E. Mitsi. “’Buried among the ruins’: Gissing and the Sorcery of Athens”, Victorians: A Journal of Culture and Literature, no. 139, forthcoming Summer 2021.
A. Despotopoulou and E. Mitsi. “Real and Imagined Greek Women in Victorian Perceptions of ‘1821’”, Journal of Greek Media & Culture, special issue “‘1821’: Mediations, Receptions, Archives”, forthcoming in 2021.
Read the abstracts below:
George Gissing’s novel Sleeping Fires (1895) represents late nineteenth-century Athens divided between its ancient and modern identity and reflects on the significance of Hellenism in Victorian culture. Partly set in Athens, the novel narrates the random encounter between Edmund Langley, the middle-aged protagonist, a self-exile with a classical education, and Louis Reed, a passionate and radical young man, who is Langley’s lost and unknown son. Read together with Gissing’s diaries and letters recording his visit to the city, Sleeping Fires portrays Athens as an ambivalent space, both inspirational and deceptive. Gissing’s juxtaposition of the ancient monuments’ beauty with the bleakness of their modern surroundings emphasizes the distance between antiquity and modernity as well as the misinterpretation of Greece, revealing the conflicting discourses of Victorian Hellenism.
The essay explores the reception of ‘1821’ in Victorian popular culture, focusing on the representation of Greek women in stories published in contemporary periodicals. The two dominant tropes of Greek womanhood that emerge in popular fiction and poetry published from the 1830s to the 1890s, the captive harem slave and the intrepid warrior, arouse sympathy for the enslaved women but also evoke liberal ideas on women’s national
and social roles. These texts foreground the position of Greek women within a nineteenth-century social context and imbue in them virtues and conflicts, such as radicalism, the enfranchisement of women, and middle-class domesticity, that concerned Britain as much as Greece. Greek women, as represented in these stories, construct a Victorian narrative of ‘1821’ and of the Greek nation which oscillates between familiarity and strangeness, freedom and enslavement, real and imaginary. These largely neglected texts challenge traditional definitions of philhellenism, which depended on the legacy of ancient Greece as justification for the cause of the country’s liberation, and instead construct new myths about Greece, participating in the discursive production of its national fantasy. They also provide the opportunity of reconsidering the cultural position of Modern Greece in the Victorian period beyond the division between Hellenism and Orientalism.