The lesbian muse: homoeroticism, female poetic identity and contemporary muse figures

Parker, Sarah Louise (2012). The lesbian muse: homoeroticism, female poetic identity and contemporary muse figures. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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This thesis addresses the concept of the contemporary muse in the work of six late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century women poets. In my introduction, I detail the history of the muse in literary tradition. I examine the problems that the gendered dynamic of poet/muse presented, by restricting women to a passive, inspiring role. I argue that, due to these problematic aspects, contemporary feminist criticism of the woman poet’s muse has often elided the homoerotic desire and power-play that structures these relationships. To rectify this, I focus on contemporary, living muse figures. I emphasise why these kinds of figures (as opposed to dead, historical or mythological muses) were particularly inspiring to women poets in the late-nineteenth/early-twentieth centuries. I also address the specific ethical dilemmas of claiming a living muse. My four main chapters detail and theorise the dynamics between poets and their contemporary muses: Michael Field and Bernard Berenson; Olive Custance and Lord Alfred Douglas; Amy Lowell and Eleonora Duse/Ada Russell; and H.D. and Bryher. My conclusion draws these individual studies together to emphasise their illuminating similarities, including the increased fluidity between the roles of poet/muse, destabilisation of gender categories, and the presence of a third term that mediates the muse/poet relationship.

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: Arts and Humanities Research Council
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0441 Literary History
P Language and Literature > PR English literature


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