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

Ingham, Anthea Margaret (2011). Algernon Charles Swinburne: the causes and effects of his Sapphic possession. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.


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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: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of English, Drama and American & Canadian Studies, Department of English Literature
Funders: Other
Other Funders: Staffordshire University, UK
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PQ Romance literatures
D History General and Old World > DE The Mediterranean Region. The Greco-Roman World
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GR Folklore
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0441 Literary History
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0080 Criticism
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
P Language and Literature > PR English literature


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