Academic journal article Studies in the Humanities

Navigating Liminal Spaces: A Rediscovery of Meredith's "The Day of the Daughter of Hades"

Academic journal article Studies in the Humanities

Navigating Liminal Spaces: A Rediscovery of Meredith's "The Day of the Daughter of Hades"

Article excerpt

George Meredith's "The Day of the Daughter of Hades" (1883) is both over-looked and under-appreciated by modern scholars. Often classified as one of Meredith's nature poems, "The Day of the Daughter of Hades" was introduced in Poems and Lyrics of the Joy of Earth (1883) and remains, to some extent, defined by the abounding nature motifs throughout the collection. But this poem should not be lost within those nature poems, nor should it be considered an afterthought to Meredith's more canonical non-nature poetry, such as "Modern Love." "The Day of the Daughter of Hades" offers a complicated study of Meredithian philosophies on humanity, nature, and the places where these two systems intersect. This poem must be examined for its extremely ambitious use of space, landscape, and variations of lightness and darkness to explore its clashing patriarchal and matriarchal hierarchies.

Exploring "The Day of the Daughter of Hades" in terms of its own poetic and literary constructions reveals the unresolved tensions and wide-ranging vision employed throughout Meredith's salient poem. This poem has received, at best, half-hearted attentions from nineteenth-century and modern critics, and I would argue that critical silence on this poem is due to Meredith's complicated relegation of femininity and matriarchal lineage to the habitation of liminal spaces. An analysis of the three central female figures--Demeter, Persephone, and Skiageneia, the daughter of Hades and Persephone--reveals the ways in which Meredith creates a matrilineal legacy overshadowed by an oppressive patriarchal Underworld. In addition to this, a study of Skiageneia's connection to Callistes, the mortal man who is privy to the powerful events during Skiageneia's day upon the earth, and the power of his voracious gaze further complicates her space within this poem. Callistes's gaze and, later, his words, establish a voyeuristic power over Skiageneia that limits her personal agency and casts a shadow on her day of freedom. Callistes's power to affect Skiageneia aligns him with another male of great strength, Hades, who also controls Skiageneia's fate within the poem. Meredith's tense, but achingly beautiful, portrayal of Skiageneia's problematic matrilineal inheritance and her close interaction with men who hold power over her physical and emotional being reveals a woman forced to maneuver within seemingly overwhelming obstacles while trying to maintain some sense of self.

Meredith's complicated handling of such significant obstacles accounts for some of the critical unease surrounding "The Day of the Daughter of Hades." The initial critical response to Meredith's 1883 book of poetry, Poems and Lyrics of the Joy of Earth, was more favorable than the response to his earlier poetic attempts. Critics for periodicals such as the St. James's Gazette, the Pall Mall Gazette, and the Contemporary Review generously reviewed and critiqued Meredith's 1883 endeavor. (1) Each of the periodicals singled out "The Day of the Daughter of Hades" as an example of Meredith's poetic prowess. The reviewer for the St. James's Gazette mentions the "deep pathos" within the poem, but he also makes note of the poem's ability to detail "with splendid effect the influences which may give worth to human life" (244). The unnamed critic for the Pall Mall Gazette proclaimed "The Day of the Daughter of Hades" the "finest" and "chief poem of the book" (246) but only focused his discussion on plot summery with a single line of analysis to support his claims for the poem. (2) The limited types of critical responses that these two reviews embody--a focus on the positivist qualities espoused within "The Day of the Daughter of Hades" and the use of summery in lieu of analysis--have become the primary methods of critical analysis, save a few exceptions, for the secondary study of this poem.

The next generation of critics to seriously engage "The Day of the Daughter of Hades" were mostly adherents to the second category of criticism, textual summery and explication in lieu of analysis. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.