Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Hostname: page-component-77c89778f8-m42fx Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-07-22T03:18:57.275Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Chapter 5 - Desire and Performative Masquerade in L.E.L’s and E.B.B.’s Classical Translations

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 October 2023

Louise Joy
Affiliation:
University of Cambridge
Jessica Lim
Affiliation:
University of Cambridge
Get access

Summary

Generic Exceptionality

Letitia Elizabeth Landon (L.E.L.) and Elizabeth Barrett Browning (E.B.B.) achieved literary fame in the 1820s and 30s through their remarkable ability, despite educational obstacles, to imitate and translate ancient Greece. L.E.L. was renowned as the Brompton ‘Sappho’, performing in society soirées with her hair in ancient fashion like the lyric poet. Published in weekly magazines, monthly journals and annual giftbooks, which were striking for their classical ‘embellishments’ and verses on Hellenic and Philhellenic topics, her poems were regathered in anthologies and collections under antique and antiquarian titles: ‘Classical Sketches’, ‘Subjects for Pictures’, ‘Medallion Wafers’. E.B.B., meanwhile, was lauded as a teenage prodigy, the ‘author of the Battle of Marathon’ (1820), published when she was aged fourteen, and An Essay on Mind (1826), her first collection which included many Philhellenic poems. She was to go on to produce two different translations of Prometheus Bound, in 1833 and 1850, as well as Aurora Leigh (1857) with its many classical allusions.

The contemporary celebration of these two extraordinary classical ‘poetesses’ at a time when women were excluded from studying ancient Greek in educational institutions might seem paradoxical. As many literary historians have pointed out, there was a sharp gender polarity in formal classical education in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Classics constituted a form of cultural capital offering access to positions of power in the establishment. Upper-and middle-class boys and men were schooled in Latin and Greek, while women and girls might have access to some Latin through home tutors or governesses but very rarely to ancient Greek. There was, of course, no university education for women in Britain until 1869. George Eliot satirised the prevailing attitude towards female classical learning in the first half of the nineteenth century in the voice of Mr Brooke, who warns Mr Casaubon that ‘such deep studies, classics, mathematics, that kind of thing, are too taxing for a woman – too taxing, you know […] there is a lightness about the feminine mind’. Femininity seemed specifically to entail not knowing Greek. Exclusion from classical languages and a knowledge of ancient literature went hand in hand with political and social marginalisation.

Type
Chapter
Information
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2023

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats
×

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats
×