British Women Writers and the Reception of Ancient Egypt, by Molly Youngkin

By Molly Youngkin

Focusing on British ladies writers' wisdom of historic Egypt, Youngkin exhibits the in many instances constrained yet pervasive representations of historical Egyptian girls of their written and visible works. pictures of Hathor, Isis, and Cleopatra prompted how British writers comparable to George Eliot and Edith Cooper got here to symbolize girl emancipation.

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Still, Witt also explains that not every Egyptian goddess could be incorporated into Greek culture easily. Isis was relatively easy to incorporate, since she ensured Egypt was a productive land by shedding tears and causing the Nile to rise, a narrative that meshed well with Greek narratives about Demeter (14–16). On the other hand, Hathor, with her animal features, was more difficult to reconcile with the Greek ideal of beauty, as seen in Venus; it also was difficult to reconcile Hathor’s orientation toward the sky with the sea-oriented character of Venus (123).

W]hen we have to part company with our Cleopatra, let those believe who can that she will prove capable of living as a femme sole. . To me . . there seem but three lines of future open to her when we depart [:] . . slave-mistress of the Turk [,] . . new liaison with some new Western lover, in all probability France [,] . . [or an] arrangement with the European Powers [,] . . political polyandria of the most odious and demoralizing kind. (127) 10 ● British Women Writers and Ancient Egypt This portrayal of Egypt as Cleopatra, who is always in alliance with some European power, often as its “slave-mistress,” draws heavily on the stereotypical view of Cleopatra as Eastern seductress, who can only bring trouble to England.

While some women writers recognized this “racist imperialist agenda” as problematic, others were “enamoured” by the “white light” of Greek sculpture (9). Victorians’ tendency to separate Greek and Egyptian culture is also discussed in Simon Goldhill’s Victorian Culture and Classical Antiquity: Art, Opera, Fiction, and the Proclamation of Modernity (2011), which shows the problem with separating these two cultures, since Egyptians clearly were a part of Greek culture. For example, Goldhill analyzes Edward Bulwer Lytton’s The Last Days of Pompeii (1834) for its engagement with the various ethnicities, nationalities, and religious groups present in first-century CE Rome (195).

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