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Greece in British Women's Literary Imagination, 1913–2013


Edited By Eleni Papargyriou, Semele Assinder and David Holton

Greece in British Women’s Literary Imagination, 1913–2013 offers a comprehensive overview of British female writing on Greece in the twentieth century and beyond. Contributors cover a vast array of authors: Rose Macaulay, Jane Ellen Harrison, Virginia Woolf, Ann Quin, Dorothy Una Ratcliffe, Elizabeth Taylor, Barbara Pym, Olivia Manning, Mary Stewart, Victoria Hislop, Loretta Proctor and Sofka Zinovieff formed special ties with Greece and made it the focus of their literary imagination. Moving from Bloomsbury to Mills & Boon, the book offers insight into the ways romantic literature has shaped readers’ perceptions about Greece. Why have female authors of such diverse backgrounds and literary orientations been attracted by a country burdened by its past and troubled by its present? What aspects of the country do they choose to highlight? Are female perceptions of Greece different from male ones? The book examines these and many more exciting questions. Given its focus and diversity, it is addressed to audiences in English and Greek studies, Classical reception, European modernism, cultural studies and popular fiction, as well as to non-academic English-speaking readers who have an interest in Greece.

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3. “In a Different Light”: Imagining Greece in Elizabeth Taylor and Barbara Pym (Rowena Fowler / Rose Little)


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3.  “In a Different Light”: Imagining Greece in Elizabeth Taylor and Barbara Pym


Elizabeth Taylor (1912–1975) and her friend and contemporary Barbara Pym (1913–1980) are often thought of as quintessentially English novelists.1 Their shrewdly-observed comedy of manners, unsensational plots, and domestic settings create recognisably “readerly” worlds: the everyday concerns of middle-class friends, relatives, and colleagues, narrated with a wit and irony that only half-conceal the sadness beneath the surface. Within and beyond these worlds Greece is an unsettling presence; imagined or experienced it casts a different light on English manners and assumptions. For Pym and Taylor, as for their fictional characters, expectations of Greece, ancient and modern, colored the way they encountered it in the present, and in actuality. Pym well understood the spell of Greece and the temptation it might offer an Englishwoman of a certain class and upbringing to fantasize an alternative mode of life. Taylor imagined how a woman moving permanently to Greece might adopt “an almost Greek sharpness of curiosity and detachment” (Taylor 1961b: 70).2 The Mediterranean sun which illuminated some things so warmly could also dazzle and confuse, casting stark shadows and bleaching out memories. How did the two novelists put their feelings about Greece into words, and how did Greece affect their sense of themselves as women and writers?

Learning Greek was the highpoint of Taylor’s education, and she vowed (unsuccessfully) to keep up...

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