|About the Book|
This project challenges the established critical narrative that scholars of Romanticism have told about English Hellenism. Inquiries into this subject typically construe the Greek influence as masculine in orientation and bound to institutions ofMoreThis project challenges the established critical narrative that scholars of Romanticism have told about English Hellenism. Inquiries into this subject typically construe the Greek influence as masculine in orientation and bound to institutions of authority. This version of Hellenism---while valuable---does not account for the popular contexts of Greek revivalism among women writers and readers, in magazines, gift books and annuals. Hellenism thrived in these venues, not as a monumental heritage, but as an ephemeral ideal of ancient Greece, as alluring and evanescent as the Sappho-knot hairstyle or the dress a la Grecque. This emphasis on ephemerality betrayed a distrust of a liberal rhetoric that ignored the inequities of the classical world. Although many women writers promoted the Greek aesthetic, they also rejected a misogynistic legacy of slaves, abandoned wives, and concubines. Moreover, in womens magazines, representations of Greece were explicitly Francophobic: these publications depicted Romanized French women in scandalous poses and scanty neoclassical attire. By contrast, they identified England with Greek rather than Roman classicism, but their rhetoric of Anglo-Greek nationalism took the form of unromantic, quasi-practical writing, such as moralistic and heavily bowdlerized Greek anecdotes, and serialized classical encyclopedias.-A similar mixture of Hellenism and skepticism also characterizes the work of Englands bestselling women writers, including Lucy Aikin, Felicia Hemans and Letitia Landon. Aikin claimed Greece for the woman Historicist, even if the Greek legacy was one of slavery and prostitution. Hemans saw the Greek past as an ambivalent inheritance of beautiful art and treacherous values. Nevertheless, she adopted Hellenist language and epic conventions in a poem supporting Lord Elgin as the guardian of English prestige in post-Napoleonic Europe. Landon developed a cosmopolitan lyrical persona under the pseudonym, L.E.L., and advanced a critique of English gender politics in a series of poems drawn from Greek mythology. Each of these women poets envisioned a Greece that was tenuous, seen and felt in natural residues and dying breezes, rather than encased in marble statues or temples poised against the erosions of history. Accounting for these contributions to Hellenism provides insight into the gendering of cultural history and the many ways of knowing and appropriating the past.