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Medea’s Chorus

Myth and Women’s Poetry Since 1950

by Veronica House (Author)
Monographs XXIV, 164 Pages
Series: Studies in Modern Poetry, Volume 19

Summary

Women’s mythic revision is a tradition at the heart of twentieth-century literature. Medea’s Chorus explores post-WWII women’s poetry that takes Greek mythology as its central topos. The book investigates five of the most influential poets writing in the twentieth century (H.D., Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, Margaret Atwood, Eavan Boland) who challenge both the ancient literary representations of women and the high modernist appropriations of the classics. In their poetry and prose, the women engage with cultural discourses about literary authority, gender, oppression, violence, and age. Yet even while the poets rework certain aspects of the Greek myths that they find troubling, they see the inherent power in the stories and use that power for personal and social revelation. Because myths exist in multiple versions, ancient writers did not create from scratch; their artistic contribution lay in how they changed the stories. Modern female poets are engaging in a several millennia-old tradition of mythic revision, a tradition that has ruthlessly posited that there is no place for women in the creation and transmission of mythological poetry. Medea’s Chorus tracks mythic revision from the 1950s through the second-wave feminist movement and into turn-of-the-century feminism to highlight individual achievements and to show the collective effect of the poets’ highly varied works on post-WWII literature and feminist thought and practice. This engaging and beautifully written book is a must-read for any student, teacher, or scholar of the Classical Tradition, revisionist mythmaking, and twentieth-century poetry.

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: “Backward to your sources, sacred rivers!”
  • The High Modernist Homeric Return
  • Women Writers’ Call to Re-Action
  • Chapter One: H.D.’s Revision of Kleos Culture in Helen in Egypt
  • H.D.’s Mythic Mirror
  • Helen’s Multiple Personalities
  • “There is a voice within me”: Helen’s Reconciled Identity
  • “A challenge to all song forever”: A Different Kind of Glory
  • Chapter Two: Sylvia Plath’s Complex Electra
  • The Myth of Real Life
  • Electra’s and Clytemnestra’s Ancient Pasts
  • “Father, bridegroom”: Plath’s Tragic Identification
  • “Too nice for murder”: Plath’s Tragic Failure
  • Chapter Three: The Mysteries of Adrienne Rich’s Radical Feminism in Dream of a Common Language
  • The Book of Myths
  • Homeric Hymn to Demeter and the Eleusinian Mysteries
  • “Old songs with new words”: Adrienne Rich’s Eleusis
  • “Cutting-away of an old force”: Rich’s Rejection of Classical Mythology
  • Chapter Four: Margaret Atwood’s Transformed Circe
  • Living on the Margins
  • The Origins of the Stereotypes
  • “Escaped from these mythologies?”: Heroic Transformations
  • The True Story in the Book of Myths: Atwood’s Dive into Rich’s Wreck
  • Chapter Five: Eavan Boland’s Aging Earth Mother
  • Theories of Myth and Aging
  • “What great art removes”: Ephemeral and Fixed Bodies
  • “Words I can grow old and die in”: An Irish Ceres
  • “Take something and break it”: No More Mythologies
  • Conclusion: Feminist Mythmaking at the Crossroads
  • “That Stranger Was Myself!”: Identification With The Other
  • Notes
  • Introduction
  • Chapter one: H.D.’s Revision of Kleos Culture in Helen In Egypt
  • Chapter two: Sylvia Plath’s Complex Electra
  • Chapter three: The Mysteries of Adrienne Rich’s Radical Feminism in The Dream of a Common Language
  • Chapter four: Margaret Atwood’s Transformed Circe
  • Chapter five: Eavan Boland’s Aging Earth Mother
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series Index

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Acknowledgments

How grateful I am that one summer twenty years ago, while home from college visiting my parents, I enrolled in Gregory Staley’s Introduction to Greek Mythology course at the University of Maryland. Greg has been my teacher, mentor, and friend ever since, and for his selfless and continual guidance and encouragement, I am tremendously grateful. As a ‘wise man’ figure in my life, Greg helped to guide me toward my belief in the power of myth. Also from the University of Maryland, I would like to thank Phillis Levin and Michael Collier. It was in their poetry workshops that I first began to make connections between myth and contemporary women’s poetry.

