[26]

Thus both Webster and Levy used their irreverent stance towards Greek tragedy to address issues common to both the fifth-century BCE and the nineteenth, through developing new forms of 'translation'. These were not written for staging but they were created in the theatres of the mind of the authors and play in the theatres of the minds of their readers. The 'story-line' supplies a thread of continuity between ancient and modern, but the dramatic relationship between the source text and its context (both civic and mythological) is re-examined and refreshed in its transplantation into a new culture. This reveals the role of classical texts as catalysts in nineteenth-century literature. The imaginative refiguring of canonical texts and their icons by these subversive women writers also adds a problematic thread to the process of 're-remembering' of classical texts with which the late twentieth century is so much engaged.

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Endnotes :

[1] L.Hardwick 'Women, translation and empowerment' in (edd) J.Bellamy, A.Laurence and G.Perry Women, Scholarship and Criticism (Manchester University Press, 2000 forthcoming).

[2] Discussed in S. Stark 'Women and Translation in the Nineteenth Century', New Comparison 15, (1993) 33-44, especially 40-41 where Stark instances Sarah Austin's preface to her translation of Leopold Ranke The Ecclesiastical and Political History of the Popes of Rome during the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, 3 vols, London, John Murray, 1840, vol. 1, p. iv. See also Hardwick (2000).

[3] L.Hardwick 'Convergence and divergence in reading Homer' in (eds) C.Emlyn-Jones, L.Hardwick and J.Purkis, Homer: Readings and Images (Duckworth , 1992) 226-248; 'A Daidolos in the late-modern age? Transplanting Homer into Derek Walcott's The Odyssey: A stage version' in (eds) L.Hardwick and S.Ireland Selected Proceedings of the January Conference 1996 The Reception of Classical Texts and Images, (Milton Keynes, 1996) 232-252 and on the world wide web :; 'Reception as Simile: The Poetics of Reversal in Homer and Derek Walcott', International Journal of the Classical Tradition, vol. 3, no. 3, (Winter 1997) 326-338; 'Ancients versus moderns: the contest for centre stage in Greek drama', Glasje 10, Boundaries, (in press); 'Classical texts in post-colonial literatures: consolation, redress and new beginnings' in the work of Derek Walcott and Seamus Heaney, International Journal of the Classical Tradition (forthcoming); Translating words, translating cultures, (Duckworth, 2000 ).

[4] Tony Harrison Prometheus (Faber and Faber, 1998)

[5] See I. Armstrong Poetry, Poetics and Politics, (Routledge, 1993) 147 and especially her discussion of the debates in the Monthly Repository.

[6] This issue is also important for discussion of the relationship between genre and gender, see for example Susan Stanford Freeman 'Genre and gender anxiety - Elizabeth Barrett Browning and HD as Epic Poets', Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature, 5 (Fall, 1986) 203-228. It is perhaps possible to trace a parallel between the feminising of epic convention and the feminising of tragic convention.

[7] J.Wallace 'Traduiture Feminine? Victorian Women and the Classics', paper given at the fourth Meeting of the International Society for the Classical Tradition (Tübingen, 1998). I am grateful to Dr Wallace for allowing me to consult her paper in advance of publication.

[8] For a study of the varied performance history of Medea, see E.Hall 'Medea and British Legislation before the First World War', Greece and Rome, 2nd series, vol. XLVI no. 1, (April 1999) 42-77 and F.Macintosh, 'Medea Transposed: burlesque and gender on the mid- Victorian stage' in which she shows how the appearance of the New Woman on the British stage at the end of the nineteenth century was anticipated in the burlesques of the middle of the century. Dr Macintosh has kindly allowed me to study a draft of her paper in advance of publication. The implications for tradition and gender of female performance of male roles on the nineteenth-century stage are considered (mainly with respect to the Shakespearean repertoire) in Anne Russell 'Tragedy, Gender, Performance : women as Tragic Heroes on the Nineteenth-Century Stage', Comparative Drama, vol. 30 2 (Summer, 1996) 135-157. (The reception of Ellen Tree's Ion is discussed on p. 145)

[9] A.Poole and J.Maule The Oxford Book of Classical Verse in Translation, (Oxford University Press, 1995) xlv.

[10] L.Venuti The scandals of translation : towards an ethics of difference (Routledge, 1998) 1.

[11] The links between Webster's writing and her work for women's suffrage and education are discussed in Hardwick (2000), see Fn.1 above.

[12] Review quotations are from Works by the Same Author with Opinions of the Press, an appendix to Augusta Webster The Sentence, Macmillan, 1893) i-x.

[13] L. Doherty Siren Songs: Gender, Audiences and Narrators in the Odyssey (University of Michigan Press, 1995) 193.

[14] Quoted in P.Levine Victorian Feminism 1850 -1900, (Hutchinson 1987) 26.

[15] A.Webster A Housewife's Opinions, (Macmillan, 1879) 213-7.

[16] In undated letters to her sister Kate, written while she was at the school, Levy referred extensively to her study of Ovid and to the translation work undertaken by a fellow pupil. I thank Mrs Marion Leggett, the archivist at Brighton and Hove High School, GDST, for drawing these letters to my attention.

[17] Works by Amy Levy discussed in detail in this paper are Xantippe and other Poems (T. Fisher Unwin, 1881); A Minor Poet and other verse (T. Fisher Unwin, 1884). For consistencey, Levy's spelling of Xanthippe is retained throughout.

[18] BL Add.Ms 46779, fol.33b, quoted in A.Leighton and M.Reynolds Victorian Women Poets (1995) 589.

[19] Athenaeum, 5 October 1889 p. 457, quoted Leighton and Reynolds 1995 p. 589.

[20] I thank Des O'Rawe for discussion on this point.

[21] Dr Fiona Macintosh has suggested to me that in this respect Nikias' role is analogous to Jason's confidant in the mid-nineteenth century burlesques of Medea.

[22] For example Frederick Sandys 'Medea' (1868), Birmingham Art Gallery; John Waterhouse 'The Magic Circle' (1886), Tate Gallery; Valentine Cameron Princep 'Medea the Sorceress' (1888), South London Art Gallery.

[23] The poem was published in the same volume and ends - When a worse evil did befall/ Death, on thee only did I call.

[24] For further discussion on the point, see Cynthia Scheinberg 'Canonizing the Jews: Amy Levy's Challenge to Victorian Poetic Identity', Victorian Studies (1996, Winter) 173-200. Levy's letters from school (fn 16 above) show considerable awareness of anti-semitism, 'Conny told me that she was alluding to my race and religion; filthy?' She was also sensitive to possible rejection by the Orthodox tradition in Judaism ('learnt that the pious Mary and fam.(sic) "did not like to visit - no orthodox persons did."'). For discussion of ways in which idealization of classical culture generated polarization between notions of Greek and Hebrew, see Tessa Rajak 'Jews and Greeks : the invention and exploitation of polarities in the nineteenth century' in (edd) Maria Wyke and Michael Biddiss The Uses and Abuses of Antiquity, (Peter Lang, 1999), 57-77.

[25] For general application of the model see E. Saïd Orientalism, (Penguin, new edition, 1995) and, for particular discussion on Greek tragedy and on Medea, E.Hall Inventing the Barbarian, (Clarendon, 1989).

[26] I would like to acknowledge helpful comments, discussion and suggestions from Marianne MacDonald, Fiona Macintosh, Des O'Rawe, Rush Rehm and Martin Thorpe.

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