'Recrossing the ritual bridge': Jane Ellen Harrison's theory of art in the work of Hope Mirrlees

Enemark, Nina (2015) 'Recrossing the ritual bridge': Jane Ellen Harrison's theory of art in the work of Hope Mirrlees. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

This thesis considers the dominating element of ritual in the works of Hope Mirrlees, a theme and structuring framework that grows out of her relationship to the classicist Jane Ellen Harrison. Harrison's theory, which draws on modern theories of anthropology and psychology and up-to-date archaeological excavations of antiquities, comments on the modernist period through the unique lens of her ritual theory of art. I explore how the grounding of her theory in these fields as well as the visual-tactile practice of archaeology and the body-focused aesthetic of the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood point towards a materialist, performative aesthetic centred on process and desire. Her ritual theory, I argue, can be read as a diagnosis of the cultural, intellectual and aesthetic climate of her day, calling for a greater emphasis on emotional, embodied experience in religion as well as art, challenging the individualist intellectualism of theology and what she sees as the static, lifeless nature of realist representation. This thesis concerns itself with the way the writer closest to Harrison, who claims to owe her entire worldview to her, absorbs Harrison's ideas and takes on this challenge. Mirrlees’s work shows a preoccupation with the process of representation, particularly representation of aspects of experience that evades rational understanding and expression: dreams and the workings of the unconscious, and mystical experience. Mirrlees turns to the Romantic tradition for its engagement with these things, locating herself within a strain of Romantic writing that foregrounds dreams, gothic fantasy and mysticism – a strain that Mirrlees, using Harrison’s theory, argues has its roots in primitive ritual. Harrison’s formulation of the ritual origin of art provides a framework for her to pursue her quest of representing the unrepresentable, producing a highly performative literary aesthetic which, like Harrison, never loses sight of the religious, magical function of art. The gem of Mirrlees's oeuvre, this thesis argues, is Paris, which is discussed over two chapters. The first examines the presence of ritual elements in the poem's verbal content, considering how it enacts a post-war ritual of transition into a new age, fuelled by a desire and hope for spiritual renewal and yet marked by a deep ambivalence regarding the future. The second chapter on Paris, the third chapter of the thesis, shows the ground-breaking originality that Paris demonstrates in the way it harnesses typographical space to facilitate an integrated verbal-concrete enactment of ritual. This analysis highlights the importance of the hand-printing tradition from which Paris emerges, and makes use of a broad history of the book and reading habits to show how in itself this crafting tradition and the poem's use of space signify a ritualisation, in Harrison's sense, of book-making; I argue that in making this connection evident with its grounding in ritual theory, Paris marks a unique intersection between ritual and the history of the book. Mirrlees's antiquarianism is a central component of this analysis, as for her it is also a practice steeped in the materiality and mystical experience of ritual, and leads to the artefact-like quality of her concretely spaced, rare hand-printed and hand-bound masterpiece with its enclosed, esoteric ritual. Antiquarianism and a focus on the performativity of language are, this thesis argues, also central to Mirrlees’s fantasy novel Lud-in-the-Mist, which can be read as a self-reflexive investigation into the themes, tropes and function of the fantasy genre. I highlight the novel’s interrogation of language and narrative as signifiers of reality, and its defence of fantasy as a mode rooted in the psychological processes that give rise, in Harrison’s theory, to primitive ritual.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Jane Ellen Harrison, Hope Mirrlees, ritual, literature, modernism, poetry, fantasy, classicism
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > English Language
Funder's Name: UNSPECIFIED
Supervisor's Name: Kolocotroni, Dr. Vassiliki and Radford, Dr. Andrew
Date of Award: 2015
Embargo Date: 5 June 2018
Depositing User: Dr Nina Enemark
Unique ID: glathesis:2015-6443
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 08 Jun 2015 07:54
Last Modified: 08 Jun 2015 08:44
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/6443

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