“A Modern Nausicaa.” All the Year Round 4:87 (Aug 30, 1890): 210-216
At the dawn of mass tourism in the late Victorian period, Corfu was a very popular destination for the British, the island having been a British Protectorate in the first and middle part of the nineteenth century. In 1890, Dickens’s popular weekly literary periodical All the Year Round ran a short story set in Corfu, which betrays the tensions between the tourists who expect Greece to adhere to a classical ideal and the Greeks who embody a modern reality. Nastasia, the heroine, whose parents work in the burgeoning tourist industry as hotel laundry woman and ferryman, washes clothes on the banks of a stream and evokes Nausicaa from the Odyssey for several tourists who gaze at her. Nastasia, however, knows little of the myth she incarnates: “She knew nothing of the picture her freshly-washed linen made real to them; no, she knew very little at all of anything” (211). After she is told the story of Odysseus, Nastasia hears a tourist lady “say ‘Nausicaa’ again; and she was sure, too, that the lady was speaking of her as ‘Nausicaa.’ Very foolish! Because they must know that Nausicaa, in the story, was a king’s daughter. Well, the landing came, and the ladies said: ‘Addio, Nausicaa,’ which made her feel angry, though for what reason she could not tell” (212).
The plot revolves around a misunderstanding between Nastasia’s Greek lover, Anastasius, and an Englishman, Peter Brown, that is thought by the Greek man to have stolen the heart of his beloved. Anastasius stabs Brown in a fit of jealousy, but is soon forgiven by the latter who helps the Greek couple make up and marry.
The story emphasizes and at times satirizes the expectations of classical beauty that the tourists have, focusing on the commonplace concerns, intrigues, and jealousies that thrive in the settings of tourism, in which differing national attitudes, cultures, and knowledge generate antipathies and trivial crises. Peter Brown ponders on the “hackneyed epithets” of Greek divinity given to modern Greece when he happens to see the young Greek couple for the first time:
“His first thought was: ‘What a handsome pair!’ Next a touch of thought led him on to say mentally: ‘What a typical pair! The classical days standing up alive. A Greek god, and no mistake!’ Those words made his lip curve under his yellow moustache, for he could not help remembering how the hackneyed epithets had been done to death by one if not by five hundred novelists. And seeing he was in a Greek island for the first time, he, too, grew lofty, and scorned the fanciful stories in comparison of the greater reality of type he was looking upon. ‘A Greek god!’ Yes; but the divinity was making very human love, all the same. The girl, too, as Brown looked on from his corner, had to bend from her loftiness, for she smiled, and her beautiful head bowed a little as her lover, in a lover’s worshipful way, let his fingers dally with the strings of her gay apron” (213).