By taking an unconventional view of the well-known myth of Theseus, Ariadne, and the Minotaur on Crete, Ariadne's Lives breaks new ground and will cause some controversy. None of the much-heralded myth study coming out of French and American structuralism and psychoanalysis has focused attention on Ariadne's story. Indeed, relatively little work has been done on the Cretan myth cycle as a whole, a mixture of heroic Greek legend and savage, pre-Greek elements generally considered to be antithetical to evolved literary languages. As a result, although Ariadne has been extremely important in Western art from the time of ancient Greece through the nineteenth century, she is rarely included in studies of Greek myth. Like many other Eastern goddesses, Ariadne fell victim to the collision between pre-Greek and Greek cultures and virtually disappeared.
Calling upon current methodologies and theories, author Nina daVinci Nichols rereads the Cretan cycle to introduce Ariadne as a subversive model of woman evoked during the nineteenth century renaissance of Greek myth. Then, using the myth as a critical tool, the author examines the most problematic aspects of nineteenth- and twentieth-century masterworks, from romances by Bronte and Hawthorne, to naturalistic novels by Eliot and Hardy, to symbolic work by Ibsen and a series of realistic novels by Lessing. The resulting interpretations provide fresh insights into heroines whose portrayals have tantalized and baffled readers.
The book's theoretical underpinnings also offer a fresh approach to feminist argument concerned with the absence of a maternal principle in language, or with "phallocentricity." Throughout the book, Nichols seeks to lay the groundwork for establishing the existence of a feminine or "Ariadne principle" already subsumed in language, although often suppressed by the cultural biases of both authors and their characters. Whereas Greek myth offers many mother or daughter figures, only Ariadne, because of her Cretan and Greek ancestry, has the character of mother, bride, and daughter. She therefore resembles actual women more faithfully than Greek figures traditionally presented as models for literary heroines, if not for life.
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