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Algernon Charles Swinburne: the causes and effects of his Sapphic possession

Ingham, Anthea Margaret (2011)
Ph.D. thesis, University of Birmingham.

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Abstract

The thesis regards the extraordinary power of Sappho in the 1860s as resulting in a form of “Sapphic Possession” which laid hold on Swinburne, shaped his verse, produced a provocative new poetics, and which accounted for a critical reception of his work that was both hostile and enthralled. Using biographical material and Freudian psychology, I show how Swinburne became attracted to Sappho and came to rely on her as a substitute mistress and particular kind of muse, and I demonstrate the pre-eminence of the Sapphic presence in Poems and Ballads: 1, as a dominant female muse who exacts peculiar sacrifices from the poet of subjection, necrophilia, and even a form of “death” in the loss of his own personality; as a result, he is finally reduced to acting as the muse’s mouthpiece, a state akin to that of Pythia or Sibyl. Verse written under such duress instigates a new poetics where the demands and constructs of the muse produce a sublime composed of aberrance, fracture and the darkness of myth. To explicate this argument I read Poems and Ballads: 1 through carnival, a form of Bacchanal or Sapphic Komos which has the effect of blurring the boundaries between life and lyric, and which demands a joyous and reciprocal response from its readers, in which they must acknowledge their own attraction to the Sapphic sublime.

Type of Work:Ph.D. thesis.
Supervisor(s):Thain, Marion
School/Faculty:Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
Department:Department of English
Subjects:PQ Romance literatures
DE The Mediterranean Region. The Greco-Roman World
GR Folklore
PN0441 Literary History
PN0080 Criticism
BF Psychology
PR English literature
Institution:University of Birmingham
ID Code:1559
This unpublished thesis/dissertation is copyright of the author and/or third parties. The intellectual property rights of the author or third parties in respect of this work are as defined by The Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 or as modified by any successor legislation. Any use made of information contained in this thesis/dissertation must be in accordance with that legislation and must be properly acknowledged. Further distribution or reproduction in any format is prohibited without the permission of the copyright holder.
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