After the Fall: The Demeter-Persephone Myth in Wharton, Cather, and Glasgow

After the Fall: The Demeter-Persephone Myth in Wharton, Cather, and Glasgow

After the Fall: The Demeter-Persephone Myth in Wharton, Cather, and Glasgow

After the Fall: The Demeter-Persephone Myth in Wharton, Cather, and Glasgow

Synopsis

A continuation of Josephine Donovan's exploration of American women's literary traditions, begun with New England Local Color Literature: A Women's Tradition, which treats the nineteenth-century realists, this work analyzes the writing of major women writers of the early twentieth century&- Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, and Ellen Glasgow.

The author sees the Demeter-Persephone myth as central to these writers' thematics, but interprets the myth in terms of the historical transitions taking place in turn-of-the-century America. Donovan focuses on the changing relationship between mothers and daughters&- in particular upon the "new women's" rebellion against the traditional women's culture of their nineteenth-century mothers (both literary and literal). An introductory chapter traces the male-supremacist ideologies that formed the intellectual climate in which these women wrote.

Reorienting Wharton, Cather, and Glasgow within women's literary traditions produces major reinterpretations of their works, including such masterpieces as Ethan Frome, Summer, My Antonia, Barren Ground, and others.

Excerpt

But golden-haired Demeter sat there apart from all the blessed gods and stayed, wasting with yearning for her deep-bosomed daughter. Then she caused a most dreadful and cruel year. . . over the allnourishing earth: the ground would not make the seed sprout.

-- Homeric hymn, To Demeter, 7th century B.C.

The oldest and most complete extant version of the ancient DemeterPersephone myth is the Homeric hymn "To Demeter," which is believed to date from the seventh century B.C. the Eleusinian mystery religion, of which this myth is the central text, dates back to the Early Mycenaean period (1580-1500 B.C.).

The hymn opens with Persephone playing in a flower-filled meadow apart from her mother, Demeter. As she reached for a particularly "radiant" flower, the "earth yawned" and swallowed her up; thus she was "rapt away" by Aïdoneus [Hades], god of the underworld, also known as Pluto. Demeter frantically searched for her daughter; she "sped, like a wild-bird, over the firm land and yielding sea, seeking her child." Finally, on the tenth day Hecate told her that she suspected where Persephone was. Shortly thereafter Helios informed Demeter that "Hades seized her and took her loudly crying in his chariot down to his realm of mist and gloom." "[G]rief yet more terrible and savage . . .

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