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Virginia Woolf and Her Female Contemporaries$
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Julie Vandivere and Megan Hicks

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781942954088

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.5949/liverpool/9781942954088.001.0001

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Reconfiguring the Mermaid: H.D., Virginia Woolf, and the Radical Ethics of Writing as Marine Practice

Reconfiguring the Mermaid: H.D., Virginia Woolf, and the Radical Ethics of Writing as Marine Practice

Chapter:
(p.94) Reconfiguring the Mermaid: H.D., Virginia Woolf, and the Radical Ethics of Writing as Marine Practice
Source:
Virginia Woolf and Her Female Contemporaries
Author(s):

Patrizia A. Muscogiuri

Publisher:
Liverpool University Press
DOI:10.5949/liverpool/9781942954088.003.0013

Since its appearance in Homer’s Odyssey, the myth of the Sirens has been variously handled. Its treatment by modern writers including Kafka, Brecht, Foucault, Adorno and Horkheimer, testifies to its still relevant import. Uncommonly, Virginia Woolf and H.D. consider the implications of the myth of sirens and mermaids not for men, traditionally cautioned against their lure, but for those women identified, or identifying themselves, with it. Taking into account Woolf’s and H.D.’s lifelong engagement with sea metaphors in their writings, and drawing also on later versions of the siren like Fouqué’s Undine and Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid”, this paper will analyse two interrelated aspects of crucial significance in H.D. and Woolf: their ingenious reconfiguration of the mermaid – instrumental in terms of gender formation, gender politics, notions of alterity and creativity – and their resultant conception of a marine writing as radical ethics. Set against the narcissistic notion of art propounded by masculinist modernism, this is a writing which follows instead the moral imperative of going toward the other, redefining the writer as messenger of hope and originator of alternative politics.

Keywords:   H.D, Virginia Woolf, mermaids, sirens, gender politics, Adorno and Horkheimer, The Odyssey, The Little Mermaid, sea metaphors, writing as radical ethics

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