Hades and Hellenism: Underworlds of the Victorian mythopoeic imagination

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This dissertation examines the intersection between the rise of the Victorian realist novel and shifting perceptions of the ancient Greek world from the mid-nineteenth century to the beginning of the First World War. The humanistic Hellenism that dominated the early part of the Victorian era focused primarily on literary-linguistic scholarship and helped in the construction of an educationally-privileged male elite. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, classical scholars began to adopt a scientific approach to the ancient world that stressed the importance of situating literature within its social and cultural contexts. The development of such research fields as archaeology allowed those without extensive literary-linguistic training in the classics to assume authority and professional credibility. Meanwhile, those outside academia became acquainted with classical scholarship through popular journals, which frequently contributed to debates about the social and intellectual importance of Greek studies. Both these forces helped to dismantle the elitist ideology of humanistic Hellenism and the social structures it supported. My term "mythopoeic imagination" identifies a self-consciously female form of narrative cognition that arose from the democratization of Greek knowledge and that defined itself in opposition to the institutionally-entrenched, masculine tradition of humanistic Hellenism. Instead of promoting classical Greece as a cultural ideal, the mythopoeic imagination envisioned an archaic past inscrutable to modern reason and haunted by a sense of social and personal instability. Alienated from the institutional discourse of humanistic Hellenism largely because they were women, Jane Harrison, Charlotte Brontë, and George Eliot demonstrate mythopoeic imaginations that were born from their sense of intellectual illegitimacy and that became fundamental to their efforts to articulate coherent narratives of their experiences of an age shaped by the breakdown of normative structures and values. In discussing these authors, my focus on the value of not knowing Greek dissociates nineteenth-century Hellenism from the high-cultural contexts in which it has been previously examined. By exposing an interdependency between scholarly innovation and narrative imagination, this dissertation establishes a new context for the study both of Victorian Hellenism and of nineteenth-century popular culture.

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