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The Development Of The Sappho-Corinne Myth In Victorian Women’s Poetry

16 Pages 3904 Words

Sappho, “the tenth muse” of antiquity, gives western culture one of its first lyric voices. The greatness of her work has significantly influenced women’s literature: particularly with the rediscovery of her songs during the 19th century, a time when western female literary voices were struggling to be recognized. Although modern scholars have only fragments of her works, Victorian women idealized and mythologized Sappho’s corpus as a vessel to develop their own unique literary voices. Victorian women’s poetry brims with Sapphic imagery which most often includes the lyre and a watery grave as images of Sappho’s life as a lyric poetess and death by suicide in the Aegean Sea.
The work that has had the most influence in propagating the Sapphic myth is Germaine de Staël’s Corinne, or Italy. Corinne struggles to balance a yearning desire for literary fame with her desire for a husband’s love, which would require her to live life as a traditional housewife. Madame de Staël leaves Corinne’s dilemma unresolved and her protagonist, like Sappho, dies unsatisfied in both her love and her career. Published in 1807, Madame de Staël's work was widely read, serving “as both inspiration and warning” to “girls of more than ordinary intelligence or talent, and rising ambition to fame beyond the domestic circle.” Corrine, however, did little to dissuade this generation of women writers who were struggling to emerge as professionals. Indeed, “it was only with [this work] that the [Sapphic] myth floated free – the myth of the famous woman talking, writing, [and] performing, to the applause of the world.” If not for de Staël’s Corinne, the Sapphic myth would never have found such prominent status in Victorian Poetry.
The propagation and popularization of the Sapphic myth occurred as literary annuals became fashionable in the early 19th century. The works allowed women authors a forum to publish for ...

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