Postgraduate students research a broad range of topics across the School disciplines.
Taking Back Sappho: Control, Feminist Poetics, and Sappho’s Obsessive Legacy.
This study proposes to contribute to, and challenge, popular critical perceptions of the ancient Greek poet, Sappho, and her contributions to English-language women’s poetry. This will be done by exploring images of control and power as forms of subtly feminist subversion of patriarchal gender stereotypes in Sappho’s work, continued in the works of later women poets. Traditional classicist scholarship and feminist criticism alike have, surprisingly, generally relegated Sappho’s thematic approaches towards stereotypically “feminine” interpretations, before going on to connect Sappho with a feminine (or, occasionally, “female”), poetic heritage. These approaches tend to downplay or completely ignore subversive, power-fixated aspects of Sappho’s poetic themes, prosody and myths involving her since the “recovery” of Sappho’s poems in French by Henri Estienne in 1546, and then in English by Sir Philip Sidney in 1555. My focus is not on the original Greek fragments of Sappho’s poems, but the English-language creative reconstructions and internalisations of these, and their reception by women poets over many centuries.
The project will challenge long-held critical and popular perceptions of Sappho as a stereotypically “feminine” poet, positing instead that suggestion that Sappho manifests an aggressive, control-fixated, obsessive self-image, that could be, and was in fact used, by other women as a means of validating their own subtle or overt calls for increased female rights, power or voice in their poetry. This thesis will offer new grounds and ideas for future poets to engage with in poetic responses to Sappho, as well as to suggest how the themes, structures and myths may be seen to impact on interpretations of later women poets’ works.