From the University of Texas at Austin, I wish to thank a whole host of people who supported me through my doctoral work, which culminated in a distant draft of this book. Chuck Rossman, Brian Breman, and Lesley-Dean Jones offered valuable criticism, ideas, and encouragement. Lisa Moore, whose insights and friendship in her Feminist Theory course helped me to first feel that I had found my community at UT. This project could not have happened without Liz Cullingford, my super-star director who offered such support, astute critique, and belief in my project. I thank her for her guidance every step of the way. I don’t know how I would have made it through those difficult years of writing the first drafts of this book without my wonderful group of friends in Austin who supported me through it all: Stacy Macdiarmid, Miriam Schacht, Peter Caster, Paul Minifee, Lee Rumburger, Susanna Childress. A heartfelt thanks goes to my dear ← VII | VIII → friend Colleen Hynes, at whose house I wrote the initial drafts of this work. She read many of those drafts and offered critique and encouragement. Along with her home-cooking, her friendship helped to sustain me. A special thanks to Dave Eddington, whose belief in me and my work never waned, whose love and generosity meant so much. I miss him deeply and thank him for his tremendous role in motivating me throughout the early stages of writing.

I am lucky to have so many wonderful colleagues at the University of Colorado Boulder, that it would be difficult to thank them all. Marty Bickman has been a friend and advocate of my work from the start. Nona Olivia read drafts of several chapters. John Ackerman has supported my career from the beginning and has offered invaluable advice over the years.

A big thank you goes to Peter Steinberg for his helpful comments on my Sylvia Plath chapter.

I wish to say a special thanks to my mother, Laraine. It was nestled under her arm as a little girl that I first heard Greek myths and fell in love with language. I thank her for the countless hours that she spent reading to me and talking with me about literature. A huge thank you is owed to my father, Art, my sister, Jessie, and my grandparents, Sally, Billie, and Stan, for their belief in me and for their support of my pursuits, in all of their colorful manifestations. I am also grateful to Harley and Marie for their support.

The most significant events to have happened to me during the writing of this book include meeting my husband, Kevin, and having our daughter, Cassidy. Kevin has read many versions of this book, and has, each time, offered thoughtful suggestions combined with love and encouragement. He has been my rock through this process. And to Cassidy, who will grow up knowing that she can do and be anything that she wants, and that I love her infinitely, I thank her for her sweetness and love.

Grateful acknowledgement is given for permission to quote from the following copyrighted works:

Veronica House, “’Words We Can Grow Old and Die In’: Earth Mother and Ageing Mother in Eavan Boland’s Poetry” in The Body and Desire in Contemporary Irish Poetry. Irish Academic Press, copyright © 2006. Reprinted by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

By H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), from Helen In Egypt, copyright 1961 by Norman Holmes Pearson. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp. ← VIII | IX →

By H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), from Helen In Egypt, copyright 1961 by Norman Holmes Pearson. Reprinted by permission of Carcanet Press Limited.

By H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), from Collected Poems, 1912–1944, copyright 1944, 1945, 1946 by Oxford University Press, renewed 1973 by Norman Holmes Pearson. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.

By H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), from H.D. Selected Poems, copyright 1988. Reprinted by permission of Carcanet Press Limited.

By Aurelia Schober Plath, from Letters Home by Sylvia Plath: Correspondence 1950–1963, copyright 1975. Reprinted by Permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

By Aurelia Schober Plath, from Letters Home by Sylvia Plath: Correspondence 1950–1963, copyright 1975. Reprinted by permission of Faber and Faber Ltd.

Excerpts from thirteen poems [125 lines in total] from The Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath, Edited by Ted Hughes. Copyright © 1960, 65, 71, 81 by the Estate of Sylvia Plath. Editorial mat’l copyright © 1981 by Ted Hughes. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

“The Colossus” from The Colossus and Other Poems by Sylvia Plath, copyright © 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962 by Sylvia Plath. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. Any third party use of this material, outside of this publication, is prohibited. Interested parties must apply directly to Random House, Inc. for permission.

