Heretical Hellenism: Women Writers, Ancient Greece, and the Victorian Popular Imagination

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Ohio University Press, 2008 - Literary Criticism - 262 pages
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The prevailing assumption regarding the Victorians' relationship to ancient Greece is that Greek knowledge constituted an exclusive discourse within elite male domains. Heretical Hellenism: Women Writers, Ancient Greece, and the Victorian Popular Imagination challenges that theory and argues that while the information women received from popular sources was fragmentary and often fostered intellectual insecurities, it was precisely the ineffability of the Greek world refracted through popular sources and reconceived through new fields of study that appealed to women writers' imaginations.

Examining underconsidered sources such as theater history and popular journals, Shanyn Fiske uncovers the many ways that women acquired knowledge of Greek literature, history, and philosophy without formal classical training. Through discussions of women writers such as Charlotte Brontė, George Eliot, and Jane Harrison, Heretical Hellenism demonstrates that women established the foundations of a heretical challenge to traditional humanist assumptions about the uniformity of classical knowledge and about women's place in literary history.

Heretical Hellenism provides a historical rationale for a more expansive definition of classical knowledge and offers an interdisciplinary method for understanding the place of classics both in the nineteenth century and in our own time.


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Page 10 - IT were well, if the English, like the Greek language, possessed some definite word to express simply and generally, intellectual proficiency or perfection, such as " health," as used with reference to the animal frame, and "virtue," with reference to our moral nature. I am not able to find such a term ; — talent, ability, genius, belong distinctly to the raw material, which is the subject-matter, not to that excellence which is the result, of exercise and training. When we turn, indeed, to the...
Page 5 - We see no reason why this work should not find its way into the boudoir of the lady, as well as into the library of the learned. It is cheap, portable, and altogether a work which may safely be placed in the hands of person* of both sexes."— Weekly Free Press.
Page 12 - I rely for convincing the gainsayers ; it is on the constitution of human nature itself, and on the instinct of self-preservation in humanity. The instinct for beauty is set in human nature, as surely as the instinct for knowledge is set there, or the instinct for conduct. If the instinct for beauty is served by Greek literature and art as it is served by no other literature and art, we may trust to the instinct of self-preservation in humanity for keeping Greek as part of our culture.

About the author (2008)

Shanyn Fiske is an assistant professor of English at Rutgers University at Camden. She is the author of articles on Charlotte Brontė, Jane Harrison, Charles Dickens, and Alicia Little.

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