From The Dream of a Common Language: Poems 1974–1977 by Adrienne Rich. Copyright © 1978 by W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. Used by permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

From On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose 1966–1978 by Adrienne Rich. Copyright © 1979 by W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. Used by permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. ← IX | X →

From Collected Early Poems: 1950–1970 by Adrienne Rich. Copyright © 1993 by Adrienne Rich. Copyright © 1967, 1963, 1962, 1961, 1960, 1959, 1958, 1957, 1956, 1955, 1954, 1953, 1952, 1951 by Adrienne Rich. Copyright © 1984, 1975, 1971, 1969, 1966 by W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. Used by permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

From Your Native Land, Your Life: Poems by Adrienne Rich. Copyright © 1986 by Adrienne Rich. Used by permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
From Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution by Adrienne Rich. Copyright © 1986, 1976 by W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. Used by permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

From Blood, Bread, and Poetry: Selected Prose 1979–1985 by Adrienne Rich. Copyright © 1986 by Adrienne Rich. Used by permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

From Diving Into the Wreck: Poems 1971–1972 by Adrienne Rich. Copyright © 1973 by W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. Used by permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

From The Fact of a Doorframe: Selected Poems 1950–2001 by Adrienne Rich. Copyright © 2002 by Adrienne Rich. Copyright © 2001, 1999, 1995, 1991, 1989, 1986, 1984, 1981, 1967, 1963, 1962, 1961, 1060, 1959, 1958, 1957, 1956, 1955, 1954, 1953, 1952, 1951 by Adrienne Rich. Copyright © 1978, 1975, 1973, 1971, 1969, 1966 by W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. Used by permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

“Circe/Mud Poems” by Margaret Atwood, used by permission of the Author. Available in Selected Poems I, 1965–1975, published by Houghton Mifflin, © Margaret Atwood 1976.

From Atwood, Margaret, True Stories © Oxford University Press Canada 1981. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

Excerpt from “True Stories” from Selected Poems II: Poems Selected and New 1976–1986 by Margaret Atwood. Copyright © 1987 by Margaret Atwood. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved. ← X | XI →

From Atwood, Margaret, True Stories © Oxford University Press Canada 1981. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

From In a Time of Violence by Eavan Boland. Copyright © 1994 by Eavan Boland. Used by permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

From In a Time of Violence by Eavan Boland. Copyright © 1994 by Eavan Boland. Reprinted by permission of Carcanet Press Limited. ← XI | XII →

From Object Lessons: The Life of the Woman and the Poet in Our Time by Eavan Boland. Copyright © 1995 by Eavan Boland. Used by permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

From Object Lessons: The Life of the Woman and the Poet in Our Time by Eavan Boland. Copyright © 1995 by Eavan Boland. Reprinted by permission of Carcanet Press Limited.

“11. Domestic Interior”. Copyright © 1982 by Eavan Boland, “Mise Eire”. Copyright © 1987 by Eavan Boland, from An Origin Like Water: Collected Poems 1967–1987 by Eavan Boland. Used by permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

“11. Domestic Interior”. Copyright © 1982 by Eavan Boland, “Mise Eire”. Copyright © 1987 by Eavan Boland, from An Origin Like Water: Collected Poems 1967–1987 by Eavan Boland. Reprinted by permission of Carcanet Press Limited.

From The Lost Land by Eavan Boland. Copyright © 1998 by Eavan Boland. Used by permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

From The Lost Land by Eavan Boland. Copyright © 1998 by Eavan Boland. Reprinted by permission of Carcanet Press Limited.

From Domestic Violence by Eavan Boland. Copyright © 2007 by Eavan Boland. Used by permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

From Domestic Violence by Eavan Boland. Copyright © 2007 by Eavan Boland. Reprinted by permission of Carcanet Press Limited.

“The Fall of Rome: A Traveller’s Guide” taken from Glass, Irony, and God by Anne Carson, published by Jonathan Cape. Reprinted by permission of the Random House Group Limited.

Details

Pages
XXIV, 164
ISBN (PDF)
9781453909386
ISBN (ePUB)
9781454190042
ISBN (MOBI)
9781454190035
ISBN (Hardcover)
9781433120640
Language
English
Publication date
2014 (August)
Published
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 164 pp.

Biographical notes

Veronica House (Author)

Veronica House is Associate Faculty Director for Service-Learning and Outreach in the Program for Writing and Rhetoric at the University of Colorado Boulder, where she has taught courses in mythology, women’s literature, and the Classical Tradition. She holds a PhD in English from the University of Texas at Austin and an MFA in Creative Writing, Poetry, from the University of Maryland.